Hockey is a possession game.
The team that has the puck the most is usually going to create the most chances, score the most goals and win the most games. Right now that team is the New Jersey Devils, and it's a big reason why they're one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals after their 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night.
The Devils aren't shutting down the Flyers offense or keeping them off the board because they're sitting back and defending, or even getting outstanding goaltending from Martin Brodeur.
(Brodeur, by the way, celebrated his 40th birthday on Sunday with a win, as well as an assist).
They're shutting them down, and beating them, because of a relentless forecheck that is coming at the Flyers in waves. They're not allowing them to get the puck out of their own zone, and they are absolutely dismantling Philadelphia when it comes to the territorial game.
As Pete DeBoer said during the Devils Game 3 win, the best way to defend the Flyers is to make them play in their own end of the ice, and that's pretty much been the story in each of the past three games. There have been multiple stretches where the Flyers have gone 10 or more minutes without recording a shot on goal. It took 13 minutes in the second period on Sunday night, for example, for the Flyers to get their first shot of the period.
One of the best ways to get a look at which team is possessing the puck the most is to simply look at the number of shots attempted (shots on goal, shots that miss the net, shots that are blocked). If one team is taking the majority of the shots, it's probably a good sign that team is controlling the puck.
Over the past three games over 62 percent of the shots that have been attempted have come off the stick of a New Jersey Devils player.
Here's the game-by-game breakdown.
|Percentage of shots taken: Devils vs. Flyers Games 2-4|
|Team||Game 2||Game 3||Game 4||Total Games 2-4|
|New Jersey Devils||56%||65%||66%||62%|
That's what coaches like to refer to as "tilting the ice."
The only way to overcome a territorial disadvantage like the one shown above is if your goalie plays out of his mind. And while Ilya Bryzgalov has been much better in round 2 than he was in the opening series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, it hasn't been enough to bail out the Flyers. And now they're facing elimination as the series shifts back to Philadelphia for Game 5.
You don't beat the Flyers by defending them, you beat the Flyers by attacking them and making them play defense. That's exactly what New Jersey has done over the past three games, as the above numbers illustrate.
It shouldn't be a surprise that New Jersey is 3-0 over that stretch and is on the verge of moving on.
If the Flyers don't find an answer for what New Jersey is throwing at them byTuesday night, this series will probably be over.
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