Last week I wrote about the way some coaches utilize their line matchups after icing calls in an effort to take advantage of tired bodies -- or an obvious mismatch -- on the other side.
The example given was the Penguins-Maple Leafs game and Dan Bylsma on two separate occassions loading up with his three best players against Toronto's fourth line. Even though it didn't result in a goal, it gave the Maple Leafs fits thanks to one of the largest talent gaps you will ever see on an NHL rink.
Wednesday's Chicago-Minnesota game, which the Wild won in a shootout, 3-2, offered another look at what can happen when a team is guilty of icing the puck (more than once, in this instance) with some tired bodies on the ice and the unintended consequences that can follow.
The Blackhawks opened the game with a five-man unit of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Brandon Saad, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on the ice. Three of those guys (Keith, Seabrook, and Hossa) were stuck on the ice for an extended minute-and-a-half shift as the Blackhawks were guilty of icing the puck on two separate occassions.
After the second icing, Minnesota coach Mike Yeo responded by sending out his top line of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Dany Heatley. Koivu, the natural center on the line, was kicked out of the circle and resulted in Heatley having to take the draw against Dave Bolland, Chicago's best faceoff man, and lost it cleanly. The puck slid along the ice to goalie Corey Crawford who, realizing that he had three tired teammates on the ice with him, calmly covered and drew a whistle giving Keith, Seabrook,and Hossa an opportunity to get off the ice.
The NBC announcing crew of Mike Emrick and Ed Olcyzk praised Crawford for a smart play to draw the whistle and allow the Blackhawks an opportunity to finally get a line change.
What happened next perfectly illustrated the dangers of defensive zone faceoffs.
Even though the Blackhawks had fresh bodies on the ice, the Wild won the ensuing faceoff and within four seconds fired three shots at Crawford (the Wild only had 18 even-strength shots on goal for the entire game -- three of them came on this one sequence), with the third one beating Crawford on a rebound (shown in the above at the top of the page) to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.
I'm not saying Crawford necessarily made the wrong play by covering the puck, but I'm not entirely sure it was the right play, either. And the result didn't exactly work out in Chicago's favor.
A few thoughts, utilizing our hindsight powers and armchair quarterback abilities:
1) I'm generally not a fan of goalies covering the puck and getting a defensive zone faceoff unless it's an absolute necessity (there's a scrum around the net and there is a risk of giving up a goal, he gloves the puck on a shot, etc.). Even with the trio of tired players, the Blackhawks faceoff win was so clean that it might have been possible for them to get the puck out of their zone, gain the red line, and dump it in deep to get their change without having to give Minnesota a third offensive-zone draw within the first two minutes of the game.
2) Had it been at a later point in the game, a timeout could have been an option for Chicago after the second icing call, but I can't imagine any coach would be willing to burn his one and only timeout less than two minutes into a game, no matter how long his players had been stuck on the ice. Then again, who is to say that wasn't a high leverage situation, either, as Minnesota ended up scoring a goal in what proved to be a one-goal game? Doesn't get much bigger than that.
3) Gamesmanship! Stall tactics! What some teams will do (and you really have to watch for it) in an effort to slow the game down before a faceoff and give their players a quick breath without burning a timeout is send a winger into the faceoff circle to do nothing but get himself kicked out. He then takes a long, slow, meandering skate back to his spot on the wing, while the natural center slowly circles around to take his spot for the draw. It's not quite the same as a full timeout, but it's a few extra seconds the players otherwise wouldn't have to rest.