Why are the Tampa Bay Lightning such an outstanding hockey team?
Talent and structure are the two main ingredients, but the binding agent for both is their Tao: a way of playing which produces excellence.
With the puck Tampa respects three principles that drive results. Learn them, master them and teach them.
Success will find you.
Transition: Flow into possession
Feng Shui translates to “wind and water,” two powerful natural forces. Together the two words also represent the ancient Chinese practice of organizing architecture auspiciously to maximize the metaphysical flow between nature and humans.
In offensive play optimizing flow means finding a certain balance and respecting the path of the puck. Teams which are out of sync play either too conservatively, chipping the puck down-ice and retrieving rather than build possession sequences with confidence, or too haphazardly, greedily looking to turn neutral situations into odd-men rushes or breakaways with long passes through opposing players.
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Tampa’s transition process employs both extremes in moderation. But more importantly it strikes the right balance between short lateral passes and long vertical passes to link up attackers and play around the defensive structure.
The area between the dot lane and the boards is the battlegrounds of professional hockey, the place where most possession sequences start (and end). Tampa scouts for players who are comfortable corralling loose pucks on the perimeter of the rink and develop them to make explosive first plays to get off the wall and onto the dot lane.
Once off the wall the play opens up.
Sometimes the puck carrier sees an option up-ice on the strong side. But more often than not opposing defenders clamp down and overload that half of the ice. The play then is to make a change of side and find a receiver jumping into the play on the weak side of the ice.
On breakouts this is often an offensively-fluent defenceman such as Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev or Kevin Shattenkirk – players that the Lightning front office consistently seek out at the draft, in trades or in free agency. Some teams change sides once early in the sequence and commit to that half of the rink. Tampa will move the puck laterally two or three times in transition, or as often as it takes until the defensive cohesion between the five opposing skaters breaks down.
Once the defensive organization is in question, Tampa looks to attack the middle. In part one of our pre-scout we saw how Tampa’s neutral-zone forecheck influences play outside the dots, where offensive sequences go to die. With the puck, the Lightning seek to enter the offensive zone between the dots.
This immediately gives the puck carrier the ability to skate into the slot for a high-danger chance, but also provides him with two kick-out options in case he is pressured by defencemen playing a tight gap. The high-value play presents the defending team with two uncomfortable prospects and one unacceptable one.
But all this is made possible by clever maneuvering earlier on in the sequence.