Photo by Amanda Bowen
Last season, I took a look at the Caps’ breakout under Barry Trotz. In that post, I looked at how the Caps generally breakout of their defensive zone, both when the breakout is contested by their opponent and uncontested.
In that article, I briefly touched upon the variations to a team’s breakout.
Teams generally have multiple approaches to their breakout. Hockey is a fluid game; there are variations and contingencies in every game. Those variations depend on how the opponent might disrupt the breakout or where teammates are positioned when their team gets possession.
This season, the Caps first line has debuted a variation to the breakout that I don’t recall seeing last season. The new twist is the Caps overloading the left side of the ice when breaking out of their zone.
While the variations may have been unintentional, more a split second reaction than a pre-planned set play, the Caps have created dangerous chances when they’ve used this variation of their breakout this season.
On opening night, on their first regular season shift together, the first line got a 3-on-1 rush due to an altered breakout. Here’s the clip.
On this play, Matt Niskanen gathers the puck behind the net and comes around the left side. Under the Caps normal breakout, if Niskanen were to make a pass as he came from behind the net, it would be to Alex Ovechkin on the left wall.
But check out TJ Oshie, who normally would be starting up ice on the right hand side, getting sneaky on us. Instead of making a move up the right hand side of the ice (black arrow), Oshie (blue circle) bolts across the ice as he moves north (red arrow).
As you can see, the two Devils at the top of each faceoff circle are focusing on Ovechkin.
As Niskanen comes around the net, Ovechkin realizes what is happening and you can see him start to skate towards the center of the ice. Two Devils are hopelessly pursuing the thought-to-be pending Niskanen to Ovechkin to pass, while another dude is just hanging out next to Alzner. One Devils player is next to Kuznetsov and realizes that only one of his teammates (off screen) is back, and the three Caps forwards are all transitioning up ice for what could be a 3-on-1. Got all that? Here it is in a freeze frame.
And then Niskanen rips the puck past Ovechkin and two unsuspecting New Jersey players to Oshie, who is now cruising full speed towards the left-side boards in the neutral zone.
Oshie is so gone that the cameraman can’t even catch up to him. In the picture below, you see Ovechkin and Kuznetsov skating up ice. Somewhere between the red line and the offensive zone blue line, Oshie is gathering in the pass. Also not pictured is the lone Devils’ player back, likely soiling himself, as he stares at the Caps first line bearing down on him, 3-on-1.
Here is said 3-on-1, with the Devils defender, the one who soiled himself, now pictured.
The Caps didn’t score, but this was a glorious scoring chance created by a wrinkle thrown into the Caps normal breakout, which is clearly the breakout the Devils were expecting.
This overload breakout resulted in another great scoring chance that ended in an Ovechkin goal for the Caps. Here’s the video with a breakdown below.
This breakout was not a set play, but the result of where Caps players happened to be after they thwarted an attack attempt by Chicago. As the Caps turn up ice, all four players are on the left hand side. Four of them are pictured below.
Oshie, the player closest to the boards, is gathering in the puck. The player parallel to him is Ovechkin.
Above, Oshie is up against the boards and has thrown the puck into space to Ovechkin, who has cut behind the forechecking Patrick Kane and is barreling towards the puck on the left hand wall. The Blackhawks are in trouble at this point.
The Caps first line created another odd man rush by overloading the left hand side of the ice and finding a player on the left hand wall in the neutral zone. Normally, the Caps move the puck to the middle of the ice in the neutral zone on their breakout.
The first play may have been a set play, or perhaps just a heads-up, split second decision by Oshie that Niskanen picked up on. The second play was a result of a turnover by the Blackhawks and the Caps adapted quite well to their unusual positioning as the breakout began. Regardless, given the chances created thus far, the Caps would be well served to look for more opportunities to utilize their overload breakout.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.