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3-on-3 overtime both exciting and unknown for players, coaches

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

You’ve probably heard by now, but if not, here’s a recap: the NHL is introducing 3-on-3 overtime this season.

Say your goodbyes to 4-on-4 hockey immediately following regulation and the subsequent two-minute break. It’s over.

The league will showcase a drastically different method to solve games before heading to the shootout, one that has fans, media and those inside the game talking about strategy and the excitement that comes with it.

Count the Blue Jackets among the teams largely encouraged by the change. During the first weekend of training camp, the players were open-minded in talking about how they would approach 3-on-3, a format that lends itself to skating, skill, and speed – characteristics the Blue Jackets want as part of their identity every single night.

The NHL hopes that, by opening up more ice and catering to a higher tempo style in overtime, more games will be decided in regulation and overtime than the shootout, an element of the game that’s caught its fair share of criticism in the past few years.

Similar feelings are shared by the players, who want aggressive and skilled plays to be rewarded and ultimately be what decides games and earns points.

“There’s more room, more ice. That’s going to suit us perfectly,” center Alexander Wennberg said. “It’s such an offensive game. Everyone can play defense and everyone can play offense (in 3-on-3). It’s up to the coach; it’s a little risky, but I feel like you have a great chance to play 1-on-1 if you’re an offensive guy and you want to score.”

And then you consider the multiple strategies, alignments and options for coaches as they get ready for the new overtime: one defenseman, or two? Two skilled forwards, or one skilled/flashy player and a responsible player, perhaps a defensive-minded center?

What about using three forwards? It’s an interesting idea, Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards acknowledged, but his current plan is to use one defenseman and two forwards.

“The one thing that concerns me (about using three forwards) is that forwards are, for the most part, thinking offense,” Richards said. “You can’t have three guys going to the net on one play, giving up a 2-on-0 or a breakaway going the other direction. Defensemen, for the most part, have that ingrained in them…that reserve and staying back, knowing you are the last guy.”

Richards said most coaches around the league are going into the 3-on-3 preseason experiment (which the Blue Jackets will be part of three times) with an open mind, not really thinking strategy but some basic principles to put them in the best position.

For one, shots taken in 3-on-3 almost certainly have to be on goal; anything that rims around the boards or caroms violently is an instant transition opportunity for the opponent.

Ryan Johansen said he expects teams to go back and forth, up and down the ice, trading chances – mostly odd-man rushes – and it’s going to be a game of mistakes that rewards which ever team better manages the puck.

“You have to have at least one responsible guy out there, because if you get three guys caught (up ice), I think there’d be a pretty good chance going back the other way,” Johansen said. “I’m really excited to try it. I think it’s going to be back-and-forth action, really quick, and there will be great scoring opportunities, for sure.

“It’s a good time for goalies to shine, as well, with a few odd-man rushes. I’m interested to see how that goes.”

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