For a forward, learning how to beat defensemen is one of the most useful and important skills you can learn.
While it’s usually better to outnumber defensemen rather than trying to beat them one-on-one, there are situations where isolating your defenseman and trying to take the puck to the net is a great option.
In this article, I’ll go over some proven techniques for beating defensemen in one-on-one situations. These tips are for when you’re coming down the ice face to face with a defenseman—not when you’re battling in the corners. I’ll cover that topic more in-depth in a future article.
By the time you’re done reading this blog post, you’ll have all the knowledge needed for beating defenders. Throw in a bit of practice on the different techniques, the knack for reading defensemen, and a decent amount of acceleration and you’re well on your way to beating defenders every time—whenever YOU want!
Not sure about the ‘reading defensemen’ part? I’ll cover that in the future, too.
That said, let’s take a look at the 5 techniques for beating defensemen.
One of the most effective ways of beating a defenseman is to vary your speed. A defenseman is taught to keep his gap—the distance between himself and his attacker—constant at all times.
Forwards that skate at the same speed during their entire attack make it easy for defenders. All a defenseman has to do is match your speed and he maintains the ideal gap range as a result. Skaters who skate on cruise control (the same speed) don’t get by defenders unless they have magic hands(think Patrick Kane) and can rely on their stickhandling alone.
As a forward, you want the defenseman to have to adapt to you—don’t make his job easy. It can be something as simple as slowing down just a bit, only to speed up again when the defenseman decides to slow down. As soon as the defenseman slows down to close the gap of space between you and him, that’s when it’s time to slam on the accelerator and try to catch him off-guard.
If you’re successful, you’ll see that the defenseman now has to work twice as hard to try and bring the gap back to normal and match your speed. It’s now much easier for you to take the puck wide and gain an advantageous position on him.
Remember to use your legs and body to protect your puck and keep it away from your defender once you’ve gained some room on him.
Speed management can also be obtained by simply crossing over and weaving in and out as you come down on your defender—you don’t have to skate directly towards him as it’s easier to gauge your speed this way.
That leads us to the next important technique.
Make him cross
If you were to have one main objective when attacking a defenseman, it would be to make him crossover. Again, defensemen are taught to keep their gap, match their attacker’s speed, and play the body rather than the puck.
If you can get the defenseman to cross over, he’s already beat.
Think of it this way; a defenseman with both feet on the ice is hard to beat, but a defenseman with a foot in the air is almost like an orange cone.
If you can manage to make him crossover, he’s essentially immobile.
He can no longer comeback the other way. If you time it right and decide to attack the other way while he’s crossing over, you’ll beat your defender 99.9% of the time.
Think about it. Your defender is crossing over because he thinks you’re going left, and then you decide to go right. He’s caught mid-crossover, and he can’t get back in time.
The odd time you’ll get a defenseman who has really quick feet or a long reach that’s able to make it back in time and take the puck away from you, but it’s rare.
If that’s the case, then make it a point to work on your puck protection once you pass a defender. In time, you’ll become good at keeping posession of the puck even with added pressure.
Now, how do you get him to crossover?
Be creative. Try new moves. Sometimes it’s just a matter of head faking and going one way, and then going the other way once he takes the bait. Try different moves and take note of what works, then challenge yourself to perfect those moves so that they work on a regular basis.
Once you have confidence in your ability to make defenders cross, it opens up a ton of opportunites for you as a player during games.
The stutter stop
Another effective technique to use when trying to beat a defenseman one-on-one is what I like to call the stutter stop. The stutter stop is pretty straightforward, and is used only when going wide around a defender by the outside (near the boards). It won’t work when trying to take the inside lane towards the net.
To use the stutter stop technique, you have to first gain the outside lane. This is quite easy to do, as defenders are taught to keep you away from the middle and force you down the outside lane towards the boards.
Start off by skating towards your attacker. Once you get close to him (without being close enough that he can pokecheck you), quickly pull the puck to the outside and increase your speed.
If you’re a right-handed player coming down the left side or a left-handed player coming down the right side, this will be easy for you—simply pull the puck away from the defender with one hand on your stick and increase your speed until you’re slightly passed your defender but not enough to beat him cleanly to the net.
