It happens all too frequently. The Caps are on an offensive rush, barreling up the ice with speed and numbers. Just before (or frequently, just after) the blueline, the puck carrier attempts a one-on-one move in an attempt to get around a defender, hopefully leaving him out of position and increasing the offensive advantage. One pokeckeck or errant toe drag or unseen backcheck later, the opposition is heading up ice with numbers with the Caps on their heels.
The Caps are currently 10th in the NHL in giveaways as a team. What’s troublesome about being tenth isn’t that it’s too close to being first (the Red Wings are 8th in giveaways and doing just fine), it’s WHERE those giveaways are occurring. Although it’s quite obvious to most observers that opposing teams have started standing up the Caps at the blueline more often and backchecking more aggressively, the team is still prone to skate with the puck rather than put the puck in the corners and work for it. This is especially true of the first line.
Which brings us to the ‘Three Foot’ Rule.
I was always taught that the area within three feet of either side of either blueline is the most dangerous area of the ice to turn the puck over. At the defensive blueline, a turnover means your team is usually heading up ice, leading to defensemen on their heels and forwards scrambling to get back to help while the opposition has speed and at least one forechecker deep. Think Mike Green attempting a one-on-one toe drag just inside his own blueline last season while the rest of his team is heading for the offensive zone.
The same holds true at the offensive blueline, except now the forwards are often deep in the offensive zone and carrying a lot more speed away from their own end. It’s harder for them to get back and help defensively and as a result, odd-man breaks form out of seemingly nothing. While dumping and chasing the puck requires the opposition to fight to clear the puck, a blueline turnover gives it to them free of charge and without the need to set up a breakout. The Caps get no pressure out of their rush up the ice and obviously, you simply can’t score goals if the other team has the puck.
The Caps are guilty of violating the ‘Three Foot rule’ multiple times a game, with Alex Ovechkin leading the charge. With the speed, skill and hockey-sense the Caps possess, one can understand if those players look up and see opportunities that the rest of us can’t see. But I can’t help but recall a quote from Alex Semin about skating with the puck:
And in Russia people like beautiful hockey, and not dump and chase. I just don't get it, why when a player is skating up the ice and no one is attacking him, he dumps the puck into the offensive zone and then chases it? Why would you do this if there is no one forechecking you? I understand that if there is someone coming at you and you don't know whether you can get past that player, then you can dump the puck, pass it or shoot. But if not, then hold on to the puck, skate forward, create a chance.
Why would you want to dump the puck and then chase after it and crash into the boards? I don't know. But that's just my opinion.
Could it be that the Caps, especially the team’s top players, are too stubborn to realize that they can’t, as Semin says, ‘get past that player’? That this style worked last year, so it should work again this year? If so, now is the time change the mindset of the puck carrier and create offense the old fashioned, gritty way. Dumping the puck in at the blueline helps establish a cycle and helps the Caps' talented group of snipers get free for more high-percentage shots. It won't be the pretty, 'edge of your seat' Caps hockey we're used to, but it works.
And if they lose the puck, so be it. At least the puck is behind the other guy’s goalie when it happens.