Saturday, December 12, 2009

Anatomy of a Play: Why Top Tier Defensemen are so Important

The predators lost in OT to the Red Wings, 3-2, tonight.  The OT goal was a heartbreaker for preds fans, and a great example of what makes leagues top defensive players so great.  Let's dive deeper into this D-Man let down in the first installment of "Anatomy of a Play". (With pictures and video after the break).

The Situation

The OT period has just started.  OT, unlike regulation play, is a four-on-four situation (plus goalies) for five minutes.  If no one scores, it goes to a shootout.  The goal is to ensure that someone scores.  Imagine if the NFL, in overtime, required the defense to play without a free-safety.  Same situation.  You'd see alot more "long bombs" in OT.  That is exactly what the Predators saw tonight.

Anatomy of the Play

Here is the game winning goal.  The Predators turn the puck over in the offensive zone (bad, but it happens).

At 0:07 in the clip, the "long bomb" happens to Todd Bertuzzi (red arrow).  Think of Bertuzzi as a LenDale White.  He's big, but not huge.  He's pretty fast, but not lightning fast.  He's good, but not great.

At 0:09 seconds, Bertuzzi has the puck.  Notice that that the Predator Defenseman Klein, #8, has a step on Bertuzzi.   Just like the NFL, speed is so important in hockey.  Klein is now playing the role of free safety.  Its his job to make sure no one gets by him.  Will he "make the tackle" (i.e. knock Bertuzzi of the puck)?

Ah... no.   Speed kills.  Notice what happens between 0:09 and 0:10:  Klein loses the step that he has on Bertuzzi, now it is neck-and-neck, a race to the goal.  This is where the difference between top D-men, and second string, is so important.  Klien is a younger defenseman.  He's going to be very good, but he did not make the play here.  Here, he's Donnie Nickie, not Michael Griffin.

All is not lost at this point.  Bertuzzi's stance (above) is called "building a wall".  He is using his body to shield the puck from Klien.  Think of this as a running back covering the ball with both hands, running with his head down near the goal line.  He won't fumble, but he's not sprinting.  Bertuzzi is not sprinting either. (Notice, that in this position, Klein must continue to skate toward the bottom of the screen.  His body position won't let him skate toward the top).

So Klein didn't make the first play by knocking Bertuzzi off the puck.  He is skating full speed on Bertuzzi's left, and the puck is on the other side of Bertuzzi.  Right now Klein has two options: (1)Klein can either make a play for the puck (think of this as trying to strip the football), which is less likely to stop the play but also less likely to draw a penalty.  (2) Or, Klein can put a shoulder into Bertuzzi (i.e. make the tackle), which is more likely to draw a penalty much much more likely to break up the play. [Think to yourself right now, what would a Griffin or Courtland Finnegan do in this situation... he'd blow the opponent up!]

Unfortunately, Klein picks option two, and tries to play the puck.  To be fair, this is a "safer" play if it works.  Had Griffin gone for the hit, he would have very well ended up in the penalty box.  Thus, the Predators would have been down four-players-to-three.  Regardless, Klein switches sides to "get around the wall".  He is now behind Bertuzzi.  Worse, remember how the "building the wall" forced Bertuzzi to skate toward the bottom of the screen?  Well, to defend against that, Pekka Rinne moved toward the bottom of the screen to get ready to make a save.  How that Klein is behind Bertuzzi, there is no more "wall", and Bertuzzi is much more agile.

Rinne, the goalie, has already committed to going toward the bottom of the screen.  Bertuzzi is free to juke back to the top of the screen.  Klein was not strong enough to force the puck off of Bertuzzi's stick once Klein made his move.  Bertuzzi is able to put the puck into a relatively open net.

Weber Wouldn't Have Done That

I can't find the video, but I think I'm right when I say that a similar play happened during the second period.  That time Weber was the defenseman.  Instead of making an extra move to play the puck, Weber "played the body".  That's why Weber is an All-Star Defenseman, and Klein is very good, but still a work in progress.

Wrap Up

So there you have it, folks.  Jeff Fisher hates missed tackles and tucking in his shirt.  I too hate missed defensive plays.  That is what we had tonight.  The decision made between 0:08 and 0:10 lost us the game.  However, I must congratulate the team overall.  After a disastrous first period the team really rallied.   Coming out of this game with 1 point is huge.  (I will do a post on how the NHL standings work and why the are so confusing later... for now, think of an OT loss as "1/2 a win"... because that's what it is).

Thank You - Preds Bloggers!

A special thanks to Dirk Hoag at and The Oates family at for the shoutouts on the new blog.  Both are really top notch hockey blogs.  I may have missed (or will miss) a few others.  Let me just say that the blogs on the right are all worth reading in a real way (I know I do).


  1. Klein/Griffin analogies are too perfect. Both need to get it together fast.

  2. I hate to be that guy, but I'm going to have to disagree with all of this. Klein was not at fault on this goal. Bertuzzi was the RW, and Hamhuis was the LD. It was Hammer's man, regardless of who was able to catch Bert first. Klein did nothing wrong. Zero chance of Klein "tackling" Bert here. Bert is way too big for that and had perfect positioning on him to make any hit (ever a Weber one) useless.

  3. Dave, thanks for the thoughts, and thanks for reading. I think you are exactly right about Bertuzzi being Hamhuis's man (and I have no doubt I will have an opportunity to break down one of Hammer's mistakes in the future). I think one point I wanted to convey was the importance of top end speed and strength, to readers who are unfamiliar with hockey.

    On the play, if Klein had been 1/2 a step faster, or strong enough to muscle Bertuzzi, the play would have ended differently. You may be right that Klein made the best play he was capable of making (which I'm still not convinced of, though Trotz did sell out Hamhuis and not Klein in the post game presser).

    Anyway thanks for reading. This is very much still a work in progress!