Corey Potter's Struggles Defending Against the Rush

Corey Potter has had an up and down season with the Oilers. He stepped in at the beginning of the year and did a remarkable job not just as a regular part of the defensive rotation, but also on the PP.

Lately though, things have been a bit rough for him. He missed significant time due to an injury, he Frankenstein’d Taylor Hall during a freak accident in warm up, and his on-ice play has tailed off.

One of the most significant problems he’s had is his defensive play on the rush. It isn’t that he’s getting beat by skaters, he’s just constantly finding himself in bad situations and having to react to a play instead of seeing it develop.

Coach Nielsen does a pretty good job breaking down the defenseman’s responsibilities on the 2 on 1. The Key points are as follows:

  • The D’s Initial Positioning is between the attackers.
  • The D should have one hand on his stick and the stick extended from the body.
  • The D must keep their head on a swivel to check the positioning off the puck.
  • The stick can be used to push the puck carrier wider or lure him into making a pass before he’s ready.
  • As play progresses below the tops of the circles, the stick should be pointed a bit more toward the puck carrier than directly in front of the body to cut down on the space between stick and skates that attacker could use to pass the puck.

I'll use a recent example against the Chicago Blackhawks to demonstrate some of Potter's deficiencies in this situation.

Keeping in mind the checklist from above, here’s 4 screenshots of how Potter handled this 2 on 1.

01_medium
02_medium
03_medium
04_medium

The first thing we’ll notice is that Potter did a pretty good job at keeping his positioning between the 2 attackers throughout the whole 2 on 1, never over-committing either way.

The D’s Initial Positioning is between the attackers.

As we continue through the checklist though, we can see where he starts to make his mistakes.

He never extends his stick to force the puck carrier wide, or pressure the puck carrier into a potential pass. When a LH shot is coming down on your left side, the puck will be in the middle of the ice for the majority of the play (he wants to keep his options open on his forehand). Extending his stick wide could have allowed him to force Jonathan Toews into carrying the puck on his backhand, which would have all but eliminated the option to shoot.

The D should have one hand on his stick and the stick extended from the body.

The stick can be used to push the puck carrier wider or lure him into making a pass before he’s ready.

As play progresses below the tops of the circles, the stick should be pointed a bit more toward the puck carrier than directly in front of the body to cut down on the space between stick and skates that attacker could use to pass the puck.

The remaining item on the checklist is perhaps the most important aspect of playing the 2 on 1 outside of body position. Not once in the sequence did Potter look over to Sharp. I’ve gone over the goal several times, and from the blueline in, Potter never turns his head to identify Patrick Sharp.

The D must keep their head on a swivel to check the positioning off the puck

What ends up happening is as the shot is taken, Potter has no idea where Sharp is, other than that he’s somewhere. There’s a slight hesitation by Potter just after Devan Dubnyk makes the save and it’s more than enough time for Sharp to put the puck in the net.

By the looks of how Potter reacts after the stop, it’s almost like he forgot Sharp was involved in the play. You often hear of tunnel vision from the puck carrier but defenders can be very susceptible to it as well (i.e. a hard screen in basketball).

You could also argue that the end result of the play was unavoidable even if Potter were to have recognized Sharp in time. That’s a fair enough assessment, but it then goes back to how easily he allowed Toews to set up a good shot from a quality shooting position. You can get away with a mistake, but you can’t always get away with several, which is what happened to Potter here.

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