Training camp 2014 draws to a close soon, and we look forward to the real deal on October 9. So I thought it would be worthwhile to walk through a little zone-by-zone primer in terms of the Predators new style of play.
Two things to key on here. First, the forwards will simply forecheck harder and with a larger presence. They’ll send two guys, rather than one, when the opposition has the puck in its zone. This means that this year’s team will need to be better conditioned and probably shorten their shifts on average to sustain increased pressure.
Second wrinkle is that the defense has the green light to pinch down more from the other team’s blue line. So on any puck that is rung around the boards to an opposition winger, you’re apt to see Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Seth Jones and company jump down hard to create a turnover and hold the zone. From the opposition’s point of view, this is tough to deal with when you’re now getting pressure from above and below the puck.
Not much to report on here, though I have picked up one observation through the preseason. On something like a faceoff loss in neutral ice, you should see the strong side forward force the opposition defender with the puck. He’ll try to steer that player to the outside in a trap style maneuver. The remaining Predators are stacked up at or near the blue line four across. The goal is to create a turnover at the Preds blue line or force the other side to have to dump the puck and concede possession.
We keep hearing the new system will add offense but can you add offense even when defending in your own end? Sounds odd I know, but yes. If you’re defending more aggressively – and you’re successful doing so – you should spend less time in your own end, right? And it follows that if you’re spending less time in the defensive zone you should be in your opponent’s end creating chances.
Head Coach Peter Laviolette’s team will try to accomplish this with at least two tweaks. One is by way of the swarm. Sounds pretty exotic, I know, but a lot of teams are playing this way now. Watch for the defenseman at the net front to jump into the fray when Nashville is defending deep in one corner once the puck goes to the wall. Typically, the net front defenseman will remain static in front of the Preds net as long as that two-on-two battle stays confined to his partner’s corner.
However, now under the Laviolette system, you’ll often see the net front defender jump into the battle in order to outman the two opposition forwards so as to regain possession of the puck. You saw this from the Preds in the past but there’s a key difference between then and now. Under Laviolette, the net front defenseman no longer has to wait for that puck to “die” (or stop) on the wall before he activates into the corner. He’ll jump in as soon as the puck goes to the wall even if it’s moving.
Second tweak is as follows: The left and right wingers will play lower in the zone when the puck is deep in Nashville’s end. The thinking here is that the wingers are more apt to create turnovers if they’re positioned deeper in the Preds zone.
Lots going on I know, but keep an eye out for some of this as it should be exciting!!