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Coaches Room

Offensive-zone chaos leading to more goals

Corsi says unscripted attacking plays putting defenses under duress

by Jim Corsi / Special to NHL.com

The Coaches Room is a weekly column by one of four former NHL coaches and assistants who will turn their critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher. Jim Corsi, David Marcoux, Paul MacLean and Joe Mullen will take turns providing insight. 

In this edition, Corsi, the former goaltending coach of the Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues, explains a possible reason for the early-season surge in NHL scoring.

 

I've talked to a couple of coaches, the guys I have worked with before, and I was telling them that I'm seeing a lot more goals and it just seems crazy. 

Entering Wednesday, the average number of goals scored per game this season was 6.11, up from 5.53 last season, which was up from 5.42 in the 2015-16 season. 

I know it's early, but I took notice of it and tried to figure out why.

Then you watch the highlights of the goals being scored, and it becomes obvious. 

You see a pattern. You see that it's not because the goaltending is bad. It's not. The difference is the goals are coming from all kinds of weird spots like off the back boards, with pucks being thrown into a pile in front and banking off two or three guys. 

This can be attributed to net accessibility caused by unscripted offensive-zone play, which in many ways is becoming the new script in the NHL.

Look at how Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin scored the overtime winner against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. 

The Penguins lose a face-off. Malkin and Phil Kessel go at Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who has the puck behind the net. He's an experienced player. He's probably thinking, 'What are you doing there? You're supposed to back off.'

The next thing you know, Kessel intercepts a pass, dishes it to Malkin and the puck is in the back of the net to give the Penguins a 5-4 win.

Video: PIT@NYR: Malkin buries Kessel's feed to win it in OT

That was an unscripted play in the offensive zone, and the Penguins gained access to the net. The scripted play would be, after losing the face-off, to peel back, play 3-on-3, but they're just thinking, 'We're going to find a way to score and if we don't, well, we'll see what happens.' 

A 5-on-5 example happened in the San Jose Sharks' 5-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. 

Sharks forward Kevin Labanc was the shooter at the right point because Brent Burns, the defenseman, was down below the goal line before coming up the wall to get him the puck. We see defensemen doing that a lot now, abandoning the blue line to go lower in the zone. 

These players, the defensemen especially, are thinking that they don't have to be the high guy, the safety valve. They're thinking about scoring goals too and you're seeing defensemen lingering around the hash marks. It's like, 'If we get it, we score. If we don't, it's a 2-on-1. Hey, whatever, my speed will get it back. I'm not exposed.' 

They're taking a risk to help their team get a better chance to own the net-front area and create chaos for the team defending, especially since the fourth man in the rush is staying in the play.

Well, Labanc shot into traffic at the front of the net, and the puck ricocheted off three players and the ice before going into the net.

The Sharks had net accessibility and scored off an unscripted play in the offensive zone because Burns went low to help get the puck high and it opened just enough room in front of Montreal goalie Carey Price.

Video: MTL@SJS: Pavelski uses his skate to pot redirection

When you create that kind of chaos, the structured defensive-zone coverage becomes calamitous. The reaction is teams are collapsing a little more and now guys are just turning, throwing pucks at the net and looking for the loose change. 

It used to be about crashing the net, but now it's about throwing the puck at the net and hunting the puck down for rebounds. Then, like on a power play, regaining control of the puck as quickly as possible to regroup and doing it again if it didn't work the first time.

This is making it tougher on the goalies. 

Basically, we've gone from the blocking skill of goalies, which was heralded in the Patrick Roy years, to more of an athletic goalie. And goalies must think the game too, which is what Dominik Hasek, Roy and Martin Brodeur did so well.

Goalies must understand where the game is, who is the dangerous player, who is the next dangerous player. When it was more of a scripted type of game, their style, their skill set and mentality allowed them to be good. Now they must do more. 

All teams are trying to access the net through unscripted play in the offensive zone. Goals are up as a result. The hard part for the teams doing it and losing is that it's going to be hard go back to being conservative because though coaching is good, uncoaching is hard. 

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