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Face-offs on Penalty Kills

Face-offs on Penalty Kills

Excerpt From: Hockey Plays and Strategies

Every penalty kill has one thing in common: It starts with a face-off. Many pundits of our game see the neutral zone face-off as a throwaway item, especially while killing penalties. We very much disagree. Every face-off is an opportunity to gain puck possession, and every detail of winning these face-offs must be attended to. For example, lazy positioning can seep into our game. Sometimes in the neutral zone both defenseman pull off the line and hang back toward their own end at face-offs. In this simple example of attention to details, any time the left or right side of the face-off is left abandoned, it increases the opponent’s ability to gain puck possession. Always place players on the penalty kill, including defenseman, tight to the face-off (figure 10.1), giving them an ability to contest for the loose puck and therefore increasing your ability to gain possession. Possession of the puck on the penalty kill may mean only seconds, but every second decreases your opponent’s ability to score with the player advantage.

For obvious reasons, the defensive zone face-off becomes a very important component of a successful penalty kill. Proper possession of the puck in the defensive zone often allows your team to relieve pressure and advance the puck 180 feet (55m) away from your goal. A key component of aligning or positioning your players (especially who takes the face-off) has much to do with the center’s strong side.

Figure 10.1 Always place players tight to the face-off on the penalty kill.


The defensive zone penalty-killing face-off alignment has many options. Let’s discuss a few.

Most NHL teams try to have the center draw the puck back toward the corner, hoping that the boards-side defenseman can jump quickly off the line to gain possession of the puck or bump the puck to his partner behind the net (figure 10.2). It helps to have this boards-side defenseman on his forehand when he approaches the puck. If this is the case, the best option is to lay the puck to the inside winger, who moves quickly toward either the opposite half boards or the opposite side of the net.

On seeing the puck won clearly, the inside winger races to the corner or the half boards to retrieve a bank pass or slow rim by the boards-side defenseman. We have found over the years that minor details are very important, such as making sure a right-handed defenseman is on the ice to maximize a won face-off opportunity. (In this case, because the face-off is left of the net, it is advantageous to have a defenseman with a right-hand shot on the boards to best handle the puck if the draw is won cleanly.)

Figure 10.2 A common penalty kill face-off strategy is to have the center draw the puck back toward the corner.


Never give your opponent soft possession of the puck off the draw. Always make sure that all opposing players are contested for possession of the puck (figure 10.3). Always make sure that if the puck is drawn to the boards that your team does not easily give up possession of the puck. Make sure the boards-side D contests any tied draws hard. You may say that these are small details, but details becomes an important word when dealing with the penalty kill.

Figure 10.3 Always contest all opposing players off the draw


There are some other important points to consider in regard to defensive zone PK face-off alignments. We prefer the winger to be inside the pocket of your team’s inside defenseman (figure 10.4), and here’s why. Hundreds of times we have seen this winger jump through toward the center, win a loose puck, and clear it down the ice.

Figure 10.4 The winger should be inside the pocket of your team’s inside defenseman


We also prefer this alignment because the inside winger has a better chance to “jump” off the lost face-off pressure than the center does. In Montreal off a lost face-off, that inside winger would press the puck hard, and then the center would respond to the secondary positioning (figure 10.5). This works especially well now because face-off interference is called much more tightly. The opposition cannot obstruct inside winger as much as in previous eras of our game.

Figure 10.5 Off a lost face-off, the inside winger can press the puck hard with the center responding to the secondary positioning.


With the game tightening up, the obstruction rule has changed how teams set up their players for face-offs. In this alignment in the past, when the center cleanly won the face-off, the boards-side defenseman would hold up the opposing player a bit, the inside winger would hold up the opposing winger a bit, and the inside defenseman would retreat and slap the puck down the ice (figure 10.6). Obviously, this is still an excellent alignment, but both the winger and the boards-side D must be careful on the holdups.

Figure 10.6 The inside D retreats and slaps the puck down the ice.


Another effective way to clear the defensive zone when the face-off is won cleanly is the winger press. In this alignment, the boards-side D rims the puck hard around the boards and the winger now staying outside presses or runs the opposing D to make sure the puck departs the zone (figure 10.7).

Figure 10.7 The boards-side D rims the puck hard around the boards.


Whatever face-off alignment is utilized, coaches can see how important it is to have every player on the ice in-sync and understanding their roles. Remember, the face-off is the only time that hockey players get to play football. Face-offs are a great opportunity for you or your center to call the play and then celebrate when the players on the ice perfectly execute it.

Continue Reading: Forechecking on Penalty Kills

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