In Game 7 of last year’s Stanley Cup Final, three of the five goals came from one-touch plays near the net. As the series pitted two of the best defensive formations in the NHL, players had to take advantage of the narrowest of openings to score.
In the first period, with a defender on his back, Ryan O’Reilly tipped a shot to end a Blues offensive drought. And in the third period, Brayden Schenn and Zach Sandford attacked the low-slot deceptively to score from far-post one-timers, putting the game out of reach of the Bruins.
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The net-front is where shots score at the highest rate; it’s also the most heavily guarded area of the ice. Defensive systems are built to neutralize attacking threats in that zone, but clever attackers can find ways to bypass its barriers to score. They time their arrival to the net with the passes of teammates and the puck is on and off of their stick before the opposition can react.
Timing is the difference between a goal and a failed scoring chance.
Against heavy defensive pressure, passively standing in a high-danger area won’t lead to many goals. Attackers have to move in scoring spots at the right time — as their teammates become ready to connect with them. If they arrive too early, before the possibility of a pass, they give the defence time to neutralize their stick. If they arrive too late, they miss the play.
As hockey gets more competitive, as defences become more mobile, more structured, more aware, the importance of timing grows. It became a crucial element in the final game of the Cup Final, the driving factor behind most of its goals.
The three sequences above started with some form of on-puck work by the Blues, a team that made intense pressure an identity in the latter half of their season. But St. Louis outworked opponents away from the puck, too. They scanned the ice, hunted opportunities, and supported the play in timely ways.