FF Telestrator: Game 36 vs. Islanders
A defensive approach to the game of hockey doesn’t start when the opponent crosses the blue line your team is defending, it starts as the opposing team commences its breakout.
Let’s take a few quick looks at the 1-2-2 of the Penguins, how that relates to their play along the wall in the offensive zone, and why it can be extremely difficult for other teams to clear the puck against the Penguins.
As a quick refresher of the Penguins forecheck, remember that when they’re working with the puck in the offensive zone, they systematically take the boards away from the opposition.
As a defenseman, when you have a forward bearing down on you after a dump in, perhaps the easiest play to make is to bank the puck along the wall. The Penguins take that option from you.
That’s how the play I’d like to highlight starts. James Neal has jammed a puck deep to Evgeni Malkin, who is behind the net. The pressure that Jarome Iginla provides causes an easy turnover to the Penguins defense.
Jarome Iginla is about to get to his spot along the wall to force a bad play by the Islanders.
The Islanders win the race to the wall and make a quick play along the boards to a forward who is just above the defensive blue line.
The problem is, the pass is in the feet of the forward. Iginla’s forecheck has created a little havoc down low. Evgeni Malkin has taken away the easy cross-ice feed to a breaking Grabner, and now Matt Niskanen has the chance to step up and stop this breakout.
Take a look at the puck here, what play do the Islanders have? The Penguins have taken the wall away. Mark Eaton is in perfect position to break up any cross ice feed. Niskanen is just coming into the frame, keeping his gap well.
This puck would eventually get turned over to Matt Niskanen.
Here’s another instance that not only gave the Penguins a scoring chance, it drew a penalty.
This is a dump in off of a line change. So the Penguins essentially get the job done here with just two players chasing. Neal heads in on the near side, and in order to prevent a clean breakout, Malkin swoops in from the far end.
I love it when players in the NHL cover a large stretch of ice to make a play. Look at how far removed Malkin is from this play, he is going to be the key catalyst in this sequence.
This is the Penguins game in a nutshell.
After a quick dump into the zone, Macdonald is now staring down no-man’s land. He can’t go back, James Neal has him covered. He can’t go forward, Evgeni Malkin is bearing down on him. His defensive partner is out to lunch. The scary thing is that Jarome Iginla isn’t even in the play yet.
The Penguins taking the boards away off the dump has pretty much created a worst case scenario for the Islanders. Malkin takes out MacDonald, and Travis Hamonic is still out of the play. You have James Neal wheeling the puck into the slot, and Simon Despres breaking into the slot, giving Neal the option to pass.
The Penguins dump and chase approach might appear boring or mundane for a team this talented, but that talent allows them opportunities just like this one.
When you constantly hit the opponents defense, you’re making an investment in the game that can pay off down the long run.
With or without Sidney Crosby, the Penguins are 100% bought into this approach, and they just added Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrow, two guys who have played this way through the duration of their careers.