Game coaching – Part 2
Posted by Dean Holden at March 16th, 2013
By John Russo, 14 March 2013
Note: This will be one of the articles (Chapter 8: “The Game”) in John Russo’s soon-to-be published new book “Best of Coaches’ Corner – 26 Years.” Watch for it in 2013.
This week we will continue through the remaining “unique and critical coaching situations.” Click here for the previous situations 1 through 7.
8. Either your team or the opposing team scores two quick goals in the middle of a close game. When quick goals are scored in the middle of the game, that is evidence that momentum has shifted. This momentum shift can be permanent or at least long term. As is always the case, the coach should analyze why the goals were scored, if the cause was isolated, and what impact it has had on the attitude of his team.
If the goals were by the opposition, the appropriate response would be to change the isolated cause if identified or to change overall direction and systems if the whole team is involved. A more defensive posture might be appropriate to stabilize the period so that confidence can be rebuilt and an offensive strategy determined and laid out for the team.
There is little difference whether your team ended up tied or 2-3 goals down as a result. The same responses are appropriate.
If your team scored the goals, then the idea is to maintain the momentum and to continue to score if at all possible by maintaining the advantage. If the third goal does not come shortly after the second (within 3-4 minutes), the coach must then determine where the direction of the game is headed. If the other team has adjusted and play has leveled out, then it is time to look for new advantage areas and to warn the team that they are back in a tight game that can go either way.
If your team was already ahead before the burst and now leads by three goals, a decision must be made whether to move towards a more conservative game approach.
9. The score is tied with 5-6 minutes left. Obviously, reactions could depend on whether a tie game is acceptable. Otherwise, a tie game requires that the proper strategy and system be set up to guard against losing the tie while at the same time being prepared to take advantage of the opponent’s mistakes to gain a win.
I like to go to a radical forecheck in some cases – such as the 1-3-1 or the 0-3-2. These forechecks are very conservative defensively but can create great scoring chances if the opponent does not react well. They won’t often work for a whole game, but can be very effective for short bursts. If the forecheck is not radical, it should be conservative. If the opponent appears to be playing for a tie, some opportunities may exist to take advantage of their increased defensive posture while at the same time protecting against the easy goal.
10. Your team is ahead by one or two goals with 6-8 minutes left. It is generally considered unwise to start a defensive mode too early when ahead by one or two goals in the third period. The defensive posture can reasonably begin with about 6-8 minutes left. In these situations about two, one minute shifts per line is recommended. It must be a moderate posture and includes such actions as:
• Shooting the puck into the offensive zone from about the blue line unless a very good rush is in progress.
• Trailing one forward very noticeably behind offensive rushes.
• No defensemen crashing.
• Clearing the puck from the defensive zone unless an easy breakout exists.
• Very aggressive forechecking and coverage in the neutral zone.
• Taking whistles rather than risks.
• Very aggressively defending the defensive blue line.
• Staying away from penalties.
In the last 2-3 minutes, this posture can become more pronounced and in addition to the above items includes:
• Never passing the puck back to the points in the offensive zone.
• Taking whistles whenever possible to disrupt and flow of the other team.
• One swinging forechecker only with the wings covered well by wings.
• Defensemen playing very safe in the offensive and neutral zones.
• Always turning or clearing the puck toward the boards when under pressure in any zone.
It is important to maintain good pressure and intensity when switching to a defensive posture so that a major momentum shift does not take place.It may take a team some time to gain an understanding of the difference between just “sitting back” and operating under a well planned defensive posture.
11. Your team is behind by one goal with 2-6 minutes left. It should be expected that an opposing team will start to play differently in the last 5-6 minutes of a game when they are ahead by one goal. Hopefully, their change in play will not be as well planned as the items we reviewed in No. 10, but will rather just be a general backing off. In either case, your team must be in a position not only to take advantage of the opponent’s changes, but also to increase the offensive pressure and to take a few more chances.
Things your team can do to maximize opportunities:
• Allowing the defensemen to carry the puck up the ice and into the zone if appropriate, if no serious forecheck is evident.
• Moving one defenseman up close behind the rush if forwards are moving the puck up the ice.
• Turning the puck around very fast when possession changes in defensive or neutral zones.
• Maximizing shots on net – most goals are not pretty ones, they just go in.
• Shooting low.
