Dallas Stars Defensive Ideas To Unleash Offensive Potential

Keeping Same Blueline, Dallas Stars Are Making a Huge Gamble | Image Credit: defendingbigd.com
Keeping Same Blueline, Dallas Stars Are Making a Huge Gamble | Image Credit: defendingbigd.com

Today, we look at defensive adjustments that the Dallas Stars may make to get an advantage against the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final of 2024.

Although their offence is the primary source of grievances and possible roadblock for the Dallas Stars, several defensive adjustments might help them win this series.

The most obvious problems with the offence can be summed up as follows: among other things, Dallas’s lack of offensive engagement in high-danger areas has forced them to shoot from a distance, which makes it easier for Stuart Skinner to react; additionally, Edmonton has been able to play somewhat passively, only having to challenge each Dallas “first attack” and avoiding overcommitting.

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Though I think the Stars’ offensive advantage has been hampered by two defensive difficulties—their “first man back” issues and taking handedness in both zones into consideration—offensive adjustments may still be made.


The adage “the best offence is a solid defence” is often overdone and sometimes ignored, but there are a number of reasons why it applies to ice hockey, including these two:

Some of the most potent attacking plays in modern ice hockey are odd-man rushes, sometimes known as counterattacks.

Defence teams who play behind the puck are less likely to be caught off guard and can take advantage of mistakes due to the way their bodies are positioned.
When playing behind the ball, the majority of your team is facing the “attack net,” therefore a strong defence takes the initiative to prevent mistakes and maintain forward momentum without having to make a 180-degree spin to start a play. From the opponents’ point of view, they are now facing their “attack net” and losing momentum as they didn’t anticipate a turnover.

This typical post-turnover situation typically provides counterattacking teams with advantage and opportunity to inflict havoc. Throughout the season, Dallas demonstrated effectiveness in extending the ice and transitioning from defence to offence with maximum efficiency.

Rebuilding a club involves making modifications, according to Don Waddell, who was recently recruited by the Columbus Blue Jackets as President of Hockey Operations, General Manager, and Alternate Governor:

“I think our focus should be on improving your defensive zone from the beginning rather than attempting to identify pure goal scorers,” the player said.

Don Waddell, Blue Jackets of Columbus

With the exception of Wyatt Johnston, the Stars are able to maintain order in their defensive zone even when their attackers struggle to score goals on a regular basis. The Stars’ offensive could be unlocked by implementing the following defensive suggestions:

The first man to return?

Backchecking as forwards in the past has usually meant that the “centerman” rushes back to protect the lower end of the defensive zone as part of their regular coverage. Accordingly, “wings” who recover first generally handle an opponent’s initial offensive opportunity before moving to their typical “winger” board position.

For groups like the Dallas Stars, who prioritise “positionless hockey” and have faith in their defence, They use a coverage scheme known as “first man back,” in which the centre is covered by the first forward available until a changeover can be completed. This typically lessens the “first” opportunities and helps stop early rush attempts, but it only functions if every forward is prepared to be the “first man back” when it comes to their turn.

The lack of responsibility from the forward group has been the problem in this “tight-checking” playoff series against Edmonton, as the pace of the Edmonton team is disrupting the “first man back” strategy, making it difficult for forwards to keep up with the team’s fast-moving players after turnovers.

For instance, in Game 5, the Oilers had six odd-man rushes against the Stars during the first two periods. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and other forwards were visible examples of players who were either nearing the end of their shifts or weren’t giving it their best on the backcheck, leaving Dallas’ two defenders to deal with them on six different times when they were outnumbered. The defence core, which consists of Chris Tanev, who has one decent foot left, and Miro Heiskanen, who plays close to half of a game in Ice Time and more than ten minutes in certain quarters, is under stress due to the absence of back pressure from attackers.

The Stars either modify how deeply their centres cheat on offence, or they should emphasise “first man back” accountability for all forwards. Dallas may be able to stave off Edmonton’s counterattack thanks to McDavid and company’s ability to score on odd-man rushes when given several opportunities. This should increase the burden on Edmonton’s skaters to produce plays and relieve some of the load on the team’s already worn-out defence core.

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Does handedness have an impact?

In hockey, the handedness question has been around for a while. Notable success stories of players who have spent the majority of their careers playing on their “weak side”—that is, right-handed shooters playing “left” positions—include Alex Ovechkin and MacKenzie Weegar. The local instance is Miro Heiskanen, a left-handed shooter, and there has been a long-running discussion regarding whether or not he is at his best while playing on the right side of the rink.

On the ice, there are two sections. “Strong side” handedness is necessary, in my opinion, for the high DZ and high OZ. In particular, both zones’ tops of the circles and the blue line are vulnerable to risky turnovers, and for certain teams, this is the point on the ice when threatening offensive pressure starts. This brings up two scenarios:

The Argument for Breakout Wingers

Dallas’s forwards are expected to support whatever DZ side the puck is near under their contemporary defensive concept, which includes “first man back.” Wingers on their “weak side” may occasionally exhibit clumsy breakouts as a result of this. A right-shot winger must turn their body to face the puck and receive it on their forehand, for instance, if they are waiting for a feed from a defender behind the net while on the left-hand boards.

The winger is now forced to either turn 180 degrees to push the puck up the middle (avoiding opponents surprising them from a blind place) or chip the puck on their backhand into the boards (avoiding being pinched by the opposing Dman), which stops a clean breakout. Dallas’s body positioning would allow for multiple passing options on breakouts if they set up so lefties could play “left boards defence” and righties could play “right boards defence.” This is because they would no longer have to face the boards in order to receive a pass or make an unreliable backhand pass in critical situations. With these adjustments to defensive coverage and lineup management, Dallas may be able to pose a greater danger during transition and on counterattacks.

The OZ defence team’s argument

Similarly, a backhanded “poke” rather to a forehanded “push” is typically used by lefties who have to squeeze down the right boards in the OZ. Right-handed lefties like Miro Heiskanen are unable to handle the puck in this manner because they have to fully commit their body to a backhand 50/50 board fight or stretch their top hand outside to contest a puck. On the other hand, because he is on his forehand, or “strong side,” Heiskanen would have a greater chance of collecting, controlling, and passing 50/50 pucks off the wall if he were on the left boards.

Furthermore, because his back is against the boards on pinches rather than needing to seal up the front of his body on weak-side pinches, a player’s body in the high OZ is better geared to respond to fast-speed plays on his strong side. When pinching, facing the boards gives you minimal room to turn around in case the pinch fails or to make a move if you manage to obtain the puck yourself.

Generally, hockey players who are pressed for time during the playoffs do not benefit from “mental predictability.” Stars players are trained to read the ice and play weak-side winger positions despite obvious problems with transitioning play, so they are unable to fall back on their “strong side” and comfortable routines.

As a result, “aged dogs” like Matt Duchene and Joe Pavelski find it difficult to pick up “new tricks” and cope with stressful situations. As a result, aggressive teams like the Oilers have overpowered the Stars, leaving them with little time to consider how to play the puck on their “weak side.” Thomas Harley and other defenders who don’t have to play hockey on their backhand are vital to the D core’s confidence and ability to create plays, which benefits the club as a whole.


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