Friday, October 29, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
I’ve always been a believer that solid positioning and a clear head can make up for lack of size on the ice. Take Dino Ciccarelli for example, 5’ 10” and 180lbs, former right winger for the North Stars, briefly for the Wings, and 2010 inductee to the NHL Hall of Fame. Fans describe Ciccarelli as a scrapper: the guy that never quits poking the goalie until the puck’s in the back of the net or a fist meets his face, and sometimes not even the latter. Ciccarelli was efficient with the space he occupied, because it wasn’t much. It’s the “right place, right time” mentality that made him such a great player, and likely the reason he’s now celebrated at 30 Yonge Street in Toronto.
Today, the NHL has changed immensely since the days of Dino (retired in 1999); and that was not too long ago. Players shoot harder, skate faster, move quicker, and hit with intent to cause great bodily injury. As a result, proper positioning is an essential attribute for a hockey player.
There are two basic types of positioning: on-the-puck and off-the-puck. As you can imagine, on-the-puck positioning comes into play when you actually possess the puck. It’s the breakaways, the dekes or dangles, and moving to make a good pass or get a clear shot.
If it is not clear to you at this point what off-the-puck positioning is, it’s what everyone else is doing when you are fiddling around with the puck. So, instead of watching Pavel Datsyuk take the jock strap off of 6’3 professional defensemen on a one-on-one, try watching what Pavel does to actually get in that situation. Watch where he positions himself when he’s on defense; because remember, every time the other team has the puck you are on defense.
It’s not “right place, right time”. If a player uses these words to credit his goal, he plays slop-hockey and just happened to benefit from his opponents error. Good players move off the puck instinctively. On offense, they rotate, they slide, and they set up one-timers or back-door goals. On defense, they force passes, block shots, cut off shooting lanes and screen goalies.
In last Thursday's game against the Calgary Flames, Todd Bertuzzi got caught playing perfect off-the-puck positioning. I say caught, because let’s face it Bertuzzi, you are more of a plow-through-people, bull in a china shop, kind of player.
Bertuzzi exemplified flawless off-the-puck positioning at 16:43 in the third period when he pressured the Calgary point man with textbook forechecking (like a good winger always does), simultaneously closing the shooting lane and forcing a shot.
Pause for a warning to the youngsters. Three things could have happened at this point: (1) Bertuzzi could have gotten his paints pulled down by over committing to the puck-possessing point man, thereby leaving his zone vulnerable to a clear blazing shot straight to the net. (2) Bertuzzi could have forced a pass or an inaccurate shot, either way accomplishing his goal in a man-to-man situation. Or, (3) The point man could try to take the clear shot he thought he had, only to have it hit the Mission shin guards of Bertuzzi’s perfectly positioned legs.
The result: Bertuzzi on a breakaway, a goal, and a subsequent headline in the Detroit Free Press.
This begs the question: What is the perfect off-the-puck positioning for forechecking a point man?
First, focus on the puck, not the player. This seems obvious in text, but it is counter-intuitive when you are actually on the ice. This is especially true for the young guys who just want lay a hit into everyone they see with a different color jersey. The puck comes from the blade of the stick, not from your opposing team’s logo. The misalignment with the point man’s actual body gives him the false impression that he has a clear shot. Remember a shooter’s eyes are six feet up and three feet over from the blade of his stick.
Second, put your legs together and square them off to the puck. If you are accurate and have your legs apart, the puck is going to go straight through. Also, since you will be coming in at an angle, having your legs apart opens up a very vulnerable portion of your legs: your inner calf muscle, or soleus.
Third, keep your eye on the puck. I’m serious. The last thing you want is to have Bertuzzi’s possible outcome number (1) happen. This means staying in position and not over-committing. Don’t compromise your ultimate purpose on the ice at that moment: to keep the other team from scoring. The older you get the faster the game gets, so don’t let it pass you by.
Fourth, if the puck hits your hands or wrists, it’s going to hurt. So, keep you palms towards the goalie and arms out running 45 degrees from your shoulders. THIS IS NOT BASKETBALL, so don’t leave your palms open to the shooter. I’m laboring this point for a reason. If a shot hits your palms you are going to have some broken bones.
Fifth, lead with the blade of your stick. The point man’s worst nightmare is a simple poke check because after him it’s nothing but open ice straight to tomorrow’s headlines. Aim the blade of your stick at the puck; we call this “stick on stick”. This will help deflect the shot into your body or, at the very least, somewhere other than the net.
Sixth, watch out for your throat. Bury your chin into your chest and raise your shoulders for added protection. A puck to the collar bone or chin is going to hurt, but a clear shot to your throat can knock out your airway. FYI: neck guards are to protect players from skate and stick blades, not from six ounce rubber disks flying at high speeds.
Lastly, something to keep in mind while you are practicing the point man forecheck: the difference between great and terrible off-the-puck positioning is a delicate balance. Simply shifting your momentum too much to one side can give your opponent a severe advantage. Don’t over-commit, but don’t play shy.
