It is often said that the blue lines are the most important part of the ice. Good puck management and wise decisions in the five feet on either side of each blue line are crucial, and especially as the stakes get higher in the playoffs. Mistakes at the offensive blue line, in particular, can be disastrous, leading to turnovers and scoring chances for the opposition.
With the Hurricanes’ defensemen becoming even more involved in the offense, poor decision making at the offensive blue line can often wind up with the Canes on the wrong end of an odd man rush.
Against Pittsburgh, Justin Williams carries the puck into the offensive zone while Dougie Hamilton joins the rush. Williams is a tad careless with the puck and a well timed poke check springs the Penguins’ counter attack. Hamilton is picked and unable to recover in time to prevent an odd man rush. Matt Cullen then waltzes in and blows one by Curtis McElhinney.
Williams recognizes that he has numbers with him and tries to make a play, but at this stage in the game the captain needs to protect the puck better. In the blink of an eye, a potential Hurricanes rush turns into a goal against in the last two minutes of a period, doubling the Canes’ deficit.
Against Toronto, Nino Niederreiter, hounded by William Nylander, fails to get the puck in deep and it leads to a Toronto counter attack.
Nothing disastrous arises here, but it does leave two tired Hurricane defensemen at the end of a lengthy shift out to face the fresh legs of Auston Matthews. As such, Niederreiter should find a way to just dump the puck in and allow the defensemen to change and regroup.
Here, Jordan Martinook has control of the puck and is skating wide on Leaf defenseman Martin Marincin. Marincin pokes the puck away and forces an offside call.
Again, with no noticeable numbers advantage on the rush, Martinook would be wise to just softly chip the puck in the corner and allow the Canes’ forecheckers to go to work. Instead, Toronto gets a whistle and fresh legs.
In this clip, Niederreiter does well to leave the puck for Williams as he enters the zone. Instead of charging through defenders and risking a turnover, Williams wisely pulls up using a Gretzky turn. The Gretzky turn, sometimes called a Gretzky curl, features a puck carrier skating down the wing and curling back to the boards in order to slow things down. Here, it buys Williams time and space to further evaluate his options.
The hesitation allows Trevor van Riemsdyk to join the rush and the Canes are able to generate a few scoring chances. It’s all set up by great puck management just inside the blue line.
Good decision making doesn’t just apply to zone entries though. In the regular season finale against Philadelphia, a poorly executed pinch by Brett Pesce leads to a two-on-one salvaged only by Williams’ heroic backcheck.
The pinch itself isn’t a horrific decision, but Pesce charges at Jakub Voracek from the outside in, leaving Voracek the space to spring his linemates. If Pesce approaches from the middle of the ice and forces Voracek to the wall, there would be fewer options for the Flyers’ forward.
Execution at the offensive blue line will be crucial in the playoffs, especially against a team with quick strike capabilities and firepower of the Washington Capitals. Odd man rushes and turnovers happen, but minimizing them will put the Hurricanes’ in good position to slow down the Caps’ potent attack and potentially pull a first round upset.