The Tape: A look at what Rick Tocchet means by the Canucks ‘opening up their system’

Vancouver Canucks coach Rick Tocchet
Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Liu
25 days ago
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For the Jack Adams winner, there’s always room for improvement.
Rick Tocchet spoke on The Chirp with Darren Millard and touched on a variety of topics, one of which included the Canucks’ effectiveness on the rush.
“We didn’t score enough in the playoffs,” Tocchet said. “Can I open up the system a little bit? Is there a way we can be a better rush team? We weren’t a good rush team analytics-wise, but we were one of the best at defending the rush. Is there a sweet spot?”
“I give our coaches a project to look at the top three rush teams and see what they’re doing that we can learn from, without sacrificing our defensive game,” Tocchet later added. “That’s what I mean by reinventing ourselves,” he explained. “Good coaches take a deep dive to figure out what can be improved.”
So what did that look like for the Canucks in the playoffs?
Vancouver employed a 1-2-2 forechecking system throughout the year that worked well as their transition defence. With an active F1 pressuring the puck carrier, F2 and F3 were usually in a good position to seal off walls or deny easy entry passes into their zone. The Canucks had good personnel to employ for these roles, which allowed them to get turnovers and chances going the other way.
If a skater got past the three forwards, the defence was also positionally sound, allowing them to either force the attacker to retreat or put them around to the perimeter. The next clip provides a good example of how quickly the Canucks were able to transition from offence to defence, finding their roles and positions within the system. Mikheyev spotted Hughes jumping up to pressure the puck carrier and covered for him on defence, leaving the only option for the Predators isolated, thus allowing Zadorov to step up and force him back over the red line. As the teams changed and reset, the Canucks clogged up the neutral zone, eliminating the middle of the ice as an option and getting Nashville to ring it around along the boards.
Especially in playoff hockey, this transition defence allowed the Canucks to frustrate opponents when it came to zone entries against them. Vancouver was good about taking time and space away from their opposition to process the ice in front of them. That caused missed entry passes or dump-ins for the lack of options, which gave the Canucks a chance to get puck possession back. Overall, there weren’t many systematic breakdowns of the defence, something that Tocchet teams are generally known for.
While the defence wasn’t the concern, the offence was. Vancouver’s zone entries weren’t just bad on the power play — they generally weren’t the greatest at 5v5 either. Take a look at the breakout clip here and notice how Mikheyev is rushing to the boards. He drags his defender into the lane that Höglander was skating into, which, in theory, should open up the far side for a cross-ice pass to Pettersson. The problem is, if Höglander makes that pass, he kills nearly all forward momentum for Pettersson and would probably nullify the rush chance. The Swede instead cuts to the middle and is forced to dump the puck in.
This wasn’t just a one-off thing either. Vancouver liked having outlet options along the boards, mostly at the blue line or red line. The overlapping play frequented a lot of their transition clips too, which worked from time to time, but didn’t get them many rush chances or good zone entries. Using the width of the ice is good, but a big problem that the Canucks ran into was that teams would just stack the neutral zone on them as well. Vancouver seemed to be a bit too deliberate with their breakouts and that allowed teams to set up and get organized. That killed their speed through the neutral zone too, which isn’t good when trying to generate rush chances. One of the key features of skating in transition is causing chaos for the opposing defence which Vancouver didn’t do nearly often enough.
The slow entries probably cost the Canucks a couple of rush opportunities. If they couldn’t get a good pass and control their entry into the offensive zone, Vancouver would try a stretch pass or something along those lines to get a deflection for a dump-in. In this next clip, you can see how the Predators are covering the first outlet option along the blue line for Carson Soucy, making the defenceman look further up ice for a tip-in. His pass wasn’t the worst thing and could’ve been deflected into the middle for a possible 2-on-1 chance, but that would’ve required some real high-end talent from Lindholm.
As it was though, Nashville was able to regain possession before coming the other way. The Canucks were again very good defensively against the rush opportunity, with forwards playing physically and Hronek forcing the attacker to the boards and then back up to the blue line. However, if the Canucks had successfully transitioned the puck from the defensive end and through the neutral zone, they probably wouldn’t be in a position to have to play defence there.
What buoyed the Canucks’ rush chance success early on in the regular season was their ability to finish the couple of chances that they got. They didn’t have a particularly dynamic zone entry to begin with but were burying the pucks whenever they got a rush chance. However, as the sample size grew, the finished tapered off, and zone entries began getting fewer, especially in the playoffs, scoring off the rush pretty much evaporated for Vancouver. Sure, they got the occasional sharp-angle goal from Zadorov or Garland, but those aren’t sustainable. This begs the question, how does Vancouver try and get more rush opportunities?
It doesn’t necessarily have to come from breaking their defensive integrity, but it does involve a little more risk. There were a couple of moments where the Canucks displayed this with their defencemen jumping up into the rush. In the next clip, Hughes presents himself as an option as he skates into open ice on the weak side. This catches the defence flat-footed and allows the Canucks to be threatening off the rush, even if it doesn’t result in a shot.
That looks a lot better than the slow, deliberate entries that frequented Canucks hockey in the postseason. Having a defenceman activate like Hughes allowed Vancouver to attack and force the defencemen on Nashville back on their heels, causing them to scramble to get their coverages set up. That’s what should be happening on the rush, making the Predators collapse into their own high-danger area and giving the Canucks a chance at speed. However, finding the right personnel to do this is also key. Take this next clip, where instead of Hughes, it’s Ian Cole jumping into the rush. He doesn’t have the foot speed to match the Canucks captain and has to stop up at the blue line. That allows the Oilers to get themselves back into position defensively, which forces Cole to take a relatively harmless shot from the right point.
It can’t just be Quinn Hughes coming in on the weak side – Vancouver would probably like to add more speed to their back end (and throughout the lineup, for that matter). Attacking with speed yet staying in control is a fine balance to maintain, but the Canucks didn’t seem to want to carry the puck into the attacking zone much. If they want to start increasing their rush opportunities in a sustainable manner, that’s a good place to start, instead of hoping for a tip or rebound off of a shot from the point all the time.
Video credit: Sportsnet

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