When GM Bob Murray replaced former coach Randy Carlyle with Bruce Boudreau among his publicly stated reasons was that a new voice was needed. Out of respect for the departed Carlyle, the org insisted that Ducks wouldn’t change their style of play. Bruce Boudreau said our Ducks would remain a defense first team. Never mind that all teams in all team sport play defense first.
In Part I we covered the impact of the coaching change and the roster changes that led to our Ducks being a far more complete team than rec ent rosters. Our Ducks are now at least a reasonable facsimile of the template of the Cup winning edition.
Coach Boudreau has changed everything about how our Ducks go about playing hockey. We’ll look at this by starting in our end assuming the opposition has the puck, gaining possession and transitioning to offense. Also at this point I will add that hopefully you won’t be reading this as criticism of Coach Carlyle, rather I’m illustrating the difference between the two systems. We’ll pass through the neutral zone, go on attack in the opposition end, loose possession and bring the play back to our end. In this form we’ll address what our Ducks are doing in each zone with and without possession of the puck.
At our end, gone is the pressure the puck carrier defense that so often led to a Keystone Cops style running around in our own end. Jeez, I hated that system when I first learned it at coaching seminars. The short answer is that requires too much of the goaltender. I refused to teach it and exploited opposition coaches, usually newbies who didn’t know any better, who did.
Under the new system we play a zone – man to man hybrid. A forward will stay with his check even down to the end boards, traditionally the area covered by D-men.
Defensively, our Ducks are focused on protecting the mid to low slot or high percentage shooting area through to the end boards. We do this from a standard 2-1-2 with the forwards and D forming a box and the center providing support from the middle of the box. We do break from the 2-1-2 formation when a forward, usually a winger, stays with his check down low.
This tends to leave the opposition points open. If you’re going to outnumber the opposition and provide support at the puck somebody somewhere will be open. Better that be the opposing D who may or may not get a shot through to the net or, just as often, pass or intentionally shoot wide looking for a favorable bounce off the end boards.
When we gain possession of the puck our guy has a few options. Most often the player knows which of these options is most advantageous instantaneously. If a lane is available you skate thepuck put of our zone. A short pass or share to the player. this short pass or share is usually a cross ice, slightly forward or drop pass depending on where the support or outlet is positioned. Last is head manning the puck which may also be a stretch pass.
Reliance on the short pass is also a significant change from what we did previously. It has resulted in far fewer giveaways and turnovers. This isn’t the only reason we turn the puck over less often though.
As the play moves up ice across the blue line and into the neutral zone we employ one of two tactics. We either get through the neutral zone with speed ahead of the opposition or we must beat the trap. If the opposition has stuffed the neutral zone and set up a trap, the gap between our own forwards and D is shortened and we attack with numbers. At this point we attack the opposing blue line with numbers where we either dump and chase the puck or carry the biscuit into the opposition zone.
Maintaining possession as we attack the opposition blue line makes our Ducks less predictable than we were previously. You may have heard this described as center lane drives but the attack can come from any lane. Advance statistics have provided empirical evidence that maintaining possession results in more shots and scoring chances than the dump, chase and cycle.
As you’ve seen during games we still cycle. Under Boudreau’s system we tend to cycle the puck off a set play as a method of regrouping rather than as a primary means of attacking the opposition net.
Upon setting up in the opposition zone we have 3 set formations from which we attack. The favored set is the 1-3-1 which we establish most often on the PP but use ES when we get the opportunity. The 1-3-1 puts one guy manning the blue line, 3 guys across the zone from the face off dots across the ice and the fifth guy low. This 1-3-1 set will morph into a 2-1-2 with both D manning the blue line, a 3rd man high slot or along the blue line and two fore-checkers low in the offensive zone. The 1-3-1 also morphs into or a 1-2-2 with the 1 position low slot, corner or behind the net.
In the 1-2-2 we almost always have possession of the puck. In the 2-1-2 with the 3rd man high, we may or may not have possession.
The primary purpose of every scoring opportunity is to make the goalie move. It doesn’t matter so much how that is accomplished. It is why you almost always see at least one to three or more passes before the shot is taken. We are trying to force the goalie to open up his body to expose more shooting areas.
Strong positional play is also why you rarely see our Ducks giving up odd man attacks going back against us. Just like on defense we do send 3 and 4 guys low on occasion. This is almost always when we’re down a goal or two and playing high risk hockey in order to catch up.
The points I’m making here in this post is not so much the exceptions as in the immediately foregoing paragraph but rather the primary systems we employ. Regardless of whether your butt is in a seat at the rink or watching on tv, you can see all of these set formations as it happens and transitions.
Losing the puck and coming back is where each of our Ducks is really excelling this season. The one clue to how hard these guys are working out there is how often you see backside pressure on an opposing attacker. This is true grunt work in hockey.
If we have time to set up a trap we do, either in the opposition end or the traditional neutral zone trap. While backchecking we are also set up in a 1-2-2 or a 2-1-2 formation.
This has been a very long post but if you stayed with it I genuinely hope it has added to your appreciation and understanding of what you’re seeing out there on the ice.