Dump-and-chase hockey is currently getting run through the ringer by statheads, and, to a large extent, rightfully so. Conceptually, why would a team willingly give the puck to its opponent after spending time and effort taking it from them? The numbers show that teams generate about twice as many shots per possession when carrying the puck into the offensive zone as they do when dumping it in, and the Washington Capitals have been right in line with that early on this season.
And yet there's still a time and place for dump-and-chase, and Monday night's game provided a good example of it - because sometimes position still trumps possession, and occasionally a team can end up with both, even on a dump-in.
Let's take a look at the play:
The entire shift was a textbook example of dump-and-chase hockey.
Following a Vancouver dump-in for a line change, Alexander Urbom and Steve Oleksy quickly move the puck up ice. From his defensive side of the red line, Oleksy hits Tom Wilson with a pass/dump-in. Wilson chips the puck to the corner, negating an icing, and gets off the ice for fresh legs (if ever there's a time to make the safe, easy play, it's with the fourth line and third defensive pairing at the end of a shift and the puck on the far side of the ice from the bench).
With the puck now in the zone, Mikhail Grabovski makes a beeline for the corner and immediately pressures Chris Tanev. Due to the pressure, Tanev can't make a clean pass and Brad Richardson swings down to the corner to help with the breakout. Jason Chimera comes flying into the corner and lays the body on Richardson, further preventing a clean breakout. The puck moves up the boards to Tom Sestito, but Grabovski has already started skating back up ice and hounds Sestito from the side. Joel Ward, on for Wilson, steps in front of Sestito's clearing attempt, holding the puck in the zone.
Ward then dumps the puck past the Canuck defenders who are all moving up ice to join the attack. Ward picks up his own pass off the half-wall and throws the puck toward the net from the boards (Shot? Pass? Doesn't matter).The puck goes wide and looks like a classic self-clearing shot after all that hard work. Fortunately for the Caps, Nate Schmidt uses his great skating to keep the puck in the zone:
After holding the puck in the zone (think every lefty defenseman on the team makes that keep?), Schmidt moves the puck over to Mike Green. Green gets a quick wrister through traffic, and Chimera ultimately gets a piece of the puck as it slides past Roberto Luongo and into the net:
The Caps defenders both needed to make quick, smart plays with the puck in order for this to work. Nothing flashy, no big slap shots or one-on-one dekes, just simple plays that let the forwards crashing the net do their jobs. As Chimera said after the game:
"You don’t have to make the pretty play all the time. You’ve got to get pucks out, get pucks in. It’s pretty easy. Been playing this game a long time, it’s not rocket science.... We’ve got to get pucks out, get pucks in that’s how you win games, especially against good players like the Sedins. It doesn’t matter who you are against them — if you’re Backy’s line, our line — you’ve got to get pucks deep, get pucks out or it’s going to hurt you."
Circling back to the top of the post, as frustrating as that quote might be to onlookers who want to see the Caps truly become "a puck-possession team" - Chimera seems to essentially be saying that the team is happy to give the puck away for the first 125 feet of the rink - the reality is that until this team gets better at exiting its own zone under control, you're going to see a lot of chip-and-chase. As Adam Oates succinctly put it (and it's something we've been harping on for a while):
"At the end of the day, it’s decisions; where the puck goes and how many times it takes to clear the puck. If you spend too much time in your own end fighting to get it out, then you have no energy left on the other end."
Ultimately, the Caps are going to go as far as their stars take them, but they'll need secondary scoring if they want to be a truly dangerous team, and this is a perfect example of how the lesser-skilled forwards can contribute offensively. It starts with old-fashioned hard work (which also still has a place in hockey), in this case with a great forecheck that paid off for the Caps, and the suddenly-potent third line will need to keep up that production.
And while dump-and-chase is seen as the bread and butter of a grinders' line, even the top line can increase their productivity by focusing on setting up the puck down low in the zone. This team is not going to get far by relying on the power play alone, and unless and until they become a better team in their own zone, it's hard to see them being able to score enough on the rush to keep them afloat. These are among the types of goals they'll need going forward.