Offense Starts From The Defense

By JD Lagrange – Allow me to put on my coach’s hat for this one. Not because I’m better than you, far from there. But having been around the game for five decades… having played for a long, long time… having been coached by many different styles of coaches… by taking Hockey Canada’s coaching certifications and classes on and off the ice, both at the house and rep levels… having coached at different levels for many years… I was fortunate to have learned a few tricks of the trade that aren’t necessarily known to the fan sitting and watching the game.

Blaming forwards

Too many fans look at a group of forwards and think that they should be producing offensively. In reality, they are only partially right. Yes, forwards can have the ability to generate some offense on their own. But the bulk of that offense, more often than not, starts in your own zone. What?

Cole Caufield

While flipping the puck off the glass, or getting it out of the defensive zone is good to relieve pressure and, for the most part, helps keeping the puck out of your own net, it is not conductive to generating offense.

The first two passes out of the defensive zone are crucial to generate offense. The first pass must be on the tape to an open player, not one who has a player on his back already. The second one must not only be accurate, but it must catch a forward in full strides, ensuring that he doesn’t have to slow down to receive it.

Quick outs

In the following video, look how the defensemen generate offense with what we call “quick outs”. There are several ways to do that, as you will see.

Right now, due to the number of young defensemen trying to get acclimatized to the speed and forecheck strategies of the NHL, the Canadiens aren’t doing enough from the back end to help the forwards generate offense. The forwards have to work harder in battles instead of getting the puck “on the fly”.

Young defense

The Canadiens young defensemen are very talented. They have done breakouts of their own zone their entire young hockey career. But his is the first time that they do it against the top players in the world. The play is that much faster. Forecheckers are on you quicker. Opposing defensemen are on the forwards quicker. Even the forwards they are passing to are faster so the passes have to be further ahead. And then, you’re dealing with teams with the best coaching staff, and with tons of video preparation.

Kaiden Guhle

So yes, while talented, these young men need time to adjust and to grow into mature NHL players. We will see flashes of their abilities from time to time, but we will also see passes in the skates, turnovers, icing the puck due to a missed pass… none of which is good for generating offense.

What most of these young defensemen bring however, is an ability to join the rush. This can certainly help generate some offense. But even at that, they must learn to pick their spot, when and against whom to do it. That too can be hurtful to a team, resulting in turnovers or odd-men rushes the other way.

Veteran help

And that’s why, getting Mike Matheson and Joel Edmundson back from injuries will go a long way in helping generate offense. Yes, even Edmundson who is not known for his offensive abilities. What he does well, with his experience, is find open players on breakouts.

Kaiden Guhle is doing amazing, but he’s still adapting to the speed of the game at this level. Jordan Harris is showing flashes of greatness, but he too has a steep learning curve ahead of him. We can see that Johnathan Kovacevic is getting better as he learns the Canadiens’ system and develops chemistry with his teammates. And Arber Xhekaj is perhaps the one with the steepest learning curve and who would benefit most of a stint in Laval. That will likely happen when Edmundson comes back.

Right now, there are simply too many young players learning and trying to adapt. Too often, they simply cannot help the forwards enough to generate offense. When they do, or when the veterans come back into the line-up, it will make it easier on the forwards and that’s when you’ll see Martin St-Louis’ free-wheeling offensive side of coaching. Until then, you can expect a lot of inconsistency and spotty offensive production.

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Expectations on Offense: A Comparative

By Bob Trask – In early August, I published some optimistic predictions for the production of various Canadiens players in the upcoming season. Today, Scott Cullen published a far more comprehensive list of projections that covered over 400 players across the entire NHL. You can review his entire list here.

It is interesting to compare the projections to see where we were close and where we diverged. My list of 22 players did not include Mike Hoffman, who I believe could be traded before the season starts. Cullen’s list of 15 Canadiens’ players did include Hoffman. My list was prepared before the Sean Monahan acquisition, leaving only 13 players to compare.

While my projections were limited to goals scored, Cullen also estimated the number of games played by each player. If I were to update my list, my expectations for games played by various players would vary from the first list simply because of Monahan’s presence on the team. That would, in turn, affect my projections for production. Still, it makes for interesting comparisons.

The Comparisons

In the following comparisons, my projections will be on the first line of the table and Cullen’s will be on the second line of the table. An average of the two will be on the third line.

Nick Suzuki

Scott Cullen224264

Cole Caufield

Scott Cullen282351

Evgenii Dadonov

Scott Cullen211940

Jonathan Drouin

Scott Cullen82735

Christian Dvorak

Scott Cullen162238

Kirby Dach

Scott Cullen122436

Josh Anderson

Scott Cullen181230

Brendan Gallagher

Scott Cullen181937

Juraj Slafkovsky

Scott Cullen201939

Rem Pitlick

Scott Cullen101727

Mike Matheson

Scott Cullen91827

Chris Wideman

Scott Cullen82129

Jake Evans

Scott Cullen91524


Many of the projections were very close, the main exception being Jonathan Drouin. Part of that may be attributed to my expectation that Drouin could thrive under head coach Martin St Louis and part of it may be attributed to my expectation that Mike Hoffman could be traded with Drouin picking up some of Hoffman’s ice time.

The cut-off to make the top 400 projected scorers on Scott Cullen’s list was 24 points. Canadiens’ players who did not reach that threshold included forwards Joel Armia, Michael Pezzetta and Jesse Ylönen. Defensemen failing to reach the cut-off of 24 points included Joel Edmundson, David Savard, Justin Barron, Jordan Harris and Corey Schueneman. You can see my projections for those players in my article “Room for Optimism on Offense”.

It will be an interesting exercise for me to review how close I came with some of my projections and how far I missed by on others. In any case, I have set my own benchmarks for performance expectations. Have you set yours?

PS – For those who still hang onto every point that Jesperi Kotkaniemi puts up, Cullen projects that he will put 31 points on 12 goals and 19 assists – slightly lower than his projected output for Kirby Dach. *wink*

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