The Carolina Hurricanes curb-stomped the Caps in Game Three, exposing a few problems the Caps have breaking out of their zone.
Here’s how the Hurricanes’ forecheck strangles the Caps, and how the Caps can stop it.
The Canes are a young, fast team who put shots on net. The way they establish this is through a hyper-aggressive 2-1-2 forecheck, which utilizes their speed to force turnovers in the offensive zone when they don’t have a controlled zone entry. It’s rare that they’ll dump and chase, but when they do, it’s all out.
The forecheck works like this: there are two primary forecheckers. One attacker hounds the puck carrier to force a turnover (often a defender on one side of the ice), while the second attacker either shadows the puck carrier’s primary outlet option (often the other defender) or stacks behind the first forechecker for additional pressure. The third forechecker is a floater in open space to receive a pass.
Carolina’s first goal in Game Three is a perfect example of how this forecheck magnifies some of Washington’s problems, primarily that they have fewer defenders used to making a move or skating the puck out of danger, especially since Michal Kempny went down with a torn hamstring.
Brock McGinn applies heavy pressure to Brooks Orpik, who has two options: move the puck to Christian Djoos, or send the puck up the boards. A rule of thumb is to not move the puck to the center of the ice unless you have an unmarked player there, because that’s a prime spot for a turnover. Orpik hurriedly moves the puck to Djoos.
This is the right play to make from Orpik and Djoos. Orpik moves the puck quickly, and Djoos is in a supporting position to receive the puck.
But look where Djoos’s head goes while he’s receiving the pass. He knows there’s another player bearing down, and that split second where he checks is when he fumbles the puck. Because the Hurricanes have already sent a forechecker to him, this causes a turnover.
This is exploited further due to the fact that there is no lower forward support from the Capitals. Nic Dowd came back originally to support Djoos, but by the time the puck’s turned over and he tries to come back to help, it’s too late. Each defender is beat to their spot, and it ends up in the back of the net.
Carolina’s second goal is another great example of this forecheck working, and magnified by the lack of forward support from the Capitals. Warren Foegele and Teuvo Teravainen flood the boards against Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov. Because Niskanen wants to move the puck up the boards to counterpunch, the third forward, Sebastian Aho, flies right to the middle to create space, but also because he recognizes Orlov has lost his defensive assignment and the Caps forwards are either going for a change or are not backchecking.
The Caps shovel it up the boards and turn it over. Teravainen passes across the ice to Aho, who should be shadowed by Brett Connolly. But Connolly recognizes a mismatch on the boards and gets sucked in to try and help.
No other forward comes back to the middle of the ice, and the Hurricanes toy with the puck in front to get the goal.
But there are a few options to beat this stingy forecheck.
The first is to move the puck before those forwards get set. In Game One, Brooks Orpik sends the puck to John Carlson, who provides an outlet pass to Backstrom, who’s in position to support.
The forecheck can’t get set, and Nicklas Backstrom ends up scoring in transition.
The second is to make a move to beat the first forechecker, which creates time and space and a 4-on-3 opportunity. Because the second forechecker is preoccupied with the other defenseman, this move lets the forwards either move further down to help or creates a lane for the defender to skate the puck out of trouble. This video cut off right before the move, but Orlov does a phenomenal job of beating his man up the ice and creates an odd man rush.
The third option is for the forwards to come lower for support to try and create havoc for the second forechecker. If the second forechecker doesn’t know who to forecheck, or is worried about back pressure from the forwards, then this becomes a 1-1-1-2 system that’s easy to break down, or a 1-2-2, which gives the defender more time for an outlet pass.
On the Caps second goal in Game Two, look how low Carl Hagelin gets to support his defenders. This relieves some of the pressure on Orlov and Niskanen, and then Nisky fires an outlet pass up ice now that there’s more space.
Todd Reirden noted in his press conference Tuesday that “you find some things systematically that you can do different, and I think you should share them with your players, and I think it does become a helpful asset to your team having success.” This is a chance to figure out how to break some of that pressure and feast on odd-man opportunities against Petr Mrazek.
With a few quick changes that the Caps used in Game One and Two, the Caps can take Game Four and bring home a W to Washington.
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong
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