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Breaking Down Film: Shea Weber and defensive-zone breakouts

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We established that Weber is elite in the offensive zone, but what about creating offence from the defensive zone?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It's time for another edition of Breaking Down Film: Shea Weber edition. If you missed Part One of the breakdown, you can read it here.

Defensive zone exits

This is where things get interesting for Weber.

First off, let me say that his ability to create controlled exits on his own is virtually non-existent. I saw very few attempts to carry the puck out of his own zone, and those rarely succeeded.

More often than not, he let his defensive partner — Roman Josi — carry the bulk of the responsibilities for driving the offence forward. I repeatedly saw him get out of his partner's way, without even offering up a pass option in case Josi was under pressure. Essentially, it was Josi or bust when it came to exiting the defensive zone with control of the puck. When that happens, Weber generally guards the front of the net, and joins the attacking play a little late. Similar to joining the rush after a line change, it leads to a lot of shot options in the offensive zone, since opponents tend to lose him in the fray.

It's clear that Weber trusts his partner when it comes to exiting to the zone more than himself. Although that probably has to do with Josi's superior speed and puck-handling ability. Deferring to a partner that is more skilled in certain departments should probably be seen as a positive, as opposed to trying to force the play and creating a giveaway.

His outlet passes, as rare as they are, aren't executed very quickly, and they're generally easy to recognize and nullify. Generally speaking, from what I noticed, he struggles when there's pressure to make a pass.

Of course, you could find this type of footage for almost any defender in the NHL. Giveaways happen, it's the reality of the position, but when Weber does attempt a pressured outlet pass it seems to be intercepted quite often. Considering he's not the fastest defenceman, he also struggles to get back into position when a giveaway occurs. But that's not to say he can't make a solid pass. When there's no pressure, he definitely has the ability to find a streaking forward with a quick, crisp outlet pass.

As for his speed, there's been a lot of talk that Weber is a slow defender. From what I've seen, that's simply not the case. He lacks agility, but his outright speed is probably average at worst. We'll delve more into his agility issues as we break down his defensive play next week.

For those worried about his pace, take a quick look at him escaping from Montreal's fastest skater. Obviously Paul Byron had to take a longer route to reach Weber, but the fact of the matter remains that Byron is among the fastest skaters in the league.

He's certainly not a fast skater, but I can't qualify him as slow. When it comes to hockey analysis there's usually no room for nuance, but in Weber's case he's neither great, nor terrible, in the skating department.

For a perfect example of what to expect from Weber, take a look at the video below.

He makes one bad pass, a few good ones, and relies heavily on Josi to drive the play forward. By the time the puck enters the offensive zone he's still on the Nashville blue line.

Just as we saw enough footage to claim Weber is elite in the offensive zone, it's becoming clear he's below average when it comes to moving the puck up the ice.

From a Habs point of view, due to his lack of ability to drive the offence from the back end, it's vital to pair Weber with a very mobile defenceman. Andrei Markov should be avoided at all costs. He's simply not fast enough to balance Weber's weaknesses. He's got great vision, but depending on a 38-year-old to create offence from the back end is probably unrealistic.

Logically, you're looking at Nathan Beaulieu as an ideal partner. And while Beaulieu struggled at times last year, he did perform quite well when it came to top-four duties. Also, the Habs don't have a plethora of mobile defencemen that play on the left side. Mark Barberio could fit the bill, however, a lot like Weber, he's prone to turnovers in the defensive zone, and it may be too early to assign him top pairing responsibilities.

As for Emelin, I'm certain that pairing would produce many highlight-reel bodychecks, but I suspect their lack of controlled exits would lead to an excruciating amount of time spent hemmed in their own zone.

Essentially, at this point it's Beaulieu or bust, unless the Habs manage to acquire a quality puck-moving defenceman before October rolls around.

***

Next week we'll break down Weber's defensive abilities, which includes his puck retrieval, ability to deny zone entries with great stickwork, and his physical prowess. Following that, we'll compare what we noted from the video analysis to the statistics that are available, to see if they line up.