The best way to describe today’s game is FAST, FAST, FAST. Combine the individual speed of the player and the overall speed of the game and you have a very fast sport. This abundance of speed is now making it increasingly difficult to defend in the old traditional standard. No longer can teams just retreat through the neutral zone and allow skilled, speedy players the space and time to attack. To allow Patrick Kane or Taylor Hall or any fast, skilled player the space to collect a puck with speed uncontested is almost death in today’s NHL.
Almost all teams forecheck aggressively with their D on the strong side wall and a reloading forward. Thus, opposition is forced on their breakouts both in zone and through the neutral zone to slash their weak side winger looking to create loose puck foot races.
With this direct quick play, the defending team’s weak side defenseman is forced to defend the slashing weak side winger. In the old days, the WSD would just skate backwards from the offensive blue line and keep opposition in front of him. But with the individual player in today’s game being so quick, it is difficult to do so any longer. ANGLE GAPPING was something I first saw with the Detroit Red Wings back in 2011-2012 when 3 of their top 4 D were from Sweden. A tactic commonly used in Europe on the big ice surfaces, the Swedes have perfected Angle Gapping.
Angle gapping allows the WSD to gain his gap and speed on opposition’s slashing F. By having the toes of his skates pointing down ice, it also allows him to be in good position for puck recovery.
You also will see more and more teams use angle gapping in the neutral zone off any play where you see opposition change the point of attack or go D to D. In the neutral zone, you are also looking to discourage the opposition’s D from making that seem pass to the slashing F. Again, you will have the toes of your skates pointing down ice and allow you to contest any pucks chipped in behind your partner.
Angle gapping is a defensive tactic away from the puck that requires support from the back checking F’s. Often opposition will have their WSD jump up into the vacated lane by the slashing F. In this situation, it is important for the back checking F’s to work and have awareness.
If your team can master this concept it will make you a very difficult team to advance the puck against vs. a slashing team.