The St. Louis Blues have had a great start to this season so far, but still have a lot of room for improvement. Specifically when it comes to their defensive zone coverage, and the opportunities it gives the opposition.
Breaking Down the Breakdowns
As the above video shows (courtesy of NHL.com) the Blues are finding themselves lax in certain defensive zone coverage situations. While this goal was a result of a turnover off of a poor (and blind) backhand pass from TJ Oshie, it was also a direct result of a common error made by Blues’ players this season: becoming too focused on the puck so that you lose the developing play. What does this mean you may ask? It means that the defensive players for the Blues are focusing on the puck and who has it too intently, which allows opposing players to find open ice in high scoring areas. Now in this particular video not only do the Blues fall victim to over-focusing on the puck once it was turned over, but they also find themselves stacked through the shooting lane, exposing a couple of other weaknesses in our defensive zone converage.
Block Shots, Not Buddies
Taking a classic Gongshow Hockey quote literally is what we need to do here to describe what happened on this particular goal (hence the above heading). David Moss is able to gain the puck in a shooting position due to a turnover and the Blues’ defense focusing on the puck too much, this we know. However, he is able to score because three Blues players all take part in screeening goaltender Jaroslav Halak. This is where the Blues need to make sure that if they are going to impede shooting lanes, they must leave the goalie’s line-of-sight alone or they must block the shot. It is incredibly difficult for a goaltender to stop shots from high scoring areas without line-of-sight; a main reason why shot blocking is so important in today’s game.
Proper Positioning Leads to Great Transitioning
The Blues have shown glimpses of great defensive zone coverage throughout the first quarter of this season, but it seems like the more teams get set up in our zone, the more goals that result. To some this may seem like an obvious statement, but breaking it down is where we can find the true gaps in coverage. First off and as stated earlier, the Blues are focusing on the puck over the play too much. This causes players to get sucked in to sirtuations that take them out of position and lead to increased scoring chances for the opposition. Secondly, when you start chasing a team in their zone you are more likely to screen your goalie while doing so, which causes more scoring chances against you and a goalie who may not be able to control his rebounds. Finally, when you chase team’s players and it does work, a lot of times you are no longer in a good position to give or receive a breakout pass that would lead to a great transition and to a possible scoring chance for your team if you had stayed in proper positioning in the zone.
As this next video shows (also courtesy of NHL.com) the Blues had another definsive breakdown in Overtime, that ultimately lead to their demise. This is exactly what can happen when you get caught following the puck too much. As the play develops Patrik Berglund gets caught up with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and they both go down. Larsson is able to get up and back into position just in time to recieve the puck and blast it past Halak. The problem with this play is that Berglund let his man (Larsson) go as his stick was tangled in the player’s skate holder. He then gave him too much room before he tried to recover and block the shot. This decision by Bergy also caused a semi-screen against Halak, which he simply couldn’t finght through due to the velocity of said shot. What Berglund needs to do in this situation is either commit to man-to-man coverage so Larsson can’t get open initially, or commit to zone play and let him have some room along the boards (before they were entangled) so that he can’t get to that high scoring area and get a shot on net.
Testing: Grade-D (for Defense)
Can’t wait for tonight’s game. Av’s are big defensive test for @StLouisBlues with their skill, speed. Gods tix still available!
— Darren R Pang (@Panger40) November 14, 2013
As the above Tweet mentions (courtesy of Blues and NBC Sports Analyst Darren Pang), tonight’s game versus the Colorado Avalanche will be a true test for the Blues defensive zone coverage, as the Avs are a high octane offensive powerhouse. The Notes’ will definitely have to keep their heads on a swivel, and look for plays before they develop to ensure a tight game, and smooth transitions to offensive opportunities. This will provide the team with a perfect opportunity to focus on the play over the puck, and to keep all opposing threats to the outside, lower scoring areas of the zone. If the St. Louis team can accomplish this, look for a great game full of excitement and a close score. If not, well let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
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Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.