Over the past week there were two highlight reel plays that had hockey fans and analysts in awe and excited for things to come in their young careers. One was by Chicago’s very own Kirby Dach while the other was by Nashville's top pick in the 2020 draft goalie Yaroslav Askarov.
If you haven’t seen them yet, take a look!
Now that we got those amazing clips out of the way, I’m going to be that guy and be a critical cynic throwing out alternate perspectives on each play to set the table for the crux of this blog.
While Dach’s perfectly placed kick pass was a thing of beauty, I hope that’s not his new modus operandi to make fancy plays whenever he can. Once in a while is fine but on the regular would be concerning.
Firstly, the Blackhawks in general need to stop with the fancy plays and instead default to the simple and smart fundamental plays. More on this in a little bit.
For Dach specifically, something that drove me crazy during his rookie year was his penchant for trying to stickhandle through the entire opposing team as he carried the puck up ice.
One could argue that Dach will get better at this with more NHL experience and as he physically matures plus added strength training.
However, I would argue that he needs to exercise more of his elite vision and playmaking to scan options, utilize his teammates, and execute the optimal play.
Also in the Dach clip, while his pass connected in a brilliant way, his passing brings up another criticism that many have of him: instead of constantly electing to pass, he just needs to take the shot himself. More on this later.
Now, with the Askarov stickhandling move to evade the forechecker, I question how much of what he pulled off was skill and how much was luck. In that one instance, it seems like 100% skill.
Yet, what is his success rate if he does that once a game or even a few times per game?
I would wager that it would not only be a much lower conversion rate but a high rate of giving coaches and fans heart palpitations as well.
And if he doesn't convert on that stickhandle, there's a good chance the puck is poked away for a turnover at one of the worst possible spots on the ice.
Onto what this means for the Blackhawks as a whole, the team needs to make it a habit and a priority to play fundamentally smart and keep it simple.
Or as Occam’s Razor dictates: the simplest solution is almost always the best solution.
Make the pretty play the exception rather than the rule.
Unless you’re Patrick Kane, trying to be fancy with regularity is a recipe for botched plays and turnovers.
Even then, Kane should follow this directive, too, then whip out the magic when the opportunity presents itself.
Keep it simple and smart and apply fundamentals.
There are riffs off of this lesson that also need to be stressed as the Hawks -- hopefully -- prepare for the 2020-21 season.
* Stop looking for passes that aren’t there: Why send the puck to another part of the ice if there are bodies and sticks in the way? Oftentimes when passes are being forced, it’s because someone is seeking a fancy play or elects to not do the next thing on the list.
* Shoot the darn puck: You can’t score if you don’t shoot. Rebound opportunities aren’t there either if the puck doesn’t get on net. Also, if the passing lanes are clogged, chances are a shooting lane could be more open so take advantage of that clear route.
* Take it hard to the net: It’s irritating to see the puck handler down low with a direct path to drive hard to the net for a stuff attempt or a snipe in close quarters decide instead to pass the puck out to the point. Even if the puck doesn’t go in, juicy rebounds could emerge.
* Know your options: All it takes is a quick scour of the ice around you to see how the defense is set up, where your trailers are, and what lanes are available to pass, shoot, or continue skating around to buy time for better options to develop.
* Manage and close gaps: Gap management is key so the opponent doesn’t have unimpeded paths to make plays. While the helicopter move from the belly is nice when it prevents a scoring attempt, it actually means you got beat and have to make a desperation move to save face.
* Block shots: This is everyone’s duty to not only congest lanes but also get in the line of fire to prevent shots from getting through to your goalie. Shot blocking is an art form, though, requiring accurate timing and placement or else earn the wrath of your goalie for creating a screen.
* Make quicker and shorter passes: Bang-bang passing keeps the other team from telegraphing the play to create easy turnovers. A series of shorter passes also keeps the opponent on their heels which can free up space. And use stretch passes sparingly when ripe situations to do so pop up.
* Be commanding with clearing attempts: For one thing, put a lot of mustard on clears. Weak clearing attempts are the kiss of death. One hard attempt and out. Be resourceful, too, by banking the puck off the boards, using the glass, or sending it airborne to center ice.
See you on the boards!