Speed is the name of the game, especially for the Montreal Canadiens this season. But speed doesn’t win games on its own. It has to be orchestrated and controlled to create the best scoring chances. Timing is extremely important in rush offence, and catching opponents off-guard is a must.
If a team would only skate as fast as they could all the time, head-on at the opposition, they would lose the puck every single time without accomplishing much of anything. The recipe for success in rush offence is setting up teammates to have a speed difference with the opposing defence. This is done with great positioning, puck movement, and through the usage of set plays. On top of that, attackers have to recognize opportunities and have the patience to harness their speed until the right moment.
Goals off the rush are often the result of beautiful orchestrations. They are lightning quick; all the details that went into making those possible are hard to see without stopping to break them down individually.
Take the first goal of the game. In that sequence, Montreal read the forecheck of Philadelphia and reacted accordingly to get an early lead in the game.
It all started when Brett Kulak joined the rush and beat the first forechecker. With this decision, he had the Habs outnumber the opposition as he crossed the defensive blue line.
The defenceman immediately followed his first good play with another one by challenging a second opponent in the neutral-zone. By doing this, and using Phillip Danault accelerating on his right, he created a two-on-one against that opponent. Kulak slid the puck over, having it transition from the wide lane to the mid lane and over to Danault, giving him space to speed into.
The other Flyers forward, whose job is to skate down from the far boards to counter the rush, was then forced to jump on Danault, letting Gallagher also accelerate in the offensive zone from the other wing.
Danault beat his check, setting up another two-on-one with Gallagher, a chance the alternate captain didn’t miss.
Now, the second Habs goal.
With this play, and the one he managed last game, Jordie Benn should really be called a playmaker now.
He attacked the Flyers’ neutral-zone defence and pushed it back to give Paul Byron, in the opposite wide lane, space to accelerate into. As he skated between blue lines, Benn used the fact that he was on his off-side to cut to the middle and bring the puck behind him to reach his speedy winger, springing him for a zone entry.
Due to Benn’s setup, Byron had a huge gap with the defence and easily dangled his way into the offensive zone. For good measure, he added a cross-over after getting across the opponent’s blue line to create even more separation from the line of defence.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi followed Byron into the zone for yet another two-on-one, identified the seam, controlled his speed to remain in it, and one-timed a precise pass from Byron.
Here are a few common elements that made both those plays successful:
- involving the defence;
- getting past the first forechecker;
- pushing back the line of defence;
- outnumbering opponents (creating two-on-ones);
- hitting a teammate coming in behind with speed, and;
- moving the puck laterally in the neutral zone (to get away from defensive pressure), and again after crossing the offensive zone for a scoring chance.
The Habs have a team built to create offence from the rush, and it will be a big driver of success for them if they can continue to apply the above habits regularly in their games.