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.
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.
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.
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.