Several weeks ago, I looked at the basic premise behind cycling the puck, which focused mostly on how to support the puck positionally. Holding the puck in the other teams end helps prevent them from scoring, but that’s only part of the game.
Generating offense from the cycle has many of the same philosophies as generating offense on the PP or on the rush: It’s all about creating shooting and passing lanes.
Generally speaking there are 2 ways you go about creating a scoring chance on the cycle. The first is having the puck carrier attack the net while the support players fan out and provide an outlet or attack if their man focuses on the puck carrier. The second is through transitions where the offensive players transition between high and low or across the zone to create a shooting lane.
When you attack the net with the puck, it’s usually because you’ve managed to get a step on the guy covering you or there’s enough space where you aren’t in much danger of having the opposition double team you.
As you drive to the net, your teammates want to keep the players covering them away from you. If one of the defensive players tries to provide help, your winger then wants to find a soft spot in the coverage for either a pass or to come in and attack the net while the other team is facing the wrong way.
On this play, Magnus Paajarvi has the puck on the right post. Andy Sutton is behind the net and Eric Belanger is on the half wall going towards the net. Paajarvi fakes to go around the net forcing the Carolina defender to head to the other side. The player covering Belanger has his back to him and his heading towards the net. Belanger stays a couple of strides back and Paajarvi stops his fake and attacks at the right post. Instead of having to try and attack the puck with a defender facing up on him, Belanger is allowed to get body position between all 5 Carolina defenders and ram the puck home.
When you attack the net with the puck, it can force the defenders to abandon their current check and focus on the puck. When that happens, your teammates must find the soft areas on the ice or the free lanes to the net and go to them to help generate offense.
Transitioning is when you use puck possession and passing away from the net to create lanes. Generally this involves rotating from the boards to the slot or switching up along the wall itself. As you are moving and moving the puck, you are looking to exploit the delay in reaction that the defensive team will have. Sometimes the delay will be enough to give you a lane to shoot. Other times you may need to string these delays together in order to create a full defensive zone breakdown. Basically what happens is that as they try to adjust to your transition, you eventually force them into bad coverage switches or having guys chase well out of position.
In this scenario, Jannik Hansen picks up the puck in the corner and skates up the wall. As he does, Mason Raymond moves from the middle of the ice to in behind Hansen along the boards. As he does, Hansen moves to the middle and passes the puck to the point. Hansen and Raymond are basically just switching positions and the defender covering Hansen peels back about 7 or 8 feet and no one stays with Raymond who gets the puck along the half wall with all kinds of space. The coverage is late getting to Raymond and Hansen stays in a soft area of the ice. An easy pass into the high slot results in a goal.
Creating offense from the cycle is all about finding gaps in coverage. Even if the coverage gap is away from the net, you can still create offense by skating to those areas and having your teammates move their feet and force the defenders covering them to follow, which hopefully opens up areas in better scoring positions.