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Protecting a Lead

October 23, 2011 General No Comments

Protecting a lead
By Fred Pletsch
Nov 5, 2001, 20:07

 

The leading team should be the smart team in hockey and, when it comes to protecting a one-goal advantage in the last 10 minutes, Jacques Martin has a checklist of priorities to make your team play with the intelligence of “Club Mensa.”

Martin, 43, is an assistant coach of the Colorado Avalanche and a former head coach of the St. Louis Blues. In 1994, his Cornwall Aces won 15 regular season games in the American Hockey League by a single goal. And during their subsequent trip to the Calder Cup semi-finals, seven of their eight playoff victories came by the same slim margin.

Martin theorizes that protecting your lead starts in the offensive zone.

“You want to keep up some forechecking pressure, but the objective is more containment than creating scoring chances. Avoid getting trapped deep in the zone, and thereby getting out of position on your man. You must eliminate blind passes—the no-look pass from behind the net into the slot that the opposition could convert into a three-on-two rush.

You have to guard against plays that might trap your teammates, such as a drop pass to a pointman who is covered.”

This type of simplistic, no-frills approach can be extended into the neutral zone, according to Martin.

“Guard against unsafe stickhandling (in) trying to beat a man at the red line or offensive blueline. Because if you have a teammate or two ahead of you and you lose the puck, it’s an automatic outnumbered situation (going) the other way.

“Make sure you get the puck deep into the other team’s end by dumping it. Beware of long passes and cross-ice passes in the neutral zone, and don’t backtrack with the puck.

“Don’t take the play back into your end. You want to keep the puck ahead of you and going toward the opposition’s end.”

Neutral territory also serves as the setup area for your defensive zone coverage when the opposition gains control of the puck. It’s important for your wingers to pick up their checks—preferable getting themselves positioned between their man and your net—and for your defensemen to stand up at the blueline and force the puck carrier to dump it in.

“It becomes crucial, “ explains Martin, “to run some interference, to delay the forecheckers and give your defense time to get back, retrieve the puck and look for the open man.”

 

Get in the way

Pro, Major Junior and college hockey allow liberal degrees of interference to impede the progress of forecheckers (although the NHL has pledged a crackdown on just such tactics in 1995/96). Youth hockey players aren’t permitted to hook opponents in the midsection and literally hold them at bay. But they should be taught how to get ahead of their man, block off his skating lanes, and get their stick horizontal so their man has to take an awfully wide route to get to the puck carrier.

“Keep the puck around the boards as much as possible” is the cardinal rule in your own zone when defending a lead late in the game. “The puck is not in a dangerous position if you lose possession around the wall,” notes Martin.

Put the seventh man—also known as the boards and glass—to work when all other options to get the puck out of your zone are taken away. This is something good defensemen work at in practice. They’ll take a pile of pucks and flip them, one at a time, from a corner high into the neutral zone, or practice firing pucks off the glass and out of the zone.

Martin prefers an icing call and faceoff deep in his zone when there’s no alternative except a turnover inside the blueline. He also likes his goalie to force as many stoppages as possible—especially if he’s not a great puck handler—because it takes away the flow and momentum of the opposition.

The key to defending a six-on-five situation, says Martin, is to keep from giving the other team an uncovered man down low.

“The bottom line is you want to make sure the scoring areas are covered, and you want to have some pressure on the puck. If the puck is in the corner, you should have a defenseman there and a support man who is going to be closer to the net than to the corner.

“The point man on the strong (puck) side is going to be covered, and you’re going to have two men in front of the net. The other defenseman is in front of the goal, and you’re going to bring the weak-side winger in front of the net.”

The pressure’s always on when protecting a one-goal lead late in the game. So, as Jacques Martin would say in his native French, “Bonne chance!”

Fred Pletsch is a veteran OHL and AHL broadcaster who currently covers the Cornwall Aces for CJFS radio.

This first appeared in the 11/1995 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2001 Hockey Player® and Hockey Player Magazine®

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