On Physicality and Shift Length

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

The Capitals and the Rangers played 114 minutes and 14 seconds of hockey in Wednesday’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the two teams. By night’s end, a lot of the team stats on both sides were fairly similar. The Rangers led 49-46 in shots on goal. New York had a 41-40 advantage in blocked shots and the Caps won 51% of the game’s face-offs. Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman led his team with 40:42 in ice time on the night, but each of the other five Washington blueliners also played significant minutes. Jeff Schultz was sixth among the group with 31:52 on the night. Contrast that to the ice time of the New York defensemen. Ryan McDonagh led the Rangers with 53:17 in ice time. He was followed closely by Marc Staal (49:34), Dan Girardi (44:26) and Michael Del Zotto (43:33), all of who logged more minutes than Wideman did. Although the New York defense corps is young and spry, the Caps’ game plan for Saturday’s Game 4 has to involve getting a hard, physical and consistent forecheck going along with a strong cycle game to try to wear the Rangers’ rearguard down a bit more. “I think that was the thing that we talked about in between periods even when we got into overtime,” says Caps assistant coach Jim Johnson. “‘Let’s get the puck in, make sure we get those defensemen to turn. Let’s not turn pucks over 10 feet on the offensive side of the blueline entering the zone, because then they don’t have to battle down low.’ “The more we can get them to turn deep in the corner and then hold them up a little bit – hit and pin them and make sure they have to work to get up the ice because they’re good at activating and good at joining the rush. For that group of defensemen that played the minutes that they did, I was pretty impressed at the amount of time they were up the ice, too. “We’ve got to do a better job of making sure that they’ve got to work a little bit harder to get in those situations to activate and get up the ice. But also when they get up the ice, make it a little bit more difficult for them to get back into the play because I think you can wear them down. If we can start to cycle the puck on them little bit and sustain a little bit more offensive zone pressure, it’s going to be to our favor.” At the other end of the ice, the Caps need to do a better job of interrupting New York’s own cycle game. Excluding shifts that involved a penalty on either side, the Rangers didn’t have any shifts that exceeded two minutes in length in Wednesday’s Game 3. That was not the case for the Capitals. Washington was hemmed into its own end for more than two minutes on a few occasions, including once in the third overtime. The ideal shift length is probably in the range of 45-50 seconds, but likely even shorter once a game reaches the multiple overtime stage. New York was able to keep its shifts manageable for the most part, but the Caps were not. Turnovers and poor decision-making are usually to blame for longer shifts, and longer shifts are dangerous because they can lead to fatigue, penalties and – worst case – goals against. Johnson identifies a few ways to remedy that potentially precarious situation. “Obviously the best way is to keep fresh guys out,” says Johnson, “because then it’s not going to happen. I think a couple of those times were they sustained the pressure is they got line changes on us where we couldn’t get our defensemen off [the ice]. It was really turnovers in the neutral zone. “We’ve really got to be aware – our offensive guys, the lines out there – of when we’re tired and we’ve got to communicate. Our defense has got to let the forwards know, ‘Hey, we need a whistle or a line change.’ That means when we get puck possession in the neutral zone, we need to get the red line and make sure it gets deep and we don’t turn it over to them and give them possession immediately so they can turn around and come right back down on us. “What happened was we turned pucks over, they got line changes and they got fresh guys out against our tired guys and that’s what really hampered us in our own zone and gave them the offensive zone pressure that they showed a couple times there late in the game. If we have to take an icing, we have to take an icing. But that’s the last resort. “I think it’s really puck management and understanding what to do with the situational awareness of the game. ‘What is the situation? Who has been on the ice? How long have they been on the ice? Am I a forward that’s been out a minute? If I’m a forward that’s been out a minute, make sure that I get the red line and that puck has got to get in deep so we can get everybody off, not just the forwards. Because if we just get the forwards off, eventually the defense are going to get caught out, especially in the [even-numbered] periods, those situations where we’ve got the longer change. That’s what happened.”

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Both Sides

January 14, 2013

Caps head coach Dale Hunter and assistant coach Jim Johnson have the unique distinctions of playing in the longest game in Capitals history and coaching in the longest game in Verizon Center history. Both men were behind the bench for Wednesday’s triple-overtime loss to the Rangers at Verizon


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