Amazing, last night Buffalo comes out with a great effort against the Maple Leafs. Buffalo almost looked like a team that could make the playoffs last night. Tonight, is not the case, and Pittsburgh is doing to Buffalo what I said would happen if Buffalo continued to play soft, weak, pathetic hockey.
I’m going to break down Buffalo’s defense and offense, and in tonight’s case, Pittsburgh’s offense and defense.
Buffalo’s defense is pretty simple. As your opponent hits your blue line, keep backing up. It doesn’t matter how many defensemen are back. Even if it’s 3 on 5 Buffalo players, just keep backing up, and give them the blue line. Continue to back up until your opponent gets into the slot, then watch them let an excellent scoring opportunity fly at Ryan Miller or Jhonas Enroth. As your opponent continues to cycle the puck, let them, maybe try to pin someone along the boards, but don’t actually take them off the puck. Make sure they have plenty of room coming into the zone, and moving throughout it. Keep poking at at the puck with your stick, and maybe, maybe, you can get the puck away and go on the offense. Either that, or you may eventually intercept a pass, or Brayden McNabb or Robyn Regher will hit someone to take them off the puck.
Pittsburgh’s Defense (Or any NHL Team)
As Buffalo comes into the opponents end, eliminate the space between you and the Buffalo forwards. By doing so, you force your opponent to dump the puck into the corner, where you can go, play physically, and take the puck and go back on the offensive attack. If, your opponent decides to carry the puck over the blue line, make sure they either have a) No space to maneuver, and they have to take a bad angle shot, or turn the puck over. Or b) Get hit and taken off the puck. Now, on an odd man rush, just eliminate the space between you and your opponent, limit their passing options, and force a shot on goal that your goalie can prepare for. If your opponent is able to get possession of the puck in your end, play physical, allow no space, and keep the area in front of the goal clear, so in case someone can let a shot go, your goalie has a clear line of sight.
Now, by playing the aggressive style of defense it is going to do a few things. It’s going to limit the space that your opponent will have to maneuver in. Also, it will force your opponent to make poor decisions with the puck. Apply pressure to the player with the puck, they become hurried, and in turn will make poor decisions with it. Those poor decisions result in turnovers and poor shots on goal due to having less time with the puck to plan your next move.
To the offensive aspect of the game
Upon getting possession of the puck in your end, wait a few minutes before making the break out pass. Allow your opponent to make a change, and line up in order to best defend your break out of your own end. Don’t expect an odd man rush, don’t expect to be able to carry the puck over the blue line. Dump it into the corners, and prepare to “try” to fight for it. Maybe get possession and try to set up a few shots on goal, but only once you’ve won the rush into the corner to beat your opponents defense to the puck. Upon losing possession, prepare to start backing up. (See Buffalo Defense)
Pittsburgh’s Offense (Or anyone else in the NHL for that matter)
As soon as you obtain possession of the puck, start moving towards your opponents goal, and fast. Use your speed, and sharp, crisp, ACCURATE, passes to force your opponent backward towards their own cage. Keep moving in order to give your forwards space, and make sure that players will be open for strong scoring opportunities. When you do have to dump the puck into your opponents end, do it and keep your skates moving. 2 men head into the corners to fight for the puck, and be sure that you aren’t afraid to check your opponents defense. Don’t hang onto the puck for too long, and make smart decisions. Don’t allow your opponent to get too much pressure, due to making quick efficient decisions with the puck. When you don’t have the puck, unless you are stationed in front of your opponents goalie as a screen, keep moving, and finding open spaces on the ice.
These 2 styles of play that Buffalo fans are being subjected to tonight (and almost every night) are completely different. I say this as politely as I can;
Only one of these styles work. Guess which one?
Buffalo needs to start playing the way Pittsburgh, and all their opponents are playing them. Buffalo is playing weak hockey. They take their time on their breakouts, and let their opponents just carry the puck into the offensive zone, and let their shots fly. Malkin has done that a few times tonight, and Engelland’s goal was the same instance too. Pittsburgh didn’t really create space tonight. Buffalo gave it to them, gift wrapped. They will continue to do so, even after the holiday season is through.
Two thoughts from tonights game...
I have no idea as to why McNabb was scratched over Gragnani tonight. Ruff said that “Marc had done some good things”... I don’t think we’re watching the same games lately. McNabb plays the aggressive hockey that Buffalo needs from all their defensemen. Gragnani doesn’t deliver it. His idea of a body check, is gently placing his hand on his opponents back, when they have the puck in the Buffalo zone.
Also, I pray that no one blames the goalies tonight. You can’t blame Miller or Enroth in this one. Blame the team in front of them. Marty Brodeur would be giving up all these goals if Buffalo was playing in front of him.
Why does Buffalo play this way? Coaching. This isn’t something that they just do for 1-2 games. It’s every single night. This is practiced by Buffalo. A lot of coaches this season have been fired for lackluster performances, and we’re not yet halfway through the season. With an aggressive new owner, who knows what may happen next in Buffalo. However, the pieces are in Buffalo, to put an excellent hockey team on the ice. They just aren’t playing like one.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always liked Lindy Ruff. Unless something changes soon in Buffalo, he may be looking for another job.