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How the Islanders Forecheck Works: Chip and...Don’t Chase

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New York Islanders v Tampa Bay Lightning
Limit their options and feast on what’s left.
Photo by Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images

The New York Islanders’ brand of 5v5 is often described as “chip-and-chase” hockey. At times it does resemble that.

However, when the Islanders are at their best, they don’t simply chase the puck— like chickens without heads — on the forecheck. They often funnel the opponents in a predictable way so that even if the puck does leave the offensive zone the Isles will maintain an advantage.

Here is an example of one such sequence, from the Tampa Bay Lightning game on Monday. Ryan Pulock had an opportunity to skate the puck up the middle and attack with both teams changing players, but he decided to dish the puck off to Adam Pelech, who could dump the puck into the attacking zone with one immediate forechecker.

Take a look at the GIF below, provided by our friend Spizzwolf. Then we will break it down with still-frames.

Both teams are changing players as Pulock initiates the transition, with time and space, from the defensive zone. As Tampa Bay defend conservatively, Pulock draws the one forechecker so that Pelech has some space when he receives the pass.

Pelech is able to gain the red line with the follow-through, as he chips the puck towards the corner.

Michael Dal Colle— in the middle of the still below— is the lone immediate forechecker, so he will have to be careful with his route, to prevent an easy exit.

Dal Colle arrives just as the puck converges, canceling out #2 Luke Schenn while also helping to keep the flow of the play predictable: Victor Hedman can swoop in and take the puck, but the next Islanders forechecker knows Hedman can only move one direction without serious risk.

Hedman does swoop in, while Dal Colle is in position to prevent a quick reversal.

Meanwhile, Brock Nelson is closing in. Hedman looks to have two passing options, but let’s see what Nelson can close down.

As Hedman rounds the net, Nelson uses his stick and left skate to prevent an easy pass to Steven Stamkos, in the lower slot, funneling Hedman to the perimeter.

Hedman slides the puck around the boards to Carter Verhaeghe.

Beauvillier, the third forechecker, takes an angle to prevent the easy interior pass to Stamkos, while Dal Colle and Nelson keep their feet moving, cutting off the option of an easy drop-pass.

Verhaeghe is forced to dump the puck out, as the Islanders have two mobile defensemen — Devon Toews and Pelech — waiting in the neutral zone.

With Stamkos charging, Toews runs some light interference, giving Pelech time to corral the puck. By the time Stamkos pressures, Pelech is able to body off the aggressive lone forechecker and turn towards Tampa’s goal, with solid possession of the puck.

As the second forechecker approaches, Nelson is in position to receive a crisp pass from Pelech, allowing Brock to attack 3v3. Notice how this is a better transitioning position than Pulock initially had, at the beginning of this play, since two Tampa players are caught deep.

Nelson opens his body as he advances the puck. The triangle of Tampa players are in good position, discouraging a cross-ice pass, but now Nelson has a give-and-go option in Dal Colle. He instead elects to drive down the boards himself, eventually leading to a 50/50 puck deep in the Tampa zone.

Later in the shift Nelson has a chance in front off a broken play, but it all stemmed from the initial dump-in by Pelech, with Dal Colle, Nelson, and Beauvillier playing their angles well, funneling the puck, and forcing Tampa to chip the puck out of the zone without sufficient pressure.

This type of 5v5 strategy — chipping the puck and then funneling the opposition — often proves effective for the Islanders because it (a) sometimes tempts the opposition to take a bigger risk and (b) other times results in a lucky bounce for the Islanders, or a flubbed pass under moderate pressure.

When the opposition does choose to make the simple play, it is designed so that the Isles often end up with a similar— or better— advantage the next time they transition, as was the case here. Part of this is due to the skating and puck skills of defensemen such as Nick Leddy, Pelech, Pulock, and Toews. (And surely Noah Dobson as well, as he acclimates to the system.)

Carrying or passing the puck into the attacking zone with possession often makes the most sense, when there is time and space, but being able to forecheck intelligently— rather than chipping-and-chasing and praying for a mistake— can at times be effective as well, even against top talents, such as Hedman and Stamkos.