Avalanche Defensive Breakdown

This is a brief analysis of a defensive breakdown on the rush in the Colorado vs Dallas game on Dec 29, 2016 that resulted in Dallas taking a 2-0 lead.  Posted for the readers at /r/ColoradoAvalanche.

The play begins here (above), with a normal breakout.   The D-men (especially #16) are playing a little too soft on the puck, but everyone is in position for an even numbered attack.  The posture of the forwards makes me think they’re tired (the stick in the air is probably signaling for a change).

Trouble begins here.  The d-men are still soft in their gap control, but are closing in.  It still looks normal, except the backhecking forward #92 is getting beat.  His posture tells me he is gassed and can’t push.

Above, the d-man on the puck carrier (D1) is leaning in to close the gap.  He is angling to take away the blue line.  You can see his edges aligned to cut off the angle.  His gap control is a still a little soft.  The only other issue I have here is his partner (D2) being a bit too far back.  This is a systems thing though, it’s common to have the secondary defender backing up in a support role.  Keep in mind the puck carrier (Spezza) is beginning to slow down (to keep the large gap) at this time and is visibly looking for passing lanes.  Veteran move to slow down when you have soft gap control and a man driving the center.

Above, D1 (#51 – Tyutin) has recognized he’s now in a 3v2.  He as shifted his posture to a neutral “prevent the pass” stance.  This is the correct play.  The puck carrier (F1) has slowed and the trailing Dallas attacker (Defenseman John Klingberg #3) is a threat as he is still accelerating up the middle.   The defensive gap control is still soft, but not terrible and D1 has his stick in the primary passing lane.  His partner (D2) is playing a passive support role.  They’re afraid of getting beat either 1v1 by a skilled player like F1 (Spezza), or afraid of losing position on the trailing Dallas player who is still accelerating into the zone.   F2 (Seguin) is moving wide to empty space to support the play and avoid offsides.

Right here, D1 is still preventing the pass and is in a reasonably good position, having tracked the trailing defender as he accelerated into the slot.  He’s just begun stepping up to the puck carrier to challenge his pass, recognizing his partner has coverage on the man driving the slot.  The Dallas defenseman pushing up the center is wreaking havoc on the Avalanche defensive positioning with his quick drive.

This (at the NHL level) is still a clear 3v2 odd-man rush.

Due to good reasonable defensive position, the clear 3v2 has been broken up and now it is 4v4.  The two Colorado defensemen are still feeling outnumbered and are playing the two passing lanes (as they should).   The back-checking wingers are both trying to do the same thing.  Communication is missed here.  Wingers should be looking for open men and slowing to take away cross-seam passes.

F2 (#91) for Dallas has recognized the 3v2 is covered by backcheck support and the defense is in position to take away net drives, so he stops in a shooting position at the top of the circle.   The back-checking forwards are a problem here as they get puck-focused.  #96 in the high slot needs to pick up a man.  He’s floating in no-mans land away from the puck and staring at the puck.  If #92 can stop quickly, he’s in a decent support position (but he doesn’t even try to stop).

At this point above, Colorado D1 and D2 are in decent position.   D1 is disrupting cross seam passes and the D2 has a man in front of the net and is on the d-side.

Wingers are NOT in good position.  #92 did not stop and is still loosely trailing the man who beat him through the neutral zone.  #96 got puck focused and did not catch his assignment to pick up men above the circles.   Right now, it is too late.  If #92 and #96 had pivoted earlier to pick up open men instead of focusing on the puck, the play would be a normal even strength zone possession situation.  The pass comes to the trailing player (#14 Benn).

OK, now…  Yikes.   Above, #92 was too tired to actually stop, so he’s blown right through his coverage and is now in front of the net playing goalie.  #96 tries to pick up the man in desperation, but doesn’t have time.   He throws his body weight toward a sweep-check instead of taking a good body position.

The defense are still in reasonable position, given they’re still fully in “outnumbered attack” mode and are trying to take away passing lanes in an outnumbered situation.  The D1 (Tyutin) is still feeling like he is in a 2v1 situation with the poor support from the wingers, and he is taking away that passing lane to the corner, which would normally be his assignment.

The puck carrying forward beats #96 who threw himself at the puck with a big off-balance sweep check.  The d-man prevents him from walking in for a shot or a pass to the same corner, but he has a man on the opposite side, where he executes a backhand pass.  The goal is just a matter of getting a clean shot now.

The third forward (#29) is entering the screen.  He was checked in the offensive zone, so was never a part of the play and he is in good position to take away any trailing passes to the 5th attacker.

Take Aways

I believe the play happened because of a few things:

  1. D-men were tentative and had soft gap control to start the breakout (especially #16 Zadarov)
    1. this was less of a problem as the play turned into a clear 3v2
  2. Forwards were slow or tired (I’d guess tired) and lost the race on the back-check (#92 Landeskog)
  3. Forwards were puck-focused and over-committed to the puck on the back-check (especially #96 Raantanen)
  4. Forwards didn’t communicate well and occupied the same lane (#92 & #96)
  5. Forwards didn’t pull up and take away trailing options and establish their position in the defensive zone (especially #92)
  6. The Dallas defenseman (Klingberg) took advantage of a tired forward group to create an odd-man rush.

2 Replies to “Avalanche Defensive Breakdown

  1. I didn’t get why D2 (#16) had soft gap control.He is right-side defenseman and shouldn’t he be slightly behind D1 to support in case of D1 taken down? Or should he be more in front to cut the middle?
    Thanks for the article by the way!

    1. I mentioned that this is a systems thing. Aggressive defending would try to step up and shut down the rush at the blue line. To me, D2 should be in a position to step up on the other attacker. Leaving the center drive way open is inviting a pass to the middle, where suddenly you have atrocious gap and need to do a desperation plan to try to step up on him.

      There seems to be a lack of trust on the Avs and the default assumption of “what if my partner gets beat” is common, leading to a lot of soft coverage and goals against.

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