Action Replay: Breaking Down The Blaze, 07/10/13

This is the first in a (potentially) new feature aiming to break down some of the action from the Blaze games at the weekend, using the help of the Blaze webcast highlights. Today, we look at the Blaze’s 6-1 loss to Nottingham and consider the defensive lapses that led to several Nottingham goals. Apologies for black border around pics-due to speed the majority of the screenshots are from a fullscreen vid on an Iphone in this first week)

With the benefit of video replays you can tell a lot about a team, especially where they went wrong (or right). Occasionally (depending on time, inclination and the speed of the posting of the Blaze web highlights) this feature will take a look at key moments and attempt to explain what went wrong or right from the Blaze’s perspective, in the hope of possibly making clearer some of the factors that many fans often miss when talking about a game. We’ll start with Coventry’s 6-1 loss to Nottingham…a loss in which several of the Nottingham goals came about by the Panthers exploiting mistakes in the Blaze defence. First of all, here’s the full highlights of the game, at full speed, here (you’ll need to click on the “Watch On Youtube” link to see them, as embedding is disabled)

Now-let’s take a look at the Panthers first goal (0:00-0:24). At first sight it’s a great tip by Leigh Salters in front of the net on the powerplay. However, the fact that he was able to tip it in the first place is at least partly due to the Blaze defence not doing their job quite perfectly. First of all the puck isn’t cleared round the boards by the d-man off the faceoff win (a win whose impact is also negated well by Panthers C Lynn Loyns tying up his Blaze opposite number). However, as Chris Murray fires the puck we can see the Blaze are well into a diamond (1-2-1) PK formation in the pic below:

20131007-224700.jpgTrrrrrr

The problem is, they’ve moved too far away from the net, and in an effort to give Mike Zacharias room in net to see the puck, Michael Devin, the “rear point” of the diamond, has moved a long way out and left all the room in the world for Salters to park himself completely unmolested right in front of the net as the shot comes through-as we see from the screengrab below.

20131007-224726.jpg

Give a forward like Salters the space and time to set for a deflection like that, and as long as the shot gets through (which it has to, the shot ideally low and hard-excellent work by Murray) there’s a good chance of a goal. And so it proved.

Now for the second goal. (0:24) The seeds are sown early on in the play, as Lynn Loyns (again) goes behind the net and is tripped by Ryan Ginand, taking out a Blaze D-man in the process.
The key breakdown moment here is that the Blaze players HAVE to get up quickly and get back into the play to avoid the Panthers having a numbers advantage…however, at least one doesn’t, while Loyns (who is Ginand’s defensive responsibility as the opposing centre) is very quick to pick himself up, get back in front of the net and suddenly, as the puck is worked to the point and Jonathan Weaver’s shot comes through, Panthers have the Blaze outnumbered 3 to 1 in front of the net with a Blaze defender not even up off his knees behind it and Ginand himself having charged out to the point to block the shot, losing Loyns completely and giving him a ton of space and time to control the puck and shoot:

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Bang. Two nothing.

It gets worse merely two minutes later though, as Loyns picks the puck up on the blue-line and is faced with this situation as he crosses it:

20131007-224804.jpg

Look at all that white space in front of the Panthers forward on the right side-he has a clear route to the net, with a fellow Panther to his left who will head for the net having beaten his desperately-back-covering Blaze player, and only James Griffin to stem the race. This is a defensive breakdown of the worst kind for the Blaze, as three of the five outskaters have been caught up ice, two of those three are turning to get back at the play, and the two defenders are caught going backwards with attackers breaking in on them at speed-a nightmare situation for a defending team. As Loyns comes into the zone, Griffin can’t come and challenge him as the smart play is to let Mike Zacharias deal with the immediate threat of a speculative shot, try and cut off the middle and force Loyns to go wide, and take away any option of a centering pass, which Griff does his best to do against the odds…however Loyns uses this space perfectly and dekes Zacharias beautifully for 3-0.

Speaking of breakouts-the fourth Panthers goal (2:30) is arguably the worst Blaze moment of the night defensively. Blaze’s Mike Devin has pinched forward and carried the puck into a traffic-jam on the left boards after being forced across by a defending Panther, laid it off to Tanaka on the boards and continued to head for the net expecting a return pass which never came, and is now well out of position over on the right wing as Panthers’ Nick Anderson robs Cale Tanaka:

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Meanwhile, Panthers’ Rob Lachowicz has seen Devin charging forward without a forward dropping back to cover his defensive responsibility, and delayed his skate back to stay high up the ice in the space left behind Devin and gamble on Panthers winning the puck quickly, Anderson sees this and fires a pass into that gap for Lachowicz to curl onto.
Meanwhile, because of Devin’s raid and the logjam on the left boards, the two Blaze players furthest back are forwards in Russ Cowley and Tait, and both have also been sucked into the play on the left side rather than keeping any sort of shape, leaving the whole ice for Lachowicz to exploit in the Blaze half-so he receives the pass on the blue line in this situation:

20131007-225125.jpg

A clearer breakaway you may not see this year-Lachowicz takes full advantage and has all the time in the world to skate in and beat the despairing Zacharias despite Cowley’s best efforts on the backcheck.

That’s four Panthers goals, and four goals that have been massively contributed to by Blaze errors of one kind or another.

We can’t really pick any fault with the Blaze for Panthers’ fifth, as it’s scored 5-on-3 and frankly if a team isn’t scoring 5-on-3 then it’s due to a superb penalty killing effort.

But we can pick fault with Blaze for Panthers’ sixth (6:55): Michael Devin (again) chases the puck into the corner as it’s carried there by Panthers, and eventually Matt Francis works his way past Kenny Kallstrom and Adam Henrich back to the blue line. All of a sudden (on a PK) there are three of four Blaze players pressuring the puck, pulled all out of shape from their PK system and, again, sucked into the puck with one forward not even pressuring on the backcheck and leaving the whole ice open as Francis looks up:

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Unfortunately for the Blaze, if three of their players are in a square of ten feet or so this means Panthers Nick Anderson has a LOT of space to step into as he comes up to support. Francis sees him making the rush and finds him through the large gap between two of the Blaze players. As he shapes to shoot, no Blaze player is near him once again and Devin and Henrich have no chance of getting near it:

20131007-224913.jpg

Anderson takes this chance gleefully (even though Zacharias is set for the shot he’s beaten by an excellent finish) and turns the game from a loss to a rout in the process.

So, of six goals scored by the Panthers, five can be (at least in some small part) put down to Blaze errors allowing the chance in the first place. Give five errors up against a team as good as Nottingham, and they’ll gleefully take them.

With Belfast coming to the Skydome next week and Nottingham away in the bigger ice of the NIC before that, these errors are the kind of things that will kill the Blaze off even before the other teams do. More to the point, they’re the kind of errors that a team simply can’t afford to make when faced with the firepower of a team like Nottingham-to some degree, they’re evidence of the Blaze contributing to their own downfall.

This week’s game tape may not make comfortable viewing for Matty Soderstrom or his team, but they’ll already be working on ways to make sure such errors as these don’t happen next week. We’ll see how successful they’ve been so far at the weekend

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