Let's talk about plays down around the net. If you want to score goals in this League, that's where you need to be. On Tuesday, I think all but three goals were scored from within 10 feet of the net.
Let me start by saying this -- Dino Ciccarelli, Dave Andreychuk, Brendan Shanahan -- I played with them all, and they all can beat a goalie from 30 feet out. But what's most impressive is most of their goals came from within five feet of the net. Tips, rebounds, maybe a nice shot from in tight. When you look at the amount of goals those guys have scored, a lot more can be said for how they scored. It's a great lesson for all hockey players, whether you're a player in the League, you're retired, you're a kid coming up through the ranks or just someone playing in a league for fun -- if you're willing to go to the net, you're going to get your share of goals.
Yet a lot of players today aren't willing to do that. Before all the rules changed after the work stoppage, defensemen could pound forwards (and more) when they were near the blue paint and most times, the refs weren't calling anything. That makes the goals for Ciccarelli, Andreychuk and Shanahan even more impressive. In today's NHL, there are stricter rules when it comes to defending the front of the net, yet fewer and fewer players are willing to pay the price.
Look at Teemu Selanne's two goals against Caps on Monday -- both came from practically in the crease. People want to know the secret to scoring goals in the NHL? That's it. But only so many people are willing to do it. The beauty of going to the net for greasy goals is anyone can do it, whether it's a top-line scorer or a fourth-line grinder. Look at the other goals in that game -- Troy Brouwer's goal, Nicklas Backstrom's two goals. All from in tight.
When you look at offense, a lot of guys talk about their linemates, but one of the most likely ways to generate offense is go to the net, then get shots from the point. That was a big part of Detroit's success -- Ciccarelli, Shanny, Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom all getting to the net and getting their offense from there. Or how about Nicklas Lidstrom's goal against the Wild on Tuesday from down in the slot? That's a D playing in the center! That's how you score goals.
Later in the game, you saw the value of going to the net when the Wild tied it and won it. Mikko Koivu's tying goal came off a deflection after he got himself to the net and tipped a long shot. On Devin Setoguchi's power-play game-winner, it came after Koivu shook off Niklas Kronwall, set him flying and got the puck to the front of the net.
It's almost cliché to hear about how teams want to get traffic in front of the net, but it's a nightmare for a goalie. For one, your sightlines are disrupted. Second, sometimes you can't read the release of the shot. Third, you end up burning energy because you're trying to see over, around or through the screen. Last, if there's a tip from that close, it's the toughest save to make.
Players in front of the net confuse the defensemen. Sometimes the player gets too close to the defense and too far from the forwards in the zone. You get into a quiet zone where you're indefensible. You hear coaches talk about quiet ice, you're just out of the reach of the defensemen in front and too far down for the wingers. Just get into the sweet spot. It's what Teemu does. He finds quiet ice.
There are no three-pointers in the NHL. Get off the perimeter. Go to the net with the puck or take your body to the net and wait for the puck. It's not a question of ability, it's a question of will.
We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.
— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut