Before I start I just wanted to share a little story with you about how the idea for this article came about…
Last week, I was forced to play as a defenseman on my Thursday night Beer League team.
Now, if this was Junior or University hockey I probably would’ve been a little nervous. But being that the hockey I play now is for fun more than anything, I wasn’t too stressed out about it.
Long story short, I loved my experience on the blue line. Having been a forward for the past 20 years or so, playing defenseman for the first time for a whole 60 minutes was the most fun I had in a long time.
I started off playing defensively, then chipped in offensively and everything in between. I had a blast, and it really helped me work on my hockey sense.
Still though, I ran through some scenarios in my mind before the game to make sure I didn’t look like a fool out on the ice in a position I had never played before.
One thing I really focused on was my decision-making and puck management on the offensive blue line, as I didn’t want to start making turnovers that lead to odd-man rushes.
Turns out I was really good at keeping the play alive and creating scoring chances. Sure, the competition wasn’t what I’m used to, but still—I was playing a position I had never really played before and was kicking ass at it.
After the game, I had the older defensemen of my team (the real old-timers) ask me for a few tips they could use to improve their game when on the offensive blue line.
They didn’t like my answer.
I told them to wait a few days—it gave me an idea for an article, so I told them they’d have to read it 🙂
That being said, here are some tips for all you defensemen out there that you can use when you get the puck on the offensive blue-line.
Decision-making on the offensive blue-line
The reason so many defensemen are unsure what to do when they get the puck at the blue-line is that, given a bit of time, they have as many as 5 options to run through mentally before making a play.
If your goal is to be an effective and reliable defenseman, then it’s important to know what these options are and know when to use each in order to make the best play possible in each situation.
This article goes over what those 5 general options are and in which scenarios they should be used.
By the end, you’ll be better equipped to make a quick decision when you get the puck on the offensive blueline. This will make you more of a threat as you’ll be moving the play forward much faster, giving your teammates an extra half-second that might be the difference between the goalie saving it or a goal.
Here are (more or less) the only 5 options you can choose from when getting the puck at the blueline regardless of how it gets to you
Five offensive blue-line plays for defensemen
If you’re an offensive defenseman and you have a good shot, you should be thinking shoot first if you feel like you’ll have enough time to get a shot off. This has to be decided before the puck comes to you. You should always know if there’s an opponent in your immediate surrounding.
It’s as simple as thinking to yourself whether you’re in “loaded” mode or if you have the “safety” on. This concept will help you determine whether you can get a shot off or if you’re better off making another play.
The next time you step out onto the ice and you’re at the offensive blueline waiting for the play to develop, always think to yourself whether you’re in “safety” mode or you’re “loaded”. Take in the information around you:
- Is there a winger high up in your shooting lane? If so, you’re in safety mode.
- Is there a teammate of yours screening the goalie in front? If there isn’t, you’re in safety mode most of the time.
- Are there too many players on your side of the ice, almost like it’s overloaded? Then you’re probably in safety mode because your D partner will most likely be open for a higher-chance shot.
For the “loaded” mode where you’re thinking about shooting the puck when you get it, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have teammates in front or around the net to screen the goalie and get the rebound?
- Will I have enough time to wind up and get a good shot in? If not, am I confident in my quick-release?
- Is the opposing winger out of my shooting lane just enough to get a shot through?
- Is there a player that, if passed to, would be in a better position to score?
These are all things that should be going on in your mind to determine which mode you’re in so that when you do get the puck, there’s less thinking involved and more acting.
I know it sounds like a lot to take in, but with practice, this becomes second nature. Players with high hockey IQ go through this process without even thinking about it, and that’s what you need to strive for.
Your second option is to “shoot-pass“, which is essentially making it look like you’re shooting on net but instead you’re aiming for a teammates stick-blade for an easy redirect.
Most often, this is used when you have a skilled winger that’s well positioned on either side of the net or even higher in the slot who’s ready to redirect your pass or take a quick one-timer after receiving your shot-pass.
This catches both the opposing players and the goalie off-guard if you pull it off. It’s not a technique that works all the time as it’s sometimes hard to pull off, but if you can do it and your teammate can redirect it quickly, you’ll beat a lot of goalies and get a lot of goals.
Over my career, the shot-pass was one of the plays that the Power-play guys used to practice over and over again until they perfected it. It’s extremely powerful, and if you can work with one of your forwards on improving it, then you’ll have much more success.
One thing to note is that you should let your teammates know that you’ll be looking to do it during games.
Don’t just send them a shot-pass if you’ve never done it before. Chances are they won’t be ready for it and will play it as if you were taking a normal shot.
