Dumping the Dump and Chase: Pittsburgh's New Zone Entry Tactics by @DXTraeger

Shero and Bylsma, proponents of the Dump and Chase
When the Pittsburgh Penguins' organizational brass decided to fire Dan Bylsma and General Manager Ray Shero last summer, the idea was not to just replace the man standing behind the bench but to also rid the Penguins of a Bylsma "system" that had become stagnant and predictable.

The subsequent hirings of Mike Johnston and Jim Rutherford to replace Bylsma and Shero marked an overhaul in hockey philosophy, with the two placing an emphasis on new statistical analytics that seem to positively correlate puck possession with winning.

To this end, Johnston has thus far diminished the frequency of the Pens' "dump and chase" entry in lieu of his attacking players carrying the puck into the offensive zone.

Under Bylsma, all lines would routinely approach the blue line and upon reaching the other team's defensemen (usually just inside the attacking zone), the player with the puck would chip the puck into a corner and a race for the puck would ensue.  

The premise of the dump and chase is sound, as it helps counter opponents that aim to stand up the Penguins at the blue line and thus disrupt Pittsburgh's zone entries.  A well-executed dump and chase forces the defenders to turn and try to corral the puck, knowing full well that they will be forced to take a hit along the boards while in a semi-vulnerable state.  

In addition, since most teams try to have one defender get the puck while the other places himself in position to receive a pass and start a transition to offense, if the forechecking forward can acquire the puck, he can either initiate the offensive zone cycle or, given that his team will likely have an overload situation in front of the net, attempt a centering pass to give the Penguins an excellent scoring opportunity.

Conversely, a successful blue line defense yields offsides, turnovers, and diminishes the attacking players' speed by interrupting their momentum and forcing them to divert away from their intended skating lanes.

One particular team that excels at negating the Penguins' superior offensive skill by way of denying the blue line is the Philadelphia Flyers.  The Flyers employ a neutral zone trap that forces Pittsburgh to lose speed through the neutral zone, and then their defensemen refuse to allow Penguin forwards to enter the zone, prompting the Pens to dump and chase.  

In the above example, the Flyers' trap slowing down the Penguins through center ice is key, as diminishing the Penguins' speed makes puck retrieval via a dump and chase more difficult for Pittsburgh's forwards.

Limiting the Pens' speed also affords Philadelphia's defensemen a split second longer to reach and move the puck, and can help initiate a breakout with at least one Penguin player trapped beneath the opposing goal line.

Under Johnston and Rutherford, the Penguins are trying to limit their dump and chase attempts and instead hold onto the puck when entering the offensive zone.  Possessing the puck across the blue line negates the risk of losing the puck to an ineffective dump, and opens up a series of small maneuvers to create scoring opportunities.  

One simple tactic the Penguins use once inside the blue line is to have two forwards criss-cross one another (similar to a stunt in the NFL).  The idea is to force the opposing team's defencemen to commit to a specific player, potentially leaving another forward wide open if both defenders inadvertently commit to marking the same skater.

Another play off of a successful zone entry with possession is the "center drive."  In this scenario, the puck carrier enters the zone and then slightly slows up while one of his teammates skates hard down the center of the ice.

This drive down the center (hence "center drive") forces at least one defender to shadow the charging forward, and collapses the defense down toward their own goalie, opening up space for the puck carrier to then move closer toward the net, enhancing the scoring chance.

Most importantly, under a possession zone entry, the Penguins have the puck on their sticks and have a better opportunity to register a shot attempt, with these shot attempts being the basis of Corsi For/Against analytical ratings.

Pittsburgh will still use the dump and chase in selective situations (against trap teams, when the Penguins are changing lines behind the play, when Zach Sill and the fourth line is on the ice, etc.), but the days of the Pens consistently relinquishing the puck at the blue line seem to be drawing to a close.

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