• Refraining from big scorers trying to be the hero and go all the way.
• Refraining from making the long desperate passes and maintaining good positioning and style.
• Changing to a more aggressive forecheck.
• Allowing defensemen to take more reasonable chances in the offensive zone.
The idea is to gain the offensive momentum before the “crush” takes place in the last minute. The defensive risks are generally much lower as the opponent goes to a more defensive posture.
12. One of your goaltenders is having a very poor game. Coaches often do not deal with their goaltenders’ ups and downs in a manner that is beneficial to the goaltenders’ proper overall and season-long development. This does not mean they should not be replaced during a game, but rather, that possible replacement procedures and circumstances should be considered and dealt with before the season begins with the goaltenders themselves.
It does make a difference whether your weaker or stronger goalie is having the poor game – and how much difference there is between the two. Replacing a strong goalie with a weak one may not improve the situation much unless it changes the way your team plays. Sometimes teams play stronger and better when the weaker goalie is in.
It also depends on how important that particular game is to win. I do not believe that losses are necessarily bad. Losses are a necessary part of the learning process both in that game and for future games. Goaltenders also need to learn to work through poor games and to try to discover how to turn things around. Skaters also need to learn how to bear down and compensate for a poor game by the goaltender. After all, goaltenders often make up for poor games by skaters.
Great care should be taken as well, to not remove goaltenders from a game at inappropriate times.Goalies should be changed at period breaks and only after a good discussion where the goalie also agrees that it is best to make a change. I would be very hesitant to make a change without at least reasonable consent. Coaches and goaltenders should have an understanding from pre-season meetings as to the circumstances and procedures for removal during a game.
13. The other team pulls their goaltender with a minute or so left. It is very important that well disciplined players be on the ice during this very intense one minute period when a lead to be protected against a “power play.” A cool head is the most important player characteristic. With the opposite net open and at a one man disadvantage, the situation should be played much like a penalty kill – except the puck should not be iced.
In the defensive zone, the puck should be pushed to the corner if the zone cannot be cleared. Players should not attempt to carry the puck out of the zone unless they have a very clear opening. If the puck is pushed to the corner and a scramble ensues, the player should move it along the boards with the feet and use up the clock. When the puck cannot be moved any further, the puck should be tied up for a whistle. Since the opposition has one extra forward, the wings should sag back in off of the points and force the puck outside in a zone pattern. If possession is gained, the puck must be very deliberately cleared from the zone. A tie up and face off is always preferable to throwing the puck to the points. Players (especially the defensemen) must get out of the zone and defend the blue line aggressively coming back in.
Forwards on a forecheck should never get caught behind the puck. They should try to cut off passes and force bad passes back up the ice – trying to make the opponents make a mistake and eating up the clock. No shots on the open net should be taken until over the red line. When time moves down to the 30 second level, shots should not be taken at all unless a sure goal. It is better to retain possession, move into the offensive zone and tie the puck up in the corner (i.e.: goaltender must come back in). The overall objective is to use up the clock and minimize good scoring chances. This requires a very disciplined defensive posture.
14. Pulling your goaltender late in the game. When or whether to pull a goaltender is a tough decision. Statistically, the percentage of scoring (and not being scored upon) is very poor.
Most coaches will want to start considering pulling their goaltender with about a 1:20 left and the puck in or going into the offensive zone. A pulled goalie puts your team in a power play situation. It does little good offensively to keep one player back as a safety valve. The objective is to score and full effort must be concentrated to that end.
All faceoffs should have the extra player at forward, and as time ticks down, consideration should be given to moving one defenseman up as well, leaving only one defenseman. The puck can be pushed forward or drawn back on face-offs as long as the move is deliberate with all team members knowing what their roles are. Generally, face-offs in the offensive zone will be pulled to a defenseman shooter, or neutralized with another player moving in to pick up the puck. Movement into the offensive zone should be similar to a power play with objective being to gain a zone and set up. Shots should be maximized to take advantage of tips and deflections from players around the net area. Any loose pucks should be chased by two or three players with other players immediately moving to “mark” open opponents. Pulled goaltender practice can be accomplished along with power play work with small differences being pointed out.
John Russo, Ph.D., is founder and director of the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. He was a captain at the University of Wisconsin, and his Coaches’ Corner columns have appeared in LPH since 1986.