Analyzing Zone Exits: The Defensive Zone Face-Off Win

American gold medalist / hero Kristi Yamaguch and the Sharks faithful erupt after a perfectly executed defensive zone faceoff win zone exit. - Christian Petersen

Following a face-off win, teams employ specific plays to effectively move the puck out of the zone. We'll go through the Sharks most often used breakout following a defensive zone face-off win.

I should have done this last post, but here is a glossary of terms to better understand the play descriptions.

Play-side (aka strong-side): This is the side of the ice that puck has moved to, or will be moved to in order to accomplish the desired task. The puck doesn't always start play-side, nor does it always end on the play-side. The play-side changes, either left or right depending on the location of the puck and the play being executed. Often, it is the side of the ice where a majority of the action takes place, and where most of the players are.

Weak-side (aka off-side, or back-side): The opposite side of the ice from play-side. There is generally less activity on this side. For example, a "back-door pass" is a pass to a player (usually in motion) to the weak-side, where there typically are less opposition, or in a sub-optimal position.

That being said, both play-side and weak-side contain players and position that is critical to the success of plays, and players need to be aware of both sides during a play.

Face-off Breakout "Rim"

For clarification I'll define play-side as the same side of the ice as the face-off. This is where the puck starts and the initial action occurs.

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Here is the set-up. Sometimes the D will be directly behind the center, or shaded (slightly towards) the slot. The defensemen will be positioned based on handedness, so that the D going back to retrieve the puck will be passing using forehand and not backhand, which sometimes results in the D temporarily switching positions. One of the principles of Todd McLellan's system is to always keep assignments for players simple, so that they can react quickly, without thinking. A great example of this is the LW's face-off assignment. He travels out to the point no matter what, which achieves 2 things. A) pressure the point in the event of a loss and B) Receive a pass up the boards if D (Stuart in this play) elects to shoot the puck up the near boards quickly. This assignment is common in the Sharks system. A player moves into a position that is both sound defensively, but also available for puck support in the event of a breakout. This movement is automatic, and the player doesn't have to "read" anything, KISS tactics to speed up the team.

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As the puck is drawn back (above), The D will rim (hence the name) the puck to the weak-side where the weak-side winger (Marleau in the play below) has traveled. From here, the weak-side winger can pass to either center or bank the puck up the ice to the opposite winger.

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Standard set for the Sharks (above) with D on play-side (D - Hannan, boards closest to us), and weak-side D (D - Stuart) either in the slot, or behind center (Couture). Here Stuart is positioned in the slot next to weak-side F (Marleau )and play-side F (Torres).

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Couture draws straight back, (above) and Hannan and Torres attempt to tie up their wingers, with Torres moving out to the point, as described above.

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Puck moves to the corner as Stuart races back while Hannan ties up his man. The weak-side F (Marleau) activates to far (weak-side) boards, to be ready for a backhand pass and Couture supports the puck low, in a good defensive position.

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From this position(above), the Sharks give the their defense men 2 options. 1) Either the "Up" play (terminology from Plays and strategies, probably called something different by TMac) where Stuart fires the puck on his forehand up towards the play-side winger (Torres) who can chip it out of the zone, preferably somewhere Marleau can reach it. Or 2) A backhand "Rim" play to the weak-side winger (Marleau). This is what Stuart chooses to do.

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Marleau (above) is in position to receive the rim, and center (Couture) heads towards weak-side for support.

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With the puck along the boards (above), the weak-side winger (Marleau) has the Center (Couture) as the primary passing option in the event of heavy pressure. But here weak-side F (Marleau) sees that weak-side D (Bieska) is pinching and slides the puck up the boards vacated by weak-side D so that Torres can skate into it. The Canucks played a 2-1-2 forecheck predominantly throughout the series (more on that later), which is why weak-side D (Bieska) pinched down. Their Center (Ryamond above) attempts to cover the point. As you can see, Marleau read the play well; Raymond was not covering the point, so his chip out of the zone could be recovered by the speedy Torres. (below)

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