The Lightning have been a statistically solid defensive team for most of the season. But at times, they’ve suffered breakdowns that lead to dangerous chances for the opposition. This was especially true over the second half of the season.
Some speculated the breakdowns could be due to effort as the Bolts secured a playoff spot early and had little to gain down the stretch aside from playoff seeding. Whatever the reason, the Lightning net-front looked like a Benny Hill sequence at times with players scrambling to recover from poor, and at times lazy, decisions.
In the playoffs, the Bolts defense has tightened up noticeably. Some of that is due to personnel changes, including pairing Ryan McDonagh with Anton Stralman to create a matchup pairing. But some of the improvements are also due to tactical adjustments.
Editor’s Note: The intro is by loserpoints and Mike takes over from here
Defensive Zone Sequence
1. Dan Girardi challenges the puck carrier at the blue line with Tyler Johnson covering the center of the ice and Brayden Point moving to backup Girardi and/or help retrieve the puck. The puck carrier chips the puck deep and on goal.
2. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy directs puck to the corner and keeps the play moving as both Point and Girardi attempt to retrieve the puck. Note that Johnson and Ondrej Palat are both in positions to support the puck depending on where the play moves next.
3. As the Bruins sweep around the boards, Palat positions his body to recover and protect the puck. At the same time Point, Girardi and Johnson all move to open ice.
4. Point makes a short pass to Girardi who then makes a quick pass to Johnson allowing him to exit the zone with speed. One of the keys here is that Point, with his back to the defense, makes a safe short pass to a player he can see. Another key is that Johnson stays close to the play making himself an easy target on a zone exit and Girardi is able to make a simple pass to a player who is open and moving.
Neutral Zone Sequence
1. In the same shift, Johnson is able to drive the play deep into the Boston defensive end and forces the defender to sweep the puck around the boards. As the Bruins attempt to exit, the Lightning are cutting off passing lanes up the boards and up the middle of the ice.
2. Notice Girardi taking away the neutral zone at the red line with Palat backing him up and supporting the puck.
3. Boston attempts another pass though the neutral zone to the opposite side. Johnson takes away passing lanes through positioning and stick placement. Victor Hedman supports him by not backing away from the play.
4. Johnson recovers the puck and sends it deep into the Bruins zone initiating a safe line change.
After looking at the video, we can identify some important adjustments made during these sequences. By layering their forechecking and defending, the Lightning forced opposing players to either make high risk plays or to play faster. Both of those can result in mistakes by the opposition.
The layering also helps level the defensive holes throughout the lineup. In most situations, the forwards are supporting the defense by cutting off passing lanes and getting open for short passes. By keeping pressure on the puck and counter attacking with speed, the Lightning make each sequence a longer distance for their opponent to move the puck and obtain a scoring chance.