Bob Nielsen has been coaching hockey at some level for 27 years. He's currently coaching a high school hockey team outside of Philadelphia, PA. In those 27 years, Nielsen has gained a world of insight into the game. He's put that knowledge on his website, www.IceHockeyDrills.info and the site has become an online coaching library of tactics and strategies, complete with explanations and in some cases, videos of coaching techniques and tactics. One such video caught my eye, an explanation of the Diamond Penalty Kill. We've discussed the Oilers' shortcomings while short-handed, and Tyler has as asked questions about the Diamond Tom Renney and Ralph Krueger are employing to mostly hilarious effect. Nielsen lays out the tactics involved in the Diamond in the video below.
I spoke with Nielsen about the Diamond Penalty Kill with the intent of bringing to light just what it is the Oilers are trying to do while short-handed and to understand what the Diamond should look like when executed competently.
Copper & Blue: Edmonton fans are watching the Oilers attempt to play the Diamond Penalty Kill and wondering exactly what supposed to be going on. Your video explains it well, but I was wondering what exactly is the advantage of the Diamond versus the Box?
Coach Bob Nielsen: There isn't necessarily an advantage to running a diamond penalty kill (DPK) over the standard box; it is more of a coaching preference. Typically though the diamond is used primarily against a team that runs the umbrella power play. The umbrella keeps a quarterback up high in the middle of the ice and the standard box doesn't handle that formation very well.
C & B: Is there a certain type of player a coach needs to play the Diamond?
Coach Nielsen: Absolutely. When using the DPK a player needs to read and react much more than in the standard box formation. You need a player who is willing to block shots and you need players who understand the art of angling. Speed and quickness are also very important for the players on the outside point of the diamond and a strong defenseman is very useful in front of the net.
C & B: How long is the typical learning curve for a player moving from the traditional Box to the Diamond?
Coach Nielsen: I have a hard time speaking on this based on the NHL level. I would suspect that a player at that level should be able to pick up new ideas pretty quickly. Most teams practice four days a week and have the ability to study video before and after practice. The DPK puts much more emphasis on covering passing lanes and angles but again at the NHL level this should be a fairly simple transition from one version of the penalty kill (box) to the diamond. Now one thing to keep in mind is that every player has their own level of competence and the coach needs to determine which players are best suited to implement his tactics.
C & B: The Oilers are obviously having trouble executing the Diamond right now and it's resulting in two-on-ones down low on a somewhat regular basis. This is happening on rebounds as well as coming off of cross-ice passes. How does a team stop this?
Coach Nielsen: Good question. Rotating through the defensive positions is very important while implementing the DPK. For instance when the puck is up high you will have a 2 on 1 low against the defenseman in front of the net. But as the puck cycles down low the weakside player must step down to pick up one of the skaters in front of the net otherwise you have a pretty simple pass and shot situation down low. One option I like to implement is to close the diamond down a bit more than is typical. My philosophy is that a goaltender should be able to stop a shot from outside the diamond if he has a clean look at the shot. This enables the two corners of the diamond to squeeze the middle of the ice and be in better position to clean up loose pucks in front when necessary. It also helps to close down all the open space in the middle of the diamond that can allow the opponent to work inside of the formation for shots from the high slot area. Cross ice passes are a hallmark of the umbrella power play and one of the reasons that the DPK is used against it. If the high forward stays too high he opens up the lane behind him for the cross ice pass and the one-time shot on goal. The one timer is always difficult for a goaltender because of the side-to-side movement he has to make while tracking the puck from player to player. If the high forward stays lower he can take away that cross ice pass and force the one-time to more often come from the player at the top of the umbrella which will be easier for the goaltender to track and thus easier to save. If we were sitting in a room together I could go over all the different options each player must read when the puck moves around the ice, but in simple terms each player in the DPK has the responsibility to not only defend his area of the ice, but to also be smart enough to read the open spaces and fill the lanes through those open spaces. The bottom line is that defending a man advantage is always difficult and gets even more difficult the better the opponent is at moving the puck. If your opponent can move the puck quickly it can put you in odd man situations no matter how fast, strong or smart your players are.
C & B: There seems to be much more movement by the players using a Diamond compared to what we typically see in a Box. There are what seem to be constant rotations and shifts. Is this typical of a Diamond?
Coach Nielsen: I guess I answered this one in the above question to a certain extent, but the simple answer is yes. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you run a DPK against a non-umbrella power play you are opening more space for the opponent. If the opponent is running their PP off the half-wall you may run a box that morphs into a diamond from time to time based on the puck position, but running a DPK at all times seems to be a recipe for disaster. I will admit that I have not watched any of the Oiler games this year so I am basing my answers on your description of what is going on up there.
C & B: One other thing that Oiler fans have noticed is the defenseman chasing the puck carrier up the wall, sometimes to the blueline. Is this an aggressive implementation of the Diamond or is this a discipline issue?
Coach Nielsen: My personal feeling would be that this is a discipline issue, but that is on my team. Typically you don't chase up the wall unless your opponent has his back to you and is struggling to gain possession of the puck. The Edmonton coach may prefer that his players take away time and space in all situations so I can't be sure it isn't a coaching philosophy. Personally I tend to be more conservative so I wouldn't have my players chasing a guy up the wall in that situation. I would hold back and force the play around the outside of the diamond and hope that I can intercept a pass or pick up a loose puck for an easy clear.
C & B: In your video, you describe that one way to tighten up the penalty kill is to literally tighten up the positioning of the Diamond. I assume this limits the effectiveness of the kill?
Coach Nielsen: My experience is not that it limits the effectiveness of the kill, it just opens the opportunity for shots from the outside more frequently, but as I said earlier, I think a good goaltender should be able to stop a shot from that distance he has a clear view of. I think during a PK you need to make some compromises as a coach. Do you go for the aggressive approach and hope you get behind someone on the PP and get a goal or do you insist that your players stay patient and work hard to keep the shots outside and limit the opportunities inside of your defensive formation. Personally I always opt for the less aggressive more patient approach for long term success.
C & B: Finally, does a goaltender have to change his game or do anything differently when his team is in a Diamond in front of him? Is there a learning curve for a goaltender as well, especially one coming from a Box background?
Coach Nielsen: Another good question. I honestly don't think there is much difference for the goaltender. Most PP formations are trying to get traffic in front of the goaltender to create screens and deflections, so the defensive formation doesn't add to or detract from that very much. The one difference could be on shots from the outside that get through and rebound in front. In the Box you would have two defenders to clear the area, while in the diamond you only have one initially but the weakside player should be able to step down in time to help clear that rebound..
C & B: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. Can you tell me about your site?
Coach Nielsen: I maintain that site in an attempt to help other coaches run better practices with drills that work players and keep them excited about practice. I don't charge for the information nor do I make any money from the site. I do it for the love of coaching and the hope that I can in some small way help someone else be a better coach for our game.
Check out Coach Nielsen's instructional materials and videos at www.IceHockeyDrills.info