Monday, April 16, 2012

Red Wings Offensive Critique

J.J. from Kansas over at Winging it in Motown wrote a really good post about the Red Wings offensive problems. There are things about his post I totally agree with and things I totally disagree with. I've been thinking about writing a post like this, but I've been so busy trying to cover the games that I've been putting it off. Then he wrote his and I was all mad at myself. Because now I feel unoriginal.

In any event, I made some comments about the Wings' need to get to the slot, and how detrimental leaving that area open is to their scoring goals. J.J. pointed out that perhaps I am being a little too simplistic. "Just go to the middle and score" - just like that, because Nashville won't stop you. Except for that whole middle part where they will certainly try. That being said, I still think the Wings need to change up their plan, if for no other reason than I think the league is on to their game. It's getting stale. Now this is going to be a long post with a lot shitty diagrams, I mean awesomely drawn diagraphics, and lot of points and arguments being thrown around. So hunker in.

I won't pretend to be a super hockey expert. I played hockey, both forward and defense, and I was good at it. No, I'm not one of those "I totally coulda made it to the NHL!" guys. I topped out at J.V. hockey in high school. For a lot of reasons, I didn't go further than that, but I was really good at it. This isn't just me theorizing after watching a lot of hockey. This is also me playing it.

5 on 5
Please note the large blog that is Rinne. 
Pictured to the right there is the standard set up the Wings (Black Numbers to avoid conflicting with red lines) and the Predators (Yellow to signify the piss color of their jerseys) will end up with in the Wings' offensive zone. There are a couple of major problems with this strategy:

#1: The player in front of the net is effectively covered by 3-4 players at any given time. If the Red Wings' forward in the corner wants to get him the puck, Predators 1, 2, 3 and the goalie can all potentially make a play on the puck. While cycling the forwards along the boards and in the corners can potentially work a player out of position, as J.J. points out, it's also very likely that the puck can get pinned against the boards, reclaimed by the Predators and moved out.

#2: In the event of that happening, Red Wing players 1 2 and 3 have a longer distance to cover in order to get back. Now, think about the players who usually are in front of the net: Tomas Holmstrom, Clod Barfluzzie, Jiri Hudler, Johan Franzen, and Drew Miller.

Which of those players would you say are known to be fast skaters? I would say Miller is probably the fastest out of that set. Franzen can skate pretty well, Barfluzzie is strong on the puck, but I wouldn't call him fast. Hudler and Holmstrom are regularly show cased as Red Wings who struggle with skating. Let's look at their strengths
  • Holmstrom takes a huge beating, gets under the skin of defender and goalie alike, can win battles, screen the goalie and is great with deflections and rebounds. 
  • Clod Barfluzzie is strong on the puck with good puck handling skills and a decent shot
  • Franzen has surprisingly good stick handling skills and an absolutely WICKED shot. Also strong.
  • Drew Miller is a fast, grindy, hard working forward
  • Hudler has an excellent wrist, snap and slap shot, good puck handling skills. 
Only Holmstrom is really built for a "front of the net" kind of play. Miller and Employee #44 can play there, too, but they have other strengths (Miller's speed and Barfluzzie's puck handling) that have value elsewhere. Franzen and Hudler are built for the slot. So not only are you placing guys in front of the net who could arguably better serve elsewhere, but those same guys are also largely unable to cover the distance back to prevent an odd man rush.

#3: It puts too many bodies between the goalie and a point shot. Traffic in front of the net is a good thing. Screening the goalie is a good thing. But this many bodies hurts your chances to get the puck to the net.

How many shots have the Predator's blocked? How many shots have skipped harmlessly off to the side or wound up sitting in the slot with only Predators to pick them up and move them out? There is much too big of a gap between the goal and the points. Way too much unoccupied space for the puck to go to and the Red Wings are not in position to recover it.

Moving a Player to the Slot:
This diagram shows the options of movement if you move a player back a bit into the slot. If you follow the blue lines the deep forward (1) can shift behind the net, the slot forward (2) can shift to the far side deep wing , and the deep wing (3) can move to the slot. Both defenseman shift over to cover the new point positions. If you follow the green lines, the deep forward (1) can move to the deep wing (3), the deep wing can move to the slot (2), and the slot can move to the deep forward position. The orange lines show how the deep forward (1) can move to the deep wing (3), but also somewhat occupy the slot; the deep wing (3) moves into the deep forward position (1), and the slot man moves into a far side position between the slot and deep forward positions.

