Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography
Last night’s 3 on 3 overtime between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, the first one in NHL history, did not disappoint. The overtime, which lasted all of 2 minutes and 17 seconds, featured constant action and breakaway attempts in both directions. Some of those plays are just a natural part of 3 on 3 hockey, others were demonstrative of some growing pains for the players. Let’s take a look at some of the key plays and how they developed. (All images from FSN Lightning)
4:44: MASON TURNS THE PUCK OVER
Here we saw Steve Mason grab a loose puck and quickly try to get it to an unprepared Jakub Voracek, leading to a quality chance for Tampa. I like this play in principle. Possession of the puck is extremely important in 3 on 3 hockey. There’s more room on the ice and it’s harder for the opposition to take it away. The goaltender also has less to lose by taking a risk. If Mason thinks he’s got better than a 50/50 shot (faceoff odds) to keep possession for the team, I’m all for this kind of play. Skaters will need to adjust to goaltenders making plays like that more often.
4:28 – 3:57: ODD MAN RUSHES BOTH WAYS
This sequence started with Sean Couturier obtaining the puck after a faceoff win and circling back with it for about 10 seconds. Couturier and Schenn crossed over as they moved up the ice with Michael Del Zotto eventually joining the play to set up a quality chance for Schenn. Here was the resulting rebound, which was quickly recovered by Victor Hedman.
At this point, the Flyers are in trouble. Nikita Kucherov (at the top of the crease), seeing that Hedman has clear possession of the puck, is free to start sprinting down the ice in hopes of a breakaway. Michael Del Zotto is left in a footrace with Steven Stamkos to prevent a 2 on 0 for Tampa.
These are the type of plays that are difficult to prevent at 3 on 3. Failed odd man rushes will routinely lead to odd man rushes in the other direction. When Del Zotto, the lone Flyers defenseman, decides to jump up in the play and set up Schenn for a chance, he increases the risk of an odd man rush going back the other way. That said, it’s difficult to say he made a bad play by jumping in to create an odd man rush and a scoring chance. A similar play led to Scott Laughton’s breakaway opportunity less than a minute later. In that situation, you’ve just gotta hope that the rebound does not land directly on Viktor Hedman’s stick like it did here.
3:52 – BAD DEL ZOTTO PASS LEADS TO HIT POST
Following a wild sequence, a tired Michael Del Zotto held the puck in the Flyers’ zone during a line change. Rather than hold the puck, he opted to attempt a home run pass to Brayden Schenn. The pass was easily intercepted by Victor Hedman, leading to a 2 on 1 and a hit post for Tampa Bay.
I talked earlier about the importance of puck possession in 3 on 3. Here we saw Del Zotto make a poorly calculated “50/50” type pass instead of maintaining puck possession, and it nearly cost the Flyers the game. I’m all for taking risks in overtime, but they’ll have to be better calculated ones. A hail mary pass that could easily result in a 3 on 1 the other way is not a good risk to take for Del Zotto.
2:55 – GARRISON GAME WINNING GOAL
The sequence that led to Tampa Bay’s game winning goal started back at the Flyers end. After Claude Giroux lost his balance during a battle along the boards, Evgeni Medvedev jumped into the play to try and maintain possession. Here’s what that looked like:
I have no problem with Medvedev pinching here. If he concedes possession to the Lightning, they’ve got an easy 3 on 2 going the other way. Once Medvedev jumped in to battle for the puck, Jakub Voracek needed to retreat from the zone and put himself in more of a position to make a defensive play. He chose to hope that Medvedev would play the puck back up the boards, and ended up getting caught behind the play as a result. Voracek knew it, as he obliterated his stick against the goal post after the play.
Plays like this will be very common in 3 on 3. Puck battles much like this one will decide which direction the ensuing odd man rush will be going. There will surely be growing pains early on as players walk the fine line between aggressive hockey and poor defensive hockey. A lot of the 3 on 3 discussion has revolved around the importance of having quick skaters on the ice. I’d contend that while speed is clearly important, play reading ability and anticipatory skills might be even more important.
Either way, this was a damn blast. Let’s be thankful that if this 2:17 sample size was any indication, we won’t be seeing many shootouts this season.