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Keeping the streak alive through team defense

By Tom

“They’re tough. They play a tough style. They dump the puck in and then they all fall back in their own zone. All five of them are just standing there in front of the net, and it’s tough to get pucks through.” – Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings, March 10, 2013

Watch this brief recap, and pay close attention to the times when Detroit has the puck:

By my count, this Detroit-centric highlight video showed a whopping single Red Wings breakaway, one where Fedor Tyutin helped tip the shot that was turned away by Sergei Bobrovsky.  Other than that one play, what did you see from the Blue Jackets?  That’s right, lots and lots of guys in union blue making life difficult for Red Wings forwards – just like Howard said after the game.

I think we’ve got our answer to the “How?” question that I set aside when applauding the Blue Jackets’ win streak (which has expanded into an eight-game point streak since that point).  It’s sixty minutes of team defense.

Sure, Sergei Bobrovsky has played well over this streak.  As in, real well – perhaps above his pay grade in posting a .972 save percentage and 0.77 goals against average last week en route to garnering his NHL First Star of the Week.   Streaks of this nature can’t happen if the goalie is playing even mediocre.  He has to be good, and Bobrovsky has been just that…with a lot of help.

Tell me that having three and four guys back to clog up passing lanes and stymie good shots hasn’t made Bob’s life so much easier.  Rather than getting peppered with undefended shot after shot like we’ve seen in recent seasons, Bob only needs to make a few key saves and brush aside a whole bunch of poorly-angled shots.

I’ve wondered for years what a team filled with average-to-good players would look like (most notably in my 2010 rant over how no single player – not even Rick Nash – could be worth 13.1 percent of a team’s total salary cap), and it appears to be one with relentless defense first, offense later.  Of course, this model makes for a lot of one-goal games, overtimes, shootouts and antacids because the offense largely is being sacrificed in the name of defensive support, but it brought the team back into the playoff discussion when many (including me) thought that the first overall draft pick was all but a certainty.

So when you’re watching tonight’s game – a tough one, to be sure, against the Chicago Blackhawks – watch how quickly the Blue Jackets collapse back to their own goal as soon as a Chicago player touches the puck.  Watch how good the Blackhawks’ shots are, and where the Blue Jackets players are positioning themselves when those shots are made.  And count how many highlight reel stops Bob has to make.

It’s a different way to watch a game, one where you pay closer attention to the defense than the offense, but this team appears to be one where that’s the way to go.  It’s posted standings points in eight consecutive games, so there has to be something to it…right?

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