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  • Hesitation in the defensive zone lead to the Blues first goal


    Goals are rarely the result of a single breakdown. NHL defensive schemes have built in redundancies that are meant to cover up for an individual mistake. These redundancies usually come in the form of defensive layering. Meaning that if one of the defenders gets beat there will be another defender -or layer- nearby who can rotate to the puck carrier and disrupt the play. The most difficult part of layering is balancing the need to make yourself available for an outlet pass option for your teammate if they win the puck, yet remaining nearby enough to provide defensive support if they lose the puck battle. Finding this balance generally takes practice and familiarity with teammates. The combination of Jason Zucker, Zac Dalpe, and Teemu Pulkkinen proved they lack said practice and chemistry on the St. Louis Blues' opening goal on Thursday.

    The play starts at the end of an extended shift for the Wild players.

    Dalpe and Alex Steen are engaged in a one-on-one battle along the boards. Everybody is in fine position here with Mike Reilly and Zucker nearby enough to Dalpe to provide support if needed.

    A couple seconds later the complexion of the play has completely changed.

    Dalpe has lost the battle with Steen, and Reilly has engaged Robby Fabbri who picked up the puck in the corner. Now is when the fun starts.

    Steen has completely beaten Dalpe on the wall and is headed for a wide open area of the ice, and Fabbri manages to get the puck past Reilly into that open area. It's at this point where the next layer of defense should step in on Steen and eliminate any open chance. The rotation on this play had a couple of ways it could have gone to be successful.

    First option- Brodin steps up on Steen and pressures him just as he gets to the puck. Pulkkinen rotates down to cover the man coming from behind the net and Zucker remains in the slot area to keep an eye on the Blues defenseman who may want to join the play.

    Second option- Zucker immediately crashes down on Steen. Brodin covers up in front of the net. Reilly stays with Fabbri, and Pulkkinen is responsible for the defenseman.

    What actually happened-

    As Steen moves to the net, Zucker wastes valuable time looking to see if somebody else is going to pick him up, probably hoping that Brodin or even Pulkkinen will step into Steen's lane. Steen is definitely not Pulkkinen's man, but his positioning (weirdly low in the zone) indicates he might pick him up, which I think is partly why Zucker hesitates so much. Brodin assumes one of the forwards is going to pick Steen up and retreats to the front of the net. But instead of going to his man, he sort of hangs out directly in front of Dubnyk. Seeing that nobody is taking Steen. In the end, nobody takes Steen and he winds up with a wide open shot as every Wild gently glides toward him.

    Long shifts not only drain players physically, but they also seem to cause some serious mental lapses and hesitation. Hesitation in the defensive zone is a killer. If Brodin or Zucker react immediately to Steen, the other guys would have known where to rotate, and this play very likely gets broken up. The good news for the Wild is that this was game one and Bruce Boudreau has plenty of time to fix these types of coverage breakdowns.

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