Spread Out

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

In the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, the New York Rangers blocked 155 shots and the Washington Capitals blocked 139. Those were the top totals among the 16 clubs that participated in the first round. With the Rangers and the Capitals now set to go head-to-head in the second round, many are expecting a shot-blocking exhibition. Both teams will need to be creative to get shots through, but sometimes that can be counter-productive. “The trick is still to shoot the puck when you have a chance,” says Caps right wing Mike Knuble. “You can’t assume that everything is going to be blocked. You’re going to have your share blocked, but you can’t start changing your offensive game too much and starting to overpass and starting to try to get around all the blocks. “If you shoot the puck the same, some are going to get blocked and some are going to get through. There’s always a chance when you block it, it bounces off and goes to somebody else. I think we’ll see a couple of those goals throughout the series, too.” Even if the Caps are able to get pucks beyond the five Rangers who routinely sacrifice their bodies to block shots in front, they’ve then got to contend with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. In New York’s first-round series against Ottawa, Lundqvist posted a 1.70 GAA and a .945 save pct. During the regular season, Lundqvist finished fourth in the NHL in both GAA (1.97) and save pct. (.930), establishing a single-season career best in both categories. He is a finalist for both the Vezina and Hart Trophies for 2011-12. “If he sees the shot or if he’s got a clear line to the shooter,” says Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman, “you’re probably not going to beat him. We’ve got to get people there and we’ve got to find rebounds.” Another strategy that may suit the Caps and their personnel well is to work to establish a cycle game below the dots in the attack zone. Doing so will keep the New York defenders moving and could pull them away from the area in front of the net. If the Caps are quick and efficient enough with their cycle, they may be able to isolate one of their blueliners for a quick one-timer from the point, and those types of shots could be useful for deflection and rebound chances. “I think that’s what we’re going to have to try and do,” says Caps forward Matt Hendricks. “And I think that’s what they’re going to try to do to us as well, spread us out in the defensive zone. So we’ll look to do that, we look to grind them, make things hard on them and shoot as many times as we get the opportunity.” Establishing a cycle game enables the offensive team to use more real estate in the attack zone and spread out the defenders, possibly opening up some shooting lanes, albeit briefly. “I think anytime you can use the whole area of the offensive zone,” says Knuble, “that pulls players apart and opens up lanes. Once you feel that you’re getting them spread out, you want to move the puck quickly and generate a shot, try to catch everybody while they’re moving around, not allow them to come out, get the lane and then front the shot. “You don’t need to overthink it so much, but you want to make sure you’re using the whole offensive zone. I think that will open up lanes.” Like Knuble says, you’ve got to continue to shoot the puck. Some will get blocked; some will get through. But you do have to be a bit choosier in shot selection, because shots that are blocked by opposing forwards up high in the attack zone can provide fuel for the opposition’s break-out and lead to quick odd-man rushes against. “If a lane is not there – especially from the point – we can’t try to force it,” warns Wideman. “That can create odd-man rushes [for the Rangers].”

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