Lacrosse Goal = Good for Hockey
Why Zegras' move will lead to more offense for everyone
Every time another NHLer pulls off the Michigan lacrosse move, the discord on Hockey Twitter becomes slightly less toxic.
The Athletic @TheAthleticTrevor Zegras pulled out "The Michigan" to light the lamp 🤯 🎥 @NHLGIFs https://t.co/lwxBitCdxD
This is obviously a good thing for those for those of us who enjoy watching really good players make really neat plays.
But how will this unusual move change how the game is played?
There’s actually a very straightforward answer.
You see, there are two common denominators to every Michigan goal:
Excellent execution by a skilled (and brave) player
A lack of defensive pressure behind the net
When I worked in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, our NHL and AHL teams both ran a play called Steel Balls (don’t ask me why it’s called that) when the puck is behind our goal line.
It looks something like this:
When the puck is carried behind the net, D1 doesn’t chase. Instead, he retreats to net-front and hands off the puck carrier to D2, who prepares an ambush at the far post.
This is the absolute best way to defend most behind-the-net plays, since the defensive team can pack the high-danger area with all five of its skaters and wait the offensive player out.
However, not chasing behind also gives a player such as Zegras just enough time to scoop the puck onto his stick and then fling it past an unsuspecting goalie.
The Montreal Canadiens and the Buffalo Sabres, two of Zegras’ most recent victims, use Steel Balls in low DZC. It’s simply a hitherto overlooked cost of doing business.
All of a sudden, it’s no longer a no-brainer play.
The other way to defend this scenario, then, is to have D1 flush the puck carrier behind the net:
It’s no coincidence that the Los Angeles Kings, one of the few teams that systematically flush behind the net in DZC, is a divisional rival of the Anaheim Ducks.
LAK’s D1 pressure makes the team more vulnerable to traditional behind-the-net passing plays than other, more passive NHL teams. But the Kings haven’t been victim of the ANA star’s signature move.
At least, not yet…
Learn about all 32 NHL teams’ tactics in illustrated form.