Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/1/2016 (2329 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With the Jets 30 games into the regular season and boasting a 14-14-2 record, head coach Paul Maurice felt the need to spice things up. After making a number of changes to the forward lineup earlier in the year, it was time to make a couple switches on the blue-line. He moved Jacob Trouba, who was playing alongside Mark Stuart on the third pairing, to the second line with Dustin Byfuglien. That resulted in Ben Chiarot moving to the third line to play with Stuart.
The move made sense at the time as Trouba, a right-handed player and undoubtedly the future of the Jets defence for years to come, needed to earn more ice time and face stiffer competition. The challenge, however, was it meant moving Trouba to the left side and Ben Chiarot, a lefty, to the right side, meaning they would be playing on what is considered to be their "opposite" side.
Now, if you’re thinking, "Come on, these guys are in the NHL, they should be able to handle that," well, it’s not that easy. In fact, it comes with its fair share of challenges in all areas of the ice. In the third episode of The Whiteboard with J.P. Vigier, he outlines just how challenging the move can actually be by breaking down the different difficulties in the offensive, neutral and defensive zones.
In the offensive zone, the difficulty for a defenceman playing his opposite side begins with protecting the blue-line. This often means getting a pass on your backhand and being able to make the play in the offensive zone by turning your hips, getting that puck on your forehand and getting a shot on net. This becomes very difficult when an opponent is giving pressure, making it difficult to get that puck deep or simply to just prevent it from being turned over.
Simply put, the issue is about time. There’s just no time to be able to accept that puck on your backhand, turn it to your forehand, get your head up and put a shot on net when that winger, who is less than a second away is coming on you. By the time you turn your hips and look at the net, that guy is already in your face. There was a moment in the first period in a game against the Sharks last week when Trouba, who did a good job of cradling the puck, simply had no other option than to blindly throw the puck at the net, a shot he missed by 10 feet.
If you’re on your natural side you can take that puck with your eyes up, you’re already in a shooting or a passing position, so you can one-time it or make a quick pass across to the other defenceman. But when its on your backhand you have to turn and to make a backhand pass cross-ice just isn’t a smart play because it takes too long, it’s not as accurate, making it very difficult to play that position at the offensive blue line.
Getting the puck in the neutral zone on your opposite side also has its share of challenges, especially when it comes to transitioning up the ice after retrieving a pass from your defence partner. When you take that pass, in order to play the puck on your forehand, it means you have to move your body away from the strong side winger to the left. You have to either trust he’s there but that may result in an icing or a turnover. You want to take that puck and move it forward but if you have to move backwards in order to assess the play, it’s just not a good recipe for success.
In the D-zone, when playing on the opposite side, getting the puck on your forehand means you are positioned to see only a third to two-thirds of the ice. Most times, since you’re often being pressured by the opponent, your only real options can be to rim the puck blindly around the boards on the other side or take the puck up the boards on your backhand. It becomes a very nerve-wracking situation when it’s not your natural side. When you’re on the proper side, you get that puck and you’re seeing up ice. So now you have three options: you can pass to either winger or the centreman.
J.P.’s final thoughts
The transition for Chiarot and Trouba to their opposite has been very good as they’ve been able to really keep their eyes up ice. That success has come because they’ve been able to look and determine where everyone is on the ice, and then where they’re going to be so in order to make a smart move in just a fraction of a second. The Jets haven’t been caught in too many situations where playing the wrong side has led to a lot of mistakes and it’s cost them a game. Maybe the odd turnover but as a total it’s been a very smooth transition.