After surrendering an NHL-worst 35.9 shots per game last season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are, not surprisingly, going to try something slightly different in the defensive zone in 2014-15.
According to the Canadian Press, the new plan is to stay more patient when the opponent possesses the puck, as opposed to intentionally “swarming” the puck-carrier like the Leafs tried, with little success and much confusion, in 2013-14.
To learn more about the swarm philosophy — a tactic that didn’t go very well in Edmonton either — click here to read a good explanation from theScore’s Justin Bourne. The idea of the swarm is pretty simple though: surround and outnumber the puck-carrier along the boards in order to get the puck back.
So what’s interesting about the Leafs’ decision to do less swarming on defense is that the swarm is actually intended to achieve the exact thing Toronto had so much trouble with last season — regaining possession of the puck.
The swarm can absolutely work when done right — (On a side note, I attended a coaching clinic this summer in Vancouver where Canucks assistant Glen Gulutzan said the trend of overloading/swarming was a challenge for the Sedins, who were finding themselves with less time and space to make plays in the offensive zone) — but it does come with a tradeoff or two.
For starters, if overloading doesn’t turn the puck over, the attacking team has a numbers advantage elsewhere on the ice. And even if the puck does turn over, the system has the potential to hinder a team’s ability to break the puck out, since it limits the passing options by having a bunch of players grouped all together in one area (typically lower down) in the defensive zone.
“The difference is, where do you move your winger?” head coach Randy Carlyle explained, per the Toronto Sun. “Do you move him down the wall to squeeze or do you have him tight to the point in coverage? They are all basically based on the same thing other than the fact we have to do a better job of being stiffer and harder to play against.”
The Leafs play their first preseason game tonight in Philly.