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Hockey Systems – Fronting vs. Net-side Positioning

Last season we talked a lot about defensive zone systems (e.g., the low zone collapse, overload, hybrid man-on-man, etc.), and particularly what the Rangers as a team were trying to execute to prevent quality/dangerous shots on net. Today we’re going to zoom in on one specific area within the defensive end, the net zone, since it’s a small part of the system that I’ve notice has been tweaked based on who is between the pipes and on ice matchups.

dzone

To give you a refresher, the net zone (as diagramed above) is the area around the crease, which is generally the responsibility of the second defensemen back (in this case the RD). This player’s job is to protect the slot at all costs. However, within this zone, there’s essentially two different ways to defend the crease and support your goaltender.

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Like I said Tommy, if there’s no pictures, then it never happened ;)

The first tactic for defending your crease is called ‘fronting.’ Fronting is a defensive strategy where the good guys’ defensemen will stand in front of enemy forwards (shown above). The idea is to block shooting lanes, passing lanes and prevent scoring chances right in the crease.

This has been a tactic commonly deployed in Hank’s tenure as it allows his defense to absorb shots so he doesn’t have to. The main positive with this strategy is you’re preventing the enemy from getting direct deflections/tip-ins, which are often the hardest types of saves a goalie can make when facing zone pressure.

The negative side to this strategy is if the puck does get through your defense then the enemy forward often ends up with a good screen or an unchallenged chance at a rebound. Normally you wouldn’t deploy this strategy for shorter goaltenders like Lundqvist, but since he’s superb at placing rebounds into the corner, you don’t have to worry about the enemy getting those 2nd and 3rd chances very often.

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The other defensive strategy for the net zone is called net-side positioning (shown above). Net-side positioning is when the good guys’ defensemen is positioned between the goaltender and the enemy forward, who is trying to plant himself in front of the net to block the keeper’s field of vision. Often times fans will complain that none of our defensemen are trying to clear the crease in front of Lundqvist. In reality, it’s because they’re not playing a strategy that attempts to move the opposition out of the slot.

However, I’ve noticed that our defensemen have been a little more assertive in the crease when Talbot’s between the pipes. All of our d-men tasked with defending the net zone have been terrific at moving enemies out of the slot or just straight up knocking them on their ass. The advantage of this system is it allows the goalie to track shots better and prevent the enemy from getting to rebounds.

The disadvantage with net-side positioning is you can end up screening the goalie yourself if you fail to move the enemy out of the slot. You also eliminate yourself from takeaways and thus transition rushes, since you’re focusing on the enemy screen and not eating up the puck.

What will be interesting to monitor is if the Rangers eventually execute the same strategy with Hank as they do with Talbot in net once the latter gains more experience. Talbot is listed at 6’3 (two inches taller than Hank) and should be able to see over most screens, so there really isn’t a need for net-side defense once he gets better at rebound placement. Of course, a lot of this is based on matchups, so that could be having an affect on how they execute this as well.

Funny to think that Talbot, who has a .949 SV% and 1.32 GAA, is only going to improve. At a cheap cap hit (under $600K), one has to wonder what his long-term potential and career trajectory will be for the Blueshirts.

17 Responses to “Hockey Systems – Fronting vs. Net-side Positioning”

  1. PAL says:

    It now appears that 450 years ago, Shakespeare predicted the rise of this greatest Ranger goalie tandem since Giacoman and Villemure: In Henry VI Part 1, King Henry actually says in Act III, Scene 4,

    “Is this…Talbot…brave captain and victorious Lord!…A stouter champion never handled sword.” (In Elizabethan times, a “sword” was a well-known metaphor for “goalie stick”, which of course by synecdoche represents all of his goalie equipment.

    Additionally , in Act II, Scene 1, a character called “Bastard” (a clear allusion to Sidney Crosby) says “I think this Talbot be a fiend of hell.”

    As they say, you could look it up!

    • The Suit says:

      Well that has to be the first time Shakespeare has been quoted on a hockey blog. Nice touch.

  2. Bloomer says:

    Better goaltending and implementing stingy defensive strategies has led to fewer goals being scored in the NHL. Some argue it’s boring hockey to watch. The Rangers are a good defensive team, one of the best in the league. However, they are anemic goal scorers. The question remains, is this due to their lack in depth of offensive skilled players or more of a result of their defensive style of play?

    • Dave says:

      The goals will come. This team is shooting 5% right now, well below league average. That will correct itself over 82 games.

    • The Suit says:

      As Dave said, I think it’s just a little bit of bad luck. If we weren’t creating chances I’d be more concerned with scoring depth, but the opportunities are there.

      With regards to systems, I don’t think in today’s game you can blame offensive production or lack thereof since no one really plays one way anymore. So much of strategy is situational these days. You dont defend the boards the same way you defend the point, behind the net, etc. Your forecheck usually changes based on puck location, time left in the period. No one pressures for 60 mins or plays a trap for 60.

      With that said, if you’re not executing your system, regardless of what it is, production will be hard to come by.

  3. Walt says:

    Suit

    The other day I posted that I believed the team seemed to play better D in front of Talbot, and low and behold this write up. Nice writing, this may expalin what I was seeing, but didn’t realize what I was looking at!! Thanks.

  4. Mikeyyy says:

    I think it’s the symmetrical pad stacking.

    Symmetrical pad stacking. Just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      On fire with Ghostbusters references. You know Cam Talbot appreciates that.

  5. cv19 says:

    Why do I still have the feeling that he is just a “flash in the pan”? Skepticism bred of his late development? Hope so.

  6. Justin says:

    Great post, Suit. I was getting a similar feeling watching the game the other night.

  7. Mikeyyy says:

    As long as we don’t cross stress he will be ok. Right Egon?

  8. Paco33 says:

    I want to see Talbot steal a game before I think he’s more than an adequate back-up.

  9. PopsTwitTar says:

    I tend to trust what the Suit says about systems, but I am inherently skeptical about posts that say “I’ve noticed…” type things. We live in an age when every play can be diagrammed and screenshotted (screenshat?) so it would have been nice to see some picture evidence.