If you’re a right-handed player coming down the right side or a left-handed player coming down the left side, you’ll have a bit more trouble protecting your puck but it can still be done—just bring your puck out as far away from your defender as possible. You’ll have to use two hands here as you’re on your strong side and not on the off-wing (a term used for righties playing left and lefties playing right).
Once you’re slightly passed your defender, it’s time to stutter stop. At this point, your defender should no longer be skating backwards but be skating forwards trying to catch you.
The stutter stop is essentially a fake stop that confuses your defender. You simply make the action of breaking so that your defender also breaks, and then you continue on full speed towards the net, cutting in and protecting the puck with your body.
The goal is to only stop for a split second—you shouldn’t lost much speed at all. The objective is to get the defender—who is now skating forward trying to catch up to you—to also stop as he thinks you’re making a full stop.
If you manage to make your defender turn his feet and stop for even just a split second, you’ll be free to take the puck to the net as he won’t be able to catch you anymore.
This is useful when you feel your defender is catching up to you and you want to slow him down some more. It may sound confusing, but give it a try and you’ll see just how easy and effective it is.
Chip and skate
This technique is an easy one to get started with. As the name suggests, with this technique you’ll simply be chipping the puck by your defender and skating around him to get it.While it’s simple in theory, it’s hard to do well consistently.
This is different from the dump and chase technique where you simply put the puck in the corner and chase after it.
The chip and skate technique is a small chip to yourself that you can recuperate before reaching the net, allowing you to still make a play or take a quick shot.
One way I learned to do this that I feel works really well is to skate directly at the defenseman with full speed.
What this does is it gets him concentrating on your body and less on the puck, which is what we want in this situation.
Once you get in close—still far enough from his pokecheck of course—you want to look for any open space immediately surrounding the defender.
Maybe it’s between his legs. Maybe it’s just behind him in the middle of the ice or off to the side. Maybe it’s a flick over his stick so he can’t bat it out of the air or catch it with his hands.
Maybe you have to do a quick move in order to get him to commit and then place the puck in an open space.
Whatever the case may be, this technique is all about catching the defenseman flat-footed and then chiping the puck behind him so that you can retrieve it with the speed you’ve built up along the way.
It’s nothing fancy—just a good old bread-and-butter technique that is still used in the NHL today by some of the best players, both skilled and less-skilled alike.
Drag and shoot
Sometimes, no matter how prepared you are coming down on a defenseman, there just isn’t any room to make a play. Maybe there’s too much pressure from a backchecker or the defenseman you’re trying to beat is big, fast, and has a long reach. Whatever the case may be, taking a good quality shot is always a good choice—even if it’s from far out.
Defensemen are taught to take away your shooting lane with their sticks. This technique helps you counter that strategy.
The drag and shoot takes practice to do well, but can be deadly when mastered. If you’re already good at doing toe drags, then this one should come easy to you.
To setup for the drag and shoot, simply place your puck far from your body and to the side as if you were about to shoot. You can even exagerate the movement a little.
You really have to sell that you’re going to be shooting the puck any second.
If the defensemen bites, his stick should naturally shift and be placed in your newly created shooting lane.
Little does he know, this is exactly what you wanted him to do. Now that his stick is also so far away from his body in order to try and tip your shot, all you have to do is reposition your puck quickly and let it rip.
You can do this by toe-dragging the puck in closer towards the side of your skate, creating a new shooting lane between the defender’s stick blade and his skate.
For best results, try and make it all one smooth movement. If you toe drag the puck closer to your body, pause, and then try and shoot, the defenseman will have had time to react.
The idea is to do it as quickly and as smoothly as possible to surprise the defenseman—and maybe even the goalie!
Risk vs reward
So there you have it—5 techniques you can use to beat defensemen every time. Keep in mind that you always have to ask yourself this one question:
“Is it worth trying to beat this defenseman one-on-one or should I play it safe and take a shot?”
You have to evaluate the risk and reward. The reward is you may get a quality scoring chance if you beat the defenseman.
The risk is you turn the puck over and the opponent is attacking up the ice the other way, most probably on an odd-man rush.
Be smart in your decision-making (more posts on this to come)!
What moves do you use when trying to beat a defender one-on-one?
Leave me a comment below because I want to learn what works for you. I answer all comments!