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Puckhandling in the New NHL

The new NHL rules have met with almost universal approval from the fans because of the increased goalscoring, the frequent comebacks and because of the excitement of the shootout. Many of the changes have really forced coaches to evaluate previous approaches and make adjustments to the way the game is played. One area where this is clearly evident is the issues raised by the goaltender puck handling restrictions.

In simple terms the goaltenders are now restricted from touching any puck in the corner zones. They continue to be able to play pucks in front of the goal line anywhere they like and in the small trapezoid area created behind the net.

For a majority of goaltenders this has had a small effect as they weren’t overly active with their puckhandling and some have benefited because they no longer feel obligated to play these corner pucks. In doing so, they have actually probably saved themselves some dangerous turnovers. This rule has also simplified the goaltender to defenceman transition for most of the goaltenders in the league. The defencemen now know early in the dump in process whether they will have to play it or not.

The biggest challenges now are faced by the very active puckhandlers in the NHL. The zone restrictions have played havoc with some of their ingrained techniques and the ability to pass pucks all the way to the far blueline have created some over eager quick ups that, even if completed, have left their teammate with infrequent puck support.

Specifically there have been several factors that have been observed that have complicated the process of puckhandling:

1) Delay in getting pucks – In the past a goaltender could travel to the corner to get softer dumps earlier which in turn gave them more time to move it intelligently once they got it. Now they have to wait on some of these pucks behind the net and when the puck does get there clear early passing lanes have evaporated.

2) Split Focus – In the old NHL, adept goaltenders would pounce out on all loose pucks and on their journey to the pucks take mental snapshots of the forecheck to make good reads and intelligently move pucks to their teammates safely. Now goaltenders have the added requirement to navigate the restricted zones and still assess their passing options at the same time. This split in focus has caused several turnovers and dangerous plays. This situation would be similar to a quarterback in football scrambling around the pocket during a blitz trying to find open men AND not step on any white chalk lines. As goaltenders adapt to the zone this kinesthetic awareness of their bodies position on the ice will be come automatic.

3) Faster forecheck pressure – Since onrushing attackers now have an easier path to the zone they are arriving faster to the goaltender and the dumped in puck. This marginal decrease in assessment time really hinders the goalies ability to make safe plays.

All of the above factors have combined to make puckhandling for goaltenders much more difficult and have forced coaches to adopt some solutions.

a) Goaltenders will now have to stay in the net and leave more pucks, letting back checkers and defensemen handle these plays. Letting the offense set up and having your team set up good D zone coverage is preferred to a messed up hand off between a goalie and the D. The later is far more dangerous. Teammates now will have to get back to their defensive zone even more quickly and the defensemen will now lose the luxury of frequent clean zone exits.

b) Communication – Communication will now have to become even more important. Obviously communication has always been crucial but now it is fatal if not used properly. If the goaltender must stay in the net more now, he must take on additional responsibility in quarterbacking his defencemen. Fore check pressure must now be monitored from the crease and appropriate clear instructions given to his D. In the event the goaltender does go out to play a puck his teammates must help him even more by calling out who wants it and whether it should be left for a pick up by the D or cleared by the goalie.

c) D back earlier – Now our defensemen don’t have the option to read the goaltender and get back to open passing lanes for our goaltenders to clear them the puck as often. On any dump in now the D must get back behind the net or to the corner immediately as a first instinct. The faster they are back the smoother the exit will be. We have also been seeing defensemen in the NHL letting the forechecker to the corner pucks first so they can try to hit the forechecker instead of vice versa. Slowing your retreat so you arrive the same time as the forechecker may temporarily save you from getting run but your really only hand off your problems to others by shuffling these pucks up for half board battles or reverse it to a partner who really has already lost their time and space as well.

In summary, the new game has caused some seriously scrambled D zone coverage across the league. By improving the response to zone entry by dump ins you can really decrease preventable scoring chances.

Copyright © 2005 Stephen McKichan