The shark is circling how mathew barzal causes defensive breakdowns – lighthouse hockey hormonal imbalance male

It is in this context I have come to realize the paradox of Mathew Barzal. On the one hand, he’s a great example for young hockey players to emulate. His skating technique, puck-handling and passing are at the high end of high-end. When he gets those crossovers going, it looks like some kind of computer-generated display of how to perfectly do skating drills in practice. The way he protects the puck with his body and arm, the way he always has his head up ready to capitalize on an opening – his fundamental skills are textbook.

On the other hand, Barzal’s a poor example for young hockey players to emulate. Here, I speak of his decision-making during actual games. Barzal holds onto the puck about as long as any player I’ve ever seen. And for him, that’s fine. He does things he’s capable of doing, and I wouldn’t want him to do otherwise.


But there’s not a single coach out there who would actually teach a young player to weave in and out of opposing checkers in front of his own net, for example.

Barzal makes it look so easy when he’s flying around, it gives those around him the mistaken impression that they, too, can hold onto the puck and do what he does. Unfortunately, when other players try doing Mat Barzal things, they’re very likely to end in disaster.

Today, we’re going to look back at one particularly memorable play from the Islanders’ 2-1 win in Ottawa way back in November. Though Barzal would only notch a secondary assist on this Jordan Eberle goal, it was one of the more spectacular ( of the many) secondary assists he’s earned this season.

It starts when Barzal collects the puck in his own zone, builds up speed through center ice and enters the offensive zone. Once again, I find it difficult to overstate just how tremendous an impact Barzal has on the game with this sort of one-man territorial advance he regularly pulls off so effortlessly.

As Barzal crosses the blue line, Erik Karlsson (one of the best-skating defensemen in the league) sags off him, so as not to get burned to the outside. Once Barzal takes it behind the net, Karlsson hands him off to the first Senators forward back (the F1), #15 Smith, who actually does a very good job sticking with Barzal as he completes his full orbit around the offensive zone.

As is the norm when playing transition defense, the second forward back for Ottawa (the F2), #17 Thompson, plays as the strong-side winger; he’s responsible for Nick Leddy at the left point and sealing off Barzal. The F3 is #40 Dumont; as the weak-side winger, he’s at the top of the circle ready to provide support in the slot if needed while also keeping an eye on Boychuk at the right point.

The Sens’ breakdown occurs when Barzal and Leddy criss-cross up high, causing Smith and Thompson to collide. Once that occurs, Ottawa’s LD Claesson has no choice but to switch out onto the pinching Leddy. In so doing, he leaves his man, Eberle, open in the slot.

This requires that another Senator switch onto Eberle, and with Karlsson now occupied by Ladd in front, this responsibility falls on the F3, Dumont. But by the time he realizes what’s going on, it’s too late. Eberle slickly pulls it to his backhand and leaves Sens goalie Craig Anderson looking like a user-controlled goalie in NHL 18 EASHL mode (at least when I’m the user).

Obviously, it looks pretty bad when two players on the same team crash into each other while playing defense. But I think this collision was more of a freak accident than it was a mistake by either Smith or Thompson. It’s easy for me to say that they should have communicated better or been more aware of what was going on around them, but how feasible was that, really?

Both Smith and Thompson were completely preoccupied with their respective marks. Smith was doing all he possibly could to stick with Barzal, while Thompson had to deal with Leddy pinching in. This looks to me like an unfortunate (for Ottawa) and close-to-unavoidable result of the immense pressure Barzal’s speed put on the Sens defense. The threat that he posed was so great, it demanded the complete and undivided attention of the Sens involved, Smith and Thompson, such that they were oblivious their paths were about to cross.

I’m of course not saying Ottawa played this perfectly. Two teammates crashing into each other is, definitively, not perfect. I’m only saying that I think this had way more to do with Barzal’s brilliance and masterful manipulation than it had to do with any blatant failure by the Senators. In fact, although the Smith/Thompson collision was the proximate cause of Eberle’s goal, I thought Dumont’s was the more preventable mistake.

There’s been a league-wide shift in the defensive zone responsibilities of wingers over the last number of years. No longer can wingers zone out and concern themselves only with their point man. They play much lower in the zone to provide support to their defensemen and center down low and in the slot, to cut off the top and create more traffic in the high-danger area of the ice.

The entire reason the weak-side winger sags so low nowadays is to provide support for just this sort of situation. To stay aware of what’s going on and help out if necessary. Dumont does realize he needs to help on Claesson’s man (Eberle), but it’s a second too late, and that second made a difference here.

It takes a complete, coordinated, perfect, team-wide effort to defend against this kind of explosive speed and relentless aggression. That’s why I really can’t pin that much blame on Ottawa’s defense here. They’re just one of many teams that failed to stop an unstoppable player.