Top Shelf Analysis: Part One, The Traditional Speed Breakout
Caption: Early childhood toys, and also this cute Avs figurine.
A few people have suggested it and now it's happening. The Brothers Parkin (a.k.a. c6 and SeeSeven) will attempt to perform some in-depth analysis of the Avs' likely systems, starting with breakout strategy. Part 1: The traditional speed breakout, Patrick Roy era (predicted).
But first a few important questions:
- Will this post be long? Yes, painfully so.
- Will there be Scotch? Yes, with tasting notes.
- Will you post your initial draft somewhere else so the truly masochistic can regret reading it? Absolutely.
Quick introduction: My brother and I have a played a lot of hockey. Together we account for 54 years of hockey experience, and for some very good teams. So when I tell you that professional-level hockey strategy would make us look like idiot children, I want you to understand my full meaning (10 points for the first person to get the reference).
Seriously, we're not pros. Our goal is a series of posts explaining different areas of common strategy that apply at all levels of hockey, and to try to highlight what the Avs will do well and/or differently. Hockey at the NHL level is complex and nuanced, so it's a bit hard to break down visually in a way that everyone can understand. Luckily we found the right tool for the job: cocktail napkins. If I can get a guy next to me at the bar to understand it then there's a chance we can use the same tools to explain it to Chia.
But before we start, we need to talk about naming. Naming is difficult. A lot of strategies have no names, really obvious names (like "the breakout"), or different names to different people. We are going to use the naming system familiar to us, which we think is depictive.
[For those drinking along at home, the Scotch for this section was a Glenburgie 10. This is a Speyside, sweet and nutty with surprisingly little peat. Lots of sherry influence and a great dram to start the night. We also had a Kilkerran, 2nd release, a Campbelltown. It was wonderful--salty, sweet, and grassy. Highly recommended.]
This is the simplest and most common breakout from deep in our own zone. The Avs are the X's and the opponents are the O's. The initial puck carrier is our Left Defenseman with the dotted circle, who is looking to move the puck out of the zone. The Left Winger (O'Reilly) is at the blueline looking to take a quick pass or get out of the zone. The Center (Duchene) is in the center circling down to accept a pass and then fly out of the zone. The Right Winger (PA) is going to immediately head up the ice towards the far blueline, and the Right Defenseman is in the proper position to accept a pass if needed.
Caption: If this picture doesn't make sense to you, quit now. It's about to get a lot messier.
Next: Let's look at the Left Defenseman's options. [Oh! There's the name of this thing!! I knew we wrote it down: The Traditional Speed Breakout].
Caption: All the defenseman's passing options at once. [NOTE TO SELVES: don't show this to anyone, because it's far too confusing. I'm getting lemon peel from this Glenburgie. Are you getting lemon peel?]
Option 1: Pass to the Left Wing who has moved down to be available Option 2: Pass to the Center who has curled toward the puck carrier
Option 3: Pass to the other defenseman, either in front of the crease or behind the net.
So let's start with Option 1: When will this happen? When the forechecker closest to the puck carrier defenseman is blocking the pass to the Center. If that pass is blocked, the Left Defenseman can only go to the Left Wing (best) or the other defenseman (worst). The first pass (1) will usually go to the Left Wing on the boards. The Left Wing will then look to hit the Center with the second pass (2), who has curled and is heading up ice.
This is the beginning of a good breakout. The Right Wing is at about the center red line heading to the offensive zone. The opposing center should be trying to stay with our Center and the opposing defensemen have begun to back up. If these two passes are crisp, the Center will be headed with speed towards the opposing blue line. Now the Center is the puck carrier and has three options and a quick decision to make:
Caption: The Center's three options.
1. The Center can skate into the zone on the left and try to get around the defenseman and deep into the zone.
2. The Center can skate straight into the zone for a shot on net or try to split the defense if they're out of position
3. The Center can pass to the Right Wing who is also coming with speed into the zone.
This is called a Speed Breakout because the goal is to get the puck out of our own zone quickly and transition to the offensive zone with only one or two passes. As you can already see, this is a good strategy for fast teams with quick and talented centers like the Avalanche. The first pass by the defenseman is critical to the success of the breakout and his decision needs to be fast and confident. The Center also plays a crucial role because he needs to maintain speed and be able to accept a pass at speed while also reading the play and starting the attack. This is why it's important to have at least three competent Centers on your roster, if not four.
If the Left Defenseman has the puck but the opposing forechecker is blocking the pass to the Left Wing his best bet is to make the first pass (1) to the Center in his own zone.
This pass ideally hits the Center, who has circled and is exiting the zone with speed. If that pass is accurate (queue "first pass" discussions for the rest of the year), the Center will leave the zone with space and speed. He now has options:
[Yeah, we've moved venues and got drunker. The pictures got darker. The analysis got brilliant-er. Scotch for this round was a Miltonduff 10, a Speyside which was caramel-ly, fruity, tabaccoey. I thought it tasted like apple pie. And we had a Benriach 16, a Speyside which was fruity and peaty. Kilkerrie is still the favorite of the night so far.]
1. The Center can hit a streaking Left Wing as he enters the zone
2. The Center can continue down the middle course and force the defense man to defend against three attackers as his wings get into position.
3. The Center can hit a streaking Right Wing as he enters the zone
The two first pass scenarios we have covered so far both rely on the Center maintaining speed and control with the puck and beating the opposing Center out of the zone. Notice how "speed" is so vital to this working as long as the 1 or 2 passes on spot on. The whole goal of a Speed Breakout is to catch the other team in transition before they can get set in a trap formation. Or, even better, to get to the offensive zone while they're still changing lines.
If the opposing team is applying good pressure in our zone, the Left Defenseman will have no lane to pass to the Left Winger (Option 1) or the Center (Option 2). He must either do something stupid (dammit, Hunwick) or make the first pass (1) to the other defenseman, either behind the net or in front of it. This is what Boston does all the bloody time. As you can see from the two X's with the double dotted line, the Right Defenseman can move up or down in the zone depending on the configuration of the forecheckers and how deep into our own zone we're starting the breakout.
Now the fun part: everyone changes places! Left Wing heads out of the zone, Center circles back for the now Right Side break out, Right Wing comes down again to be in position for a short pass and we're the mirror opposite of where we started. The opponent wing on the Left Defenseman heads out to the neutral zone, the near wing applies pressure to our guys, and the opposing Center heads to the blueline to cut off passes and both of the opposing defensemen shift right.
If all goes well the Right Defenseman has retained possession of the puck and has all the same options that the Left Defenseman had to choose from. But in order for this pass to be effective the forwards all have to get back to their appropriate positions quickly and catch the opponents out of defensive position.
Of course if the Right Defenseman still doesn't have any good forward options he can pass back to the Left Defenseman and try again. We'll just call this part the Boston Bruins breakout strategy, particularly if it goes on for four or five passes in a row.
The Traditional Speed Breakout is ideal for teams that are capable of quick transition, which the Avs certainly are. We've got plenty of guys with good footspeed, but they also need to give and receive passes quicker than they did last year. Defensemen play a big role in this style of breakout, which will be an adjustment for a team that mostly relied on forward skating to get out of the zone last year. Luckily goalies play almost no role at all in this breakout style, so we can rule that out as a variable for success.