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  • Under Pressure: How the Wild’s Top Line Suffocates its Opponent Into Submission



    The month of November hasn’t been very kind to the Minnesota Wild’s offense thus far. In five games they’ve managed to score more than two goals in a game just once and were shutout in a tilt against the Avalanche. To put that into perspective, the Wild failed to score more than two goals in a game just twice in the entire month of October.

    But it hasn’t been all bad on the offensive side of the puck for the Wild. While most of the lineup has struggled to make the most of their scoring chances the top line of Nino Niederreiter, Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle have developed into one of the most efficient lines in the NHL. In the past five games alone they’ve combined for a blistering 12 points (five goals, seven assists) while completely tilting the ice in their favor.

    Some of that success can be credited to the trio’s overall skill level, but skill alone can only take you so far. Instead, what has been the driving force of the top lines success is their ability to gain the offensive zone with control of the puck and establish a suffocating forecheck.

    To get a feel for how the top line manages to be so effective we’ll look at the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins where the power of the forecheck was on full display. 

    The play starts with Charlie Coyle finding space in the middle of the ice to receive a pass from Matt Dumba. The puck finds Coyle right in his stride which allows him to easily move thru the neutral zone and across the blueline with very little resistance from the Penguins.

    Once the puck is firmly in Pittsburgh’s zone the Wild’s first line trio takes up their forechecking position. Two forwards, Niederreiter and Coyle, pressure the puck along the boards. As the fight for possession ensues Staal takes up residency in the slot, looking for any sort of centering pass or loose puck.

    The structure of the forecheck remains the same as the puck moves side to side and is only broken when Ryan Suter lets a wrister fly from the blue line. When Suter makes his intention to shoot clear, both Coyle and Staal jump into the shooting lane for a potential screen or deflection.

    The shot never ends up making it to the net but Suter retains possession and manages to get another shot attempt off before the puck goes into the corner.

    With the puck getting deep yet again the forecheck gets back into position, but this time its Coyle and Staal working the boards while Niederreiter floats in the slot. Staal manages to pick up the puck from the corner where he finds a wide open Niederreiter in front of the net for the tying goal.

    Another successful forecheck came in the next period, where the Staal lines persistence led to the game winning goal.

    Once again a controlled zone entry from Coyle set the Wild up nicely in the offensive zone.

    The moment the puck gets deep Staal pressures the Penguins defensemen, giving Niederreiter time to join him on the forecheck.

    The rear pressure from Staal and the threat of Niederreiter from the front leads to a loose puck in the slot where Coyle is lurking. Fleury makes the initial stop but Staal is there is bury the rebound on the backhand.

    In reality there is nothing groundbreaking about this forecheck. It’s a variation of the common 2-1-2 forecheck that relies on coordination and pressure to suppress the opposition’s ability to move the puck out of their zone.  

    Plenty of NHL teams run this system throughout their lineup, but very few are as successful as the Wild’s top line. Despite skating alongside one another for less than a month, the trio have found a natural chemistry when it comes to playing the system. Each one understands the timing of the rotations and leave very few gaps when the positional changes take place. Add in their collective speed and size and the result becomes a forechecking nightmare for any opposition they pin into their own zone.   

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