Whether to relieve persistent pressure or elude a patient forecheck with a structured escape plan, it’s common for NHL teams to stop behind their own net to set up a controlled breakout.
This is exactly what the Edmonton Oilers did last week, ultimately leading to Leon Draisaitl‘s goal against the Winnipeg Jets on February 17, 2021.
Why do teams stop behind the net?
Typically, for two reasons:
- To slow the game down to relieve pressure. It might be a time when the opponent has gotten a lot of pressure on you. Maybe they had a long offensive shift but for whatever reason, they’ve backed off, maybe went for a change, etc… and you need a breather. So the defenseman takes the puck behind the net, maybe your team goes for a change, and you can regroup from there.
- The other team has set up in a controlled structure and isn’t pressuring hard with forwards, maybe after a line change or after you’ve set up in your controlled breakout behind the net. Regardless, this provides your team the time and space to plan your escape route via your controlled breakout.
What does the defensive team typically do?
In today’s game where the defensive structure usually tries to suffocate the offensive team, taking away time and space, you’re seeing a lot of teams play aggressively and almost go man on man with really tight gaps on each player without the puck. They’re trying to take away any passing options for the player with the puck and force turnovers up-ice.
In the video above, you see Winnipeg get up aggressively but make a few mistakes:
- Lowry gets beat up ice and loses defensive positioning.
- The defenseman does not gap up hard on the first pass so it’s an easy out.
This allows for Edmonton to have success.
What does the offensive team typically do?
Because it’s so difficult to make offensive plays in this scenario, a lot of times you’ll see the team with the puck choose to live to fight another day and just get the puck in deep with a pass into the neutral zone and a tip / dump in.
You’ll see some teams try and change lanes to cause some confusion, but because it’s often a man-on-man type situation it’s still pretty difficult to make any type of tape-to-tape offensive plays.
But Edmonton’s controlled breakout includes a really interesting tactic…
They swing Draisaitl away from the side of the Winnipeg defender gapping up because the defenseman is afraid to gap up so far into the corner, providing space for the first pass up that side.
Then, the stretch player crosses the far blue line towards that side allowing for space on the side Draisaitl is steaming up the ice. All Draisaitl has to do is beat his man up ice (which he does) and he gets the pass from Ennis for the breakaway.
Really cool play design from Edmonton.
Hope you enjoyed learning some of the in’s and out’s of these controlled breakout plays and seeing one done to perfection!