NHL 14: Written Guide to Defense
The First Lesson
Here’s the first lesson of playing defense: YOU’RE NOT A FORWARD. STOP ACTING LIKE ONE.
Defense in the Defensive Zone
For specific situations, I’ll write as though you’re playing LD. (Just flip it for RD)
The scenario here is that there’s an opposition forward skating down the wing on your side with the puck.
Defense is a position that is extremely situational. Let’s start with the backcheck. As soon as the other team gains possession of the puck or even looks like they’re going to get the puck, start backing out of the offensive zone. The last thing you want to do is get caught on your heels and give up an odd-man rush or, worse yet, a breakaway.
A lot of people have the misconception that playing defense is all about hitting. Granted, hitting is an important part of it but position is always most important. Any sort of physical stop that you’re going to make will most likely occur at your own blue line. However, you really have to take into account where the opposition’s players are as well as your own players. If you see an opp. forward skating with the puckcarrier, your best bet there would be to hold off of that body check. Unless your other Dman is right there to pick up the puck or the player in the case of a missed hit, don’t even THINK about making that hit. Your best bet in that situation is to stay in front of him and go for the poke check or stick lift.
Now that the opposing skater has entered the zone. Imagine a cone in front of the net that extends from the crease almost out to the midway between the faceoff dot and the near side of the faceoff circle on each side. That’s your ground. It’s your job to keep the opposing team from setting up in that zone. Now, if the opposing skater is coming in on a rush, it’s your job to keep him from getting an inside scoring chance. Keep him about a stick to a stick and a half length from you and keep his inside shoulder in line with your outside shoulder. This will ensure that you are in good position to make a play should he try anything. If you’re playing by yourself on D (other D is cpu) and there are two skaters rushing the net, your best bet is once the player without the puck has crossed the hashmarks in the slot, skate across the crease and take him out of the play with a stick lift or a good clean body check. Leave the goalie to save the easy short-side chance. A low-percentage short-side chance is infinitely preferable to a high-percentage cross-crease one timer.
If the player is coming down the opposite side and you’re left covering the open area, skate with the puckless player. The same principle applies of keeping him outside of that cone. As soon as he enters the porch, knock him out of the play. Always be looking for him to receive a pass and prevent that pass from connecting.
Now, if the opposing team has the puck and they’re cycling it, your job is to post up a bit in front of the goalie, to the side of which D you’re playing. If you’re LD, set up in front of, slightly to the left of the left post. The heel of your inside skate should line up with the post.
If anybody comes into the porch (the space in front of the crease) and the other team has the puck, they’re fair game to get rocked. Tie those players up, hit them, just in some way, get them out of that area. This is called “clearing the porch.” This is the most effective way to keep the opposition from scoring easy one-timers.
If the puck goes behind the net on your side, assess the situation. If you’re going to get hit as soon as you get to the puck, let it go. Odds are, your teammates won’t know to pick up your position if you go down behind the net, making for easy wrap-arounds and backdoor passes.
Starting the Breakout
Now let’s say you’ve successfully gotten the puck from the opposition and you’re now in your defensive zone with possession of the puck. Get rid of that puck! If you’re on the penalty kill, chip it around the boards, saucer it up into the air. Your priority on the PK is to keep that puck out of your zone. If it’s even strength, you’re now on the breakout. The main idea here is to keep the puck away from the opposition while still advancing the puck out of your zone. This may seem like an “of course” idea, but I’m sure you’ve seen it go wrong in practice. Make the safe passes. If nobody else is open but the other D man, cross it to him. If the only open player is behind you, drop it back to him. Don’t be a hero. Playing defense is all about risk management. Get that puck to your forwards and let them work their magic. A nice trick I like to use is when I get the puck, if I have a winger on the boards, I’ll skate behind the net and slap a puck around the boards. That’s a quick way to not only get the puck out of the zone, but also get a nice rush started.
In the Neutral Zone
Now that you’re in the neutral zone, your job is to make sure that if the puck is turned over, you don’t give up an odd-man chance or breakaway. Head-man the puck to your forwards and let them take it in. If you happen to get the puck in the neutral zone and there is nobody else open, just dump the puck into the zone. Even if your forecheck sucks, dumping the puck affords you enough time to get back and properly set up your backcheck.