The St. Louis Blues will do this all day long.
Off the draw, Patrick Maroon (7) sets a pick and gets it back to Alex Pietrangelo (27) at the point (00:02). Maroon rolls to the net; Pietrangelo tosses a shot in his direction, looking for a deflection (00:05). Notice the double screen that Pietrangelo waits for before he shoots, Maroon in the slot, Tyler Bozak (21) net front.
Robert Thomas (18) chases down the puck (00:10). He cycles it to Maroon (00:15).
Thomas feints as if he’s going back to the point, then turns back, creating a mini 2-on-1 down-low with Maroon (00:20). Ben Bishop is able to fight off the chance, but eventually, Maroon gets the puck back and goes back high to Pietrangelo (00:33) once again. Thomas rolls to the net; Pietrangelo fires, looking for the stick.
To summarize: Roll (to the net), point (shot), recover, cycle. Rinse, repeat.
The Blues wore out the Stars with this approach:
Speaking of the Maroon pick off the faceoff, Mike Kelly pointed out numerous examples of this set play:
From earlier today on @NHLNetwork - A breakdown of the Blues series clinching overtime goal. A set face-off play we’ve seen a bunch of times with one key adjustment that made the difference for St. Louis. pic.twitter.com/It5XA7bPHI— Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) May 9, 2019
So how will the San Jose Sharks combat all this?
First, look in the mirror.
“They’re a big, heavy team. They get in on the forecheck well; they break out well,” Joakim Ryan said. “That’s what we pride ourselves on too.”
Aaron Dell laughed, “It’s going to be like playing ourselves.”
There’s going to be a heavy emphasis on the point shot in this series, whether it’s from Pietrangelo or Brent Burns.
But just as important is boxing out the man rolling to the net, whether it’s Maroon or Joe Pavelski.
Craig Berube said of the opposition: “They might be the best team in the league at that, going to the net, getting tips on pucks, things like that. Karlsson and Burns do a great job of getting the puck off quick, they really do a good job of shooting off the pass.
“It’s below the dots that we have to box people out and get sticks and get in shooting lanes. A lot of their goals come that way.”
Here’s an example of boxing out from the St. Louis-Dallas series:
Look at Ben Lovejoy (21) keep Brayden Schenn (10) away from the slot and the chaos that Colton Parayko’s (55) shot creates.
Also, when possible, you have to run interference on the forecheck. The forechecking team wants to attack the puck with speed; don’t let them.
Watch Gustav Nyquist (14) on the wall, put his body between a hard-charging Ryan Reaves (75) and the puck. This allows Tomas Hertl (48) to follow up and make an easy exit pass to Brenden Dillon (4).
In this case, San Jose is the forechecking side. Paul Stastny (26) travels the same lane as Joonas Donskoi (27), bumping Donskoi off the most direct forechecking route.
“This series is going to come down to one-on-one battles,” Justin Braun offered. These little battles — boxouts, forechecking routes — may swing this series in particular.
“It’s going to come down to those little things,” said Dillon.
A couple things stand out about the heretofore nigh unbeatable Jordan Binnington.
First, maybe Super-Rookie has a kryptonite?
Kevin Woodley of NHL.com observed: “Sharp-angled shots and plays from near or below the goal line that force Binnington to move in and off his posts accounted for seven goals in each round and 14 of the 32 goals (43.7 percent) in the playoffs so far.
“It’s certainly not all on Binnington, with cross-ice backdoor plays and open shooters in high-danger areas after low-high passes on a lot of them, but with his playoff total on these types of plays more than double the average (17.4 percent), and so few weaknesses in his game otherwise, expect it to get a lot of attention.”
Essentially, Binnington has been torched by quick low-high attacks.
Here’s an example from the Blues-Stars series:
Fortunately for the Sharks, generating low-high offense from behind the net has been an integral part of their arsenal for more than a decade. It’s a Joe Thornton staple, but he’s not the only forward capable of it:
There’s no doubt this Binnington “weakness” has caught San Jose’s attention.
Second, a scout pointed out: “Binnington loves to play the puck, will come out of his crease and do it a lot.”
This is in stark contrast to the more conservative Martin Jones and may prove to be a challenge for the Sharks’ forecheck.
“You want to make sure you’re placing the puck in good spots on your dumps, whether it’s a hard rim-around or soft chip in the corner,” Ryan noted.
Playing Binnington may not be that much different than playing, say, a Mike Smith. I wrote about how Smith’s puckhandling ability can impact a game last month.
The key against such netminders is to not get caught in the middle with your dump-ins — you want either too soft for the goalie to chase or too hard for the goalie to reach.
Inevitably, however, Binnington’s going to get to some pucks.
“When he does get to it, you have to attack and go at him,” Ryan observed. “The forwards need to treat him like a defenseman, go at him, instead of trying to guess where he’s going to go. When you start guessing, that’s when he can make plays by you, kind of make you look stupid.”
Ryan doesn’t mean to treat Binnington as if he’s fair game, but instead, pressure him, make him hurry with his decision-making.
The double-edged sword with an aggressive puck-handling goalie? There should be some ugly turnovers for San Jose to capitalize on.