With these strategies, you can still puck cycle down deep. But you can have so much more separation. It prevents the Predators from collapsing in too strongly. As J.J. pointed out, the Predators are really good at collapsing in on the puck. If you put too many in too small an area, it's that much smaller of a target for them to collapse on. And as J.J. pointed out, the Red Wings need way more movement. They can't simply reduce themselves to standing in whatever position they are supposed to be in. 

  • By spreading the Red Wings out further, you also spread out the Predators
  • A greater distance apart can encourage more movement, which can cause more confusion for the Predators, and generally work them out of position
  • The player in the slot is in a prime scoring location for a wrist shot, snap shot or one timer
  • The player in the slot is in a prime position to crash the net following a shot attempt, to put a shot on net after a high rebound
  • He can also deflect shots from either point
  • He is in a better position to back check in the event of a turn over
  • Forces the Predators to respect a play to the middle and feel threatened by a slot chance
  • Greater distances between players means passes have to be longer, harder and better
    • This means it's more likely to be intercepted, bobbled or missed
  • Means players have to travel a greater distance to cover for another player or to cycle the puck
  • The slot is a high traffic, high value area and a slot player is more likely to be watched after there
  • Forwards covering the point can make a play on a slot player if they feel they won't risk too much by breaking coverage with the point man
  • A pass into the slot that is missed or mishandled can be picked up and cleared out by the Predators or skip out of the zone and break up pressure and scoring chances
Power Play After the Break

By not putting a person in the slot, they Red Wings do not properly threaten a PK. All PK strategies hinge on the box, whether it be a large box or small. The large box threatens the points and deep pressure, but leaves the middle of the ice generally open. The small box protects the front of the net and the slot, but leaves the corners and the points relatively uncovered. 

Without a person in the slot, or at least a person moving into the slot. you allow the Predators to make an easy choice: attack the puck. If 1 or 3 have it, Predator 1 blocks the shooting/passing lanes. If either point have the puck, Predators 3 or 4 pressure the point, while Predators 1 and 2 lock down the Wings in front of the net and prepare to clear the puck or block a shot. 

Now, I'm not suggesting simply moving a player to stand in the slot as opposed to in front of the net. But not moving someone there doesn't disrupt the PK. Having your players cycle through the slot forces 1 moving defender to try to cover two moving attackers, who are often moving simultaneously and in opposite directions. If he stands still, he can be stretched out and exploited. If he moves in one direction, it opens the other for a pass or a shot. 

Let's see how player #3 moving into the slot can affect the PK and benefit the Red Wings
Dotted Lines are passing opportunities. Solid lines are movement.
Red Wing 1 (Datsyuk) has the puck down low. Red Wing 2 is Holmstrom. Red Wing 3 is Zetterberg. Zetterberg cuts through the slot. Datsyuk can either move into Z's spot (solid black line) to take a shot, or pass it through the slot to Z. Or, if the Predators turn and react to Zetterberg moving, it may open a pass from Datsyuk to Homer out front, or to Point #4. It could also open up space to allow Datsyuk to drive the net from the corner. Or Point #5 could move into Zetterberg's spot and Datsyuk could pass it there, giving him a chance to move into a slot spot, and Point #4 could move over. Or Datsyuk could make a bounce pass behind the net to Zetterberg on the far side.

There are some major selling points as to why this needs to happen.
  1. It prevents the Predators from just wiggling side to side. The movement this kind of play creates prevents them from just camping in the shooting lanes, because the shooting lanes are changing
  2. By causing more movement and changing the shooting lanes, it prevents the Red Wings from getting complacent. 
  3. It discourages them from taking so many shitty shots from the side that I hate
  4. It takes advantage of the skill sets possessed by Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Filppula, Hudler, and Franzen: These guys are snipers and play makers. They need to be shooting from the slot. 
  5. It also prevents the following...
The Red Wings need to stop over-crashing the net:
Here's what tends to happen with the Red Wings current offensive strategy, especially on the power play, and it needs to stop. They over crash the net, over-pursue into the zone, and miss great rebound opportunities and lose the ability to keep the puck in the zone. Click on each point to follow the professionally drawn infographics to understand the problem.
  1. The Red Wings shoot the puck at the net
  2. The Red Wings crash the net
  3. The Predators crash the Red Wings who are crashing the net
  4. The puck squirts out into the slot, or any other now open area (Pictured Right)
  5. The puck is scooped up by a nearby Predator and cleared
So there, I hope you found this analysis insightful and provocative. I hope you were also entertained. But mostly, I hope to see the Red Wings get their offensive issues taken care of and get back on track for game #4.

And as always... LET'S GO RED WINGS

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