The Philadelphia Flyers have a bouquet of left-handed defensemen. In the offensive zone, left-handed blue liners positioned at the right point serve as both an offensive and defensive threat.
Picture in your mind, for a moment, Kimmo Timonen (a left-shot) playing the right side while the puck is contained in the offensive zone. Timonen can continue his duties as a defensemen if the puck makes its way up his side and along the boards while possessed by an attacker. If Kimmo were to approach the play, his stick would point towards center ice which could potentially block or intercept the puck should the carrier test the passing lane. Simultaneously, Kimmo is still in position to body-check or suffocate the chance of the carrier using the boards to play the puck behind Timonen.
That's one of the advantages of positioning a left-handed defenseman at his weak side in the offensive zone. It strengthens puck containment, and strengthens your team's chances to keep on the attack. Offensively, Timonen has a stronger one-timer playing the right point with his left-shot.
The same premise works with a right-handed defenseman playing his weakside (left point) in the offensive zone. But what about defensive zone efficiency?
Elliotte Friedman from CBC Sports wrote --
In discussing the New Jersey forecheck about a week ago, Parise gave some insight into what Philadelphia will be looking for [July 1]. Parise said one of the reasons the Devils successfully pressured the Flyers was the lack of a right-shot defenceman to move the puck on that side. The only one on the roster is Pavel Kubina, who was a healthy scratch for the series.
Flyers fans know we're missing a right-handed blue liner. But I thought it was a breath of fresh air to see a top tier NHL'er like Zach Parise point out that a great deal of New Jersey's success was exploiting our weak zone defense.
A left-handed defenseman playing the weak side in his own zone may have a lot of difficulty moving the puck forward and getting the play directed to the opposite end. Whether that's passing to a forward to bring it up ice, or get it to a more open linemate.
When left-handed defenseman, Jaroslav Spacek, came to the Montreal Canadiens, he was re-positioned to the right side. He had spent the majority of his prior NHL career playing defense on the left side of the rink. At one point during the 2009-10 season, Spacek led the League in turnovers. Could his change in scenery be the reason?
“It's not easy to have the puck on your backhand all night,” Spacek said. “It's harder to make a good pass on the breakouts. You have to try not to go around yourself too much, and make the simple plays, but it's harder for sure, you have to look over your shoulder all the time, you can't see the whole ice when you pick the puck up.”
To give you a video example, here's Flyers defenseman, Matt Carle, handling the puck in our end against the forechecking Ottawa Senators in January of the 2011-12 season (skip to 1:35) --
I'm not picking on Carle. I am simply giving an example of a left-handed defenseman playing the puck on his weak side, in his own zone, when pressure's applied.
Luckily for Carle, Bryzgalov managed to get him out of the jam.
Timothy McCarthy from USA Hockey put it this way --
The defensive zone breakout is arguably the most important transition a defenseman will orchestrate. It may originate from three basic locations: puck in open ice (forward of the goal line), puck in the corner (behind the goal line, located from below the face-off dot to the outer-board radius), or puck behind the net (behind the goal line, between the face-off dots). By attacking these puck positions in the most efficient manner, the defenseman can save time, fractions of seconds that differentiate successful breakouts from turnovers.
Carle playing on the right side keeps the puck exposed to the forecheck, and his body completely deleted between the attacker and the lane to the net/slot. And because all of our defensemen are left-handed, we witness that each time our blue liners are trying to move the puck forward from their "off" hand-side of the defensive zone.
Also, a left-handed defenseman playing the right side can have incredible difficulty chasing the puck on dump-ins or carrying the puck out from behind his net because his back is exposed to center ice.
Josh Gorges is another lefty blue liner who tackled the pressures of playing the "off" hand-side --
“I still don't know that I feel comfortable,” Gorges said. “I'm still learning. I mean, I played on the left for 21 years. It's really amazing how 35 feet to the other side can change your whole outlook on the game. Everything kind of seems to happen on fast-forward.”
Looking back, this could all be an argument to re-sign Matt Carle.
Hear me out...
Matty is a lefty d-man who primarily plays the right side. Does he turn the puck over? Yes. In fact, that's his biggest issue. He turns the puck over at the most unfortunate times in the game. Like in the video I previously posted, his screw-up would have cost the Flyers the third point in OT.
Shit, we've seen Carle give the game away....
But despite the troubles of a left-handed blue liner positioned on his weakside, Matt Carle's usefulness is spread universally in all game situations. He plays 5-on-5 and on both PP & PK special teams. Carle's gone three consecutive regular seasons playing 80+ games, and all 82 in 2010-11, 2011-12. So he's incredibly durable which is a rarity among professional sports players these days.
And Matt is simply one of the better defensemen in the League when it comes to defensive zone breakouts. If he were moved leftward to make way for a right-handed linemate then his turnovers could be cut in half, and we could potentially have our #1 & 2 defensemen.
Perhaps this strategy is all part of Paul Holmgren's plan already? After all, Dustin Leed from The Hockey Guys spoke with both Carle and his agent, Kurt Overhardt, and reported that Matt Carle's deal with the Philadelphia Flyers is expected to be announced on July 1.
So who's the mystery righty defenseman?
Matthew Brigidi from The Checking Line put a solid article and list together of possible UFA right-handed defensemen, stating Dennis Wideman's is likely the most attractive right-handed UFA option .... He is a capable puck-moving defenseman who plays big minutes as well as in all situations. The issue rises that he isn’t strong in the defensive zone, isn’t as physical as he should be and turns the puck over a lot.
The free agency pool is shallow, so the ripe pickings will more than likely be acquired through trades this off-season. Of course, (D) right-shot Shea Weber's name has popped up once or twice...
...understatement of the year.
Toronto d-man, Luke Schenn, is another right-handed skater speculated to be major trade bait throughout the Summer months.
One thing's for sure -- It's gonna be interesting.
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