It’s somewhat of a “set play” if you will. Test it out in practice and mention before the game that you’ll be looking for the option, and you’ll reap the rewards.
Those are your 2 offensive-minded options when getting the puck at the blue-line. Now let’s look at the last three.
3. Take ice
Taking more ice is your third option, and will suit you if you’re a good skating defenseman. This should be used when you have an opponent that’s almost up in your face, and you can distance yourself from him by patrolling the blue line. By doing this, you’re essentially creating a lane for yourself by skating along the blueline towards the middle of the ice.
As you do this, you change the game completely. Everyone now reacts to you. The wingers shift over, the goalie repositions himself, your own D partner slides across, and your forwards also have to adapt.
By taking the middle of the ice, you open up a lot of different plays, and this option should be used whenever you have room to do so. It’s also the perfect option for getting an even higher-quality shot.
If you can take ice and gain a lane over your opposing winger, you’ll be in a much better position to take a quality shot from the middle than from closer to the boards.
This is the bread-and-butter option for most defensive pairings. With a good defense partner, you’ll use this one a lot. By passing the puck over to your D-partner, you’re essentially stretching out the play.
This again forces the other team to adapt and take ice in order to get back into proper shooting lanes. If you’re able to move the puck over to your D-partner quickly, it’ll give him that extra second he needs to get a high-quality shot on net and—more importantly—a great scoring chance.
The key is to glance over at your partner before you get the puck. You’ll want to make sure he’s open and that he doesn’t have any near or immediate pressure on him. Sending the puck over to him when he has a defender in his face is useless, and just puts him in trouble.
You want to use the over only when it makes sense to do so. Don’t fall into the trap of always going over—a lot of amateur defensemen do this. There are sometimes better options, such as a quick shot, a rim down to your forwards, or even the shot-pass.
With time, you’ll get more comfortable with the over. One good way to make sure your pass are always accurate is to take note of where your partner plays—is he really inside the blue line or does he play high up with his feet on or even outside the blue line?
Just knowing this can make what seems like a tough pass relatively easy—you’ll come to know at what height your partner plays at, and it’ll take less time to execute the over.
You can also use the blue-line as a guide when making your over pass, assuming you know at what height your partner is. By simply glancing down at the blue line near your feet, it’ll give you perspective as to where you’re situated and the trajectory your over pass should take.
I know that sounds abstract, but with time it all happens subconsciously.
When you see the top defensemen in the NHL firing pucks over to their partners with nothing more than a quick glance before they get the puck, that’s two things at work:
- Knowing your D-partner and his positioning with regards to the blue-line
- Taking a quick glance over before receiving the puck to make sure he’s open
Then, it’s just a matter of execution speed, and that little tip about using the blue-line as a guide will help you get those over passes to your D-partners out faster and on target.
5. Rim down
Last but not least, we have the safety valve—the rim down. This is hands down the best option to choose if you have very little time to react.
If there’s a winger in your face, the puck is stumbling or you’re just trying to keep the puck in, the rim down is always your best option.
While some see it as a loss of possession because you’re essentially giving the puck away, it’s not really the case. It’s inevitable that the other team will sometimes win the puck back, but if your forwards are well positioned, it’s an option worth considering if you’re pressed for time.
Also, it’s more often than not better to rim the puck down than shoot the puck blindly to the middle—these blind shots are easily blocked, and being that you’re at a stand-still, they often times lead to odd-man rushes.
I put this ‘rim down’ option last for a reason—the other four are better options given you have the time to make a play. But take that time away, and the rim down becomes your best bet.
Don’t be shy to rim down. It’s the difference between keeping the play alive or the puck exiting the zone.
That’s it! Those are my tips for making plays with the puck at the offensive blue-line for defensemen.
Now, a lot of defensemen that don’t believe in their abilities choose to rim down or make an over pass at any opportunity they get.
I challenge you to take shots, try shot-passes and even take more ice the next time you’re out for a skate on defense. Remember to consider these 5 options before even getting the puck. If you run through this mental checklist after reciving the puck, it’s already too late.
You should always be analyzing the play going on in front of you and considering what the best play would be in any situation if you were to receive the puck.
Look where your teammates are, look how the goalie is placed, glance over at your D-partner, and keep your eye on the puck.
It’s a lot, I know—but that’s how you have to think and see the game if you want to improve.
Over time, this will come second nature and you’ll be making puck decisions almost naturally without even thinking about it.
Once you’ve got these options figured out, then you can try more advanced moves like shot-fakes, juke-and-shoots, etc.
Try these options out and let me know how they work for you in the comments below because I’d love to hear your thoughts.