It’s definitely detail time of year in the NHL. Attention to details is one of the most often used phrases in the great game of hockey — in print, by broadcasters, and most importantly by the coaches of the four remaining teams. If you won, you paid attention to the details. If you lost, you have to pay more attention to the details. It’s often the first thing we hear at a post-game press conference.
It all sounds simple, until you actually start to define those details. Who decides what the details are, and how best to get better at them so late in the year? Most importantly, how much information can a player absorb, file away, and then recall at a critical moment of a game?
- A perfect place to start is with faceoffs. The first one of the night gives a team initial possession, but they definitely increase in importance from there. During an average game, there are somewhere in the range of 60 faceoffs that occur. During the first two Montreal-Vegas games, four of Vegas’s six goals came directly from faceoff plays, a remarkable statement on how well they execute set plays and how important a part of their offence it represents. It’s a matter of nuances that occur. Positioning is measured in inches, angles are measured in degrees, and perfect positioning is paramount to a good result on both offence and defence. Of course, the whole time there are players trying to prevent you from going where you are supposed to go to do your job. It’s an amazingly complex event that happens simply, and directly results in good or bad.
That may be an overly complicated set of details, but it’s fun to pay attention to where that puck goes in the seconds after it’s dropped, and to how it gets there.
- Line changes became a big topic in the Lightning-Islanders series, when Tampa Bay scored a goal that the Isles claimed should have been called back for too many men on the ice. TV views showed seven Tampa players on the surface. The technical distance allowed is five feet, in that the player coming off has to be in that range before the next man up replaces him. Of course the speed coming off is a factor, and the TV still shot showed too many. Yes, it’s a detail, but all of a sudden it was a major one. Watch a bench closely during a game, and it’s something that happens all the time. Players coming in one door with players leaving early out of the other door, thus gaining a significant advantage, is common place. Teams practice line changes, the small detail of timing and advantage, and it can be an enormous factor in games.
So many other detail-oriented events occur in the span of a game; it’s best to list some simply for definition and viewing enjoyment.
- The right side of the puck gets a lot of air time from both coaches and players. It simply means if you don’t have the puck, you want to position yourself between the player you’re defending and your net.
- Shot blocking has seen a huge surge in importance at this time of year, as a player’s willingness to do so means a scoring chance could be averted. In the shooting lane is the path between the puck and your net, and is executed with the threat of taking away the goalie’s eyes, essentially performing the same task as your opposition is trying to.
- Layering through the neutral zone is all about positioning and properly distancing yourself from your teammates, so the opposition’s speed is slowed down through this critical area. Controlling the blue lines means zone exits at your own blue line and zone entries at the oppositions, and is all about creating positive offensive zone time.
- Boxing out in front of your net is protecting the all-important home- plate area, and creates the crucial clear line of sight for your goaltender. Of course his detail then becomes swallowing the shot so there is no rebound, or putting the puck in a good place so his team can win the puck retrieval battle.
- Good stick position is a constant reference all over the ice, as the extension of your stick to your body controls all of the passing or shooting seams, which deserves particular attention during special teams situations.
- And what better detail to wrap around all of the tangible details above than the famously intangible compete level. It actually becomes palpable at this time of year, as the energy level ebbs and flows through the TV screen.
The coaches have to define these details, accurately describe what they want, then outline the adjustments from game to game. It’s up to the players to execute. The most applicable definition of details may be the control of the small elements that collectively constitute a work of art. That’s the perfect way to describe what a Stanley Cup winner is. A work of art.
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