Like Dino and Todd, don’t play too much like a meat head (by just plowing through people and constantly over-committing) or a professor (by over thinking every situation and playing too shy). Find the perfect balance and don’t be afraid to get a little bruised. The sting from a slap shot to an unprotected area hurts for a couple of days. The embarrassment from letting a point man get a clear shot to the net will last the season. You, the player, might not think that’s true, but coaches in particular pick up on off-the-puck positioning. It creates situations, leads to goals, and makes for good hockey. So, when your suddenly on the line with the two guys who used to play roller hockey, who never pass you puck, and spend their time on the bench talking about the girls in the stand, you’ll know why.
Friday, October 22, 2010
He is now leading the Wings with his eight points.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Be sure to check back for more from Joe's Corner.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Niklas Kronwall is supposed to represent a strong future for the Detroit Red Wings defense. He is supposed to be a lot better by now. He is supposed to be learning from his teacher. He is not supposed to get worse every game. But alas, he pinches often, he is consistently out of position in both zones and gets burned trying to make a big hit. I don't even trust this guy on the man advantage.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
The goalies may be bitching a little about it, but no one else. It's not about the goals as much as a return to normalcy. If we kept growing a little each year, those things would eventually cover the net.
I noticed this a few times during the Chicago/Colorado game Thursday. Marty Turco looked a bit slimmer, and I know it's not him.
Hockey is back. Enjoy.
Friday, October 1, 2010
DETROIT—In exhibition play, sometimes it’s good not to be noticed, other times it likely solidifies a trip to the minors.
Such was the case for Jeff Finger and Nazem Kadri here Friday as a group of Wings, close to the one that will open the season, eviscerated a roster of Leafs that also isn’t that far off the lineup that will take to the ice in the season opener Thursday against Montreal.
The 7-3 final was ugly and embarrassing and will tighten collars among team management and fans alike with just one more friendly remaining to get it right. But while the Leafs clearly aren’t in the same league as the impressive Wings, they might not have been torched this badly if minor-league netminder Jussi Rynnas hadn’t been channeling Finnish countryman Vesa Toskala.
Hopefully the prospect isn’t rattled for life, but he might need to lather himself in aloe vera to sooth the scorch marks.
Kadri, in what has been characterized as his last shot to impress, was mostly invisible at Joe Louis Arena. Though his linemates, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, didn’t dazzle either until the game was well out of hand. In the third, Kulemin delivered a nice pass that Grabovski converted into a pretty goal.
Clarke MacArthur, out with a groin strain, will eventually take that spot on the left side of the No. 2 line, possibly as early as Saturday night when coach Ron Wilson said he will dress a lineup as close to Thursday’s as injuries will allow. Kadri was just a space holder there in this loss and didn’t wow anybody. Barring injuries, he’ll be starting the season on the farm with the Marlies.
John Mitchell, another centre fighting for a job on the big club, didn’t stand out either. He’ll likely start the season in the press box as an extra forward, with the energetic Tim Brent, a scratch Friday, securing the third-line pivot spot between Colby Armstrong and Fred Sjostrom.
On defence, Finger made his exhibition debut after hurting his knee earlier at training camp. He played much as he did last season. An unspectacular fifth or sixth blueliner, Finger impresses with his willingness to block shots but he blended in with the rest of a Toronto blue-line corps, which was mostly overwhelmed by Detroit’s talent.
If Finger wasn’t overpaid at $3.5 million (U.S.) a season — and that’s not his fault — the 30-year-old wouldn’t be the lightning rod that he has become for fan criticism.
Once the lineup is set and the focus turns to who is on the team rather than who isn’t, newcomer Kris Versteeg will start getting some much deserved attention. On a dismal night for the Leafs, he set up two highlight reel goals with lovely cross-ice passes.
A first power-play unit with Kris Versteeg, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel up front and Tomas Kaberle along with Dion Phaneuf on the backend has the potential to be devastatingly good.
Versteeg has the hands and vision to create some magic with his linemates. On Toronto’s first goal, which came during a man advantage, he circled out from behind the net into the right faceoff circle, drew the Detroit penalty killers towards him and then fired a perfect pass to Kessel who was open on the other side.
While the power play definitely has the potential to be better, particularly if Phaneuf decides he doesn’t have to blast the puck every time it hits his stick, Toronto’s penalty killing — worst in the league last season — looks like it will continue to struggle, especially against a talent-laden squad like Detroit’s. The ability of veteran pickup Mike Modano to play the point is a nice addition for the Wings.
Kessel showed the flipside of his offensive skills, when he got caught out of position while out killing a penalty. That helped lead to Detroit’s third goal scored by a wide open Jakub Kindl in the high slot. The way the Leafs went up in flames, his surname should have been kindling.Yikes. So at least they have Versteeg? Long year ahead. Keep in mind this isn't as much of a "make the team or stay down there" type deal for these Leafs guys as it is in Detroit. These young players will end up in a Leafs sweater a lot more as the season goes. The team isn't spoiled with great depth like Detroit is. That's really scary for Leafs nation.