The only other team with a better record in November than the St. Louis Blues was the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. Why? One of the primary reasons is coach Hitchcock’s implementation of a fast moving defense. When moving the puck out of the defensive zone, it is imperative that the defensemen have a good angle to either pass the puck or bank it off the boards and out of the defensive zone with minimal time dealing with the puck. Defensemen are under constant pressure from opposing forwards in the defensive zone and have to be very decisive and quick to act. Since defensemen play in pairs of two and are the last players back in their own zone (ie; closest to the goalie), they are the last line of defense. Literally.
If you’re on the right side of the ice and are left handed, you have to settle the puck and turn to get 100% on your outbound pass or bank shot. This takes a split second. A lot can happen in hockey in a split second. Same goes for being right handed on the left side; since there is more ice to your right and the natural direction/flow of your outbound pass is going to be to the left 2/3 of the ice in front of you, this poses a problem as the left wall is right there. Just as it is difficult for left handed defensemen on the right side, it is equally as difficult for right handed defensemen on the left side.
It is just as beneficial in the offensive zone for right-handed defensemen to be on the right side and left handed defensemen to be on the left side. How many times have you seen the puck come up the boards to the blueline and when it gets to the defenseman (if he’s left handed), he has to settle the puck on his back hand, move it to his forehand, and then put it on goal? Probably not many because by the time he settles the puck on his backhand and moves it to his forehand, the opposing forwards are probably already rushing him or are ready to take his head off since he’s been farting around with the puck for so long (.6 seconds is a LONG TIME in the NHL). That’s why they usually end up flipping the puck back down low in the offensive zone creating a foot race elsewhere.
For those of you Blues fans who are older than age ten, you can remember the mighty right handed shot from defenseman Al MacInnis. Not only did he have a cannon of a shot (that broke Chris Osgood’s hand on a glove save one time btw), he was right handed so he could immediately flip the puck either on net or down low into the zone without having to settle it. The fact that nearly 70% of all NHL players play left handed and that roughly one third of the skaters in the NHL are defensemen, you can see where this poses a problem for most teams. The St. Louis Blues are not most teams. Alex Pietrangelo, Roman Polak, and Kevin Shattenkirk are all right handed shots and by no coincidence play on the right side. Their quick transition out of their own zone and ability to create sustained offensive pressure is a direct result of having right-handed shots on the right side.
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Written by Patrick McLellan