Yahoo's Nick Cotsonika wrote a nice piece on new Pens head coach Mike Johnson that ran the other day, and one section in particular stood out to anyone who has been paying attention to the growing focus on the importance of zone entries and exits to puck possession and, ultimately, success:
Johnston wants the Penguins to hold onto the puck, support the puck, give each other options and make good decisions. If they get the puck in the defensive zone, he wants to skate out cleanly - or perhaps chip the puck to an area where someone can skate to it - 80 percent of the time. He wants to come through the neutral zone with numbers. He wants to enter the offensive zone with possession.
"The last option," he said, "is to dump it in deep."
Johnston is a football fan who once observed Chip Kelly's practices at the University of Oregon and has already visited a Steelers practice in Pittsburgh, hoping to pick up ideas he can translate to hockey. He compares it to a football offense. The puck-carrier is like a quarterback making reads.
"We want to become a versatile team with the puck," Johnston said. "If they shut down this, we'll take that."
He will judge decisions, not results. If the Penguins give away the puck, it will concern him if they made the wrong read. It won't concern him if they made the right read and the puck hit a stick or something. Develop good habits, hold onto the puck more often, and over time the results should come.
"I don't want it to sound too complicated, because it's not overly complicated," Johnston said. "It's just, it's a style of play. Some teams will revert to, ‘Push the puck ahead. Push the puck ahead. We're going after the puck. All we want to do is get it in the offensive zone, and then we'll try and see what we can do from there.' But we want to make sure that we can control the puck as much as possible at all times on the ice and play with that speed."
Johnston says all the right things, hitting on the points that make possession stats advocates swoon - why give up the puck when you've just expended effort to get it? It's easier said than done, of course, but that's largely neither here nor there for the moment.
One point that might get lost here is something that isn't necessarily a "controlled exit," but still very much a designed way to maintain possession while exiting the defensive zone - "chip the puck to an area where someone can skate to it." The same thing would apply to entering the offensive zone - a coach who values possession would prefer to chip and chase (as opposed to "dump it in deep"). If an attacking team is coming with speed and the defending team is trying to deny them entry by stacking the blueline, a chip off the boards can catch the defense somewhat flat-footed and vulnerable.
Here's how it's drawn up, via Hockey Plays and Strategies:
This isn't ground-breaking stuff, but what is particularly interesting here is that the book from which that excerpt is taken was written by (former Cap) Ryan Walter and... Mike Johnston. So now you've heard the philosophical underpinnings, you've seen the X's and O's, and you can bet you'll see the Pittsburgh Penguins running these entries.
Of course, you've already seen it plenty - Caps like Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera and Brooks Laich frequently make use of these types of entries. Here's an example of Laich entering the zone with a chip mid-line change (and thus a bit deeper than what we're talking about above, and without much support initially), with a terrific result:
Another example would be a chip like Joel Ward does here, in which he's flat-footed at the blueline, but has a teammate coming with speed (and for more on this play, check out this whole post on it):
Those are a bit more towards the "dump it in deep" end of the spectrum than what Johnston would prefer (results notwithstanding, of course); the chips Johnston is describing live somewhere in between "controlled entries" and flat-out dump-ins, though, and it'll be interesting to see how much Barry Trotz's Caps rely on them, as opposed to playing it safe(r) and "getting it deep."
Ed. Note: I'd wanted to embed this video of Alan May breaking down a number of the non-controlled ways the Caps would enter the offensive-zone last year, but the embed wouldn't allow for non-autoplay, so you'll have to click through to watch it (which you should, for background and other examples).