The 1-1-3 neutral-zone forecheck is a hot topic among coaches at all levels, as it offers an intriguing compromise between defence and offence. It allows teams to hold their blue line better than with a standard 1-2-2, but it also gives speedy and skilled players more freedom to hunt the puck and create counterattacks than a rigid 1-3-1 trap.
At the NHL level Barry Trotz is perhaps the most famous practitioner of the 1-1-3. The veteran head coach used the neutral-zone scheme to help the Washington Capitals to a Stanley Cup in 2018. He introduced the system to the New York Islanders the following season, transforming an underachieving squad into a perennial playoff threat.
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Executed correctly the 1-1-3 can be a wonderful solution for a team looking to control the neutral zone and deny its blue line. But what about for teams game-planning against such a neutral-zone forecheck?
Understanding the formation
The Islanders, the Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning are three 1-1-3 teams competing in the 2020 playoffs. The Islanders and Stars use their neutral-zone forecheck to stifle their opponents’ transition game while Tampa’s more aggressive implementation helps the team force turnovers and counter with numbers.
In a 1-1-3 neutral-zone forecheck, F1 and F2 attempt to funnel the puck carrier toward to the two defencemen posted on one side of the ice. F3 tracks back hard from the offensive zone, lands alongside the Ds and locks the weak side.
The presence of a strong back three forces opposing skaters into a low-percentage carry outside the dots or influences them into dumping the puck into the zone and creating a loose-puck retrieval race. In case of a turnover, F1 and F2 can stretch the ice laterally and vertically for a quick counterattack with F3 and at least one active D sprinting to follow up on the play.
Solution 1: Up before they’re set
The main difference between a 1-1-3 and a 1-2-2 is the positioning of the third forward. If F3 is not available to link up with both Ds, then the formation cannot be established.
Therefore it is possible to surprise a 1-1-3 team by going north early in an offensive sequence, especially off a counterattack or during the defensive team’s line change.
A quick pass by the offensive team’s defenceman bypasses F3, preventing the defending players (in black) from setting up the 1-1-3. On such a vertical pass toward the outside of the rink, the onus is on the non-puck carriers to sprint the rink, attack between defenders and give the blue forward passing options on the entry.
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