13. How to Execute in a Two-on-Two Situation

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(Stolen from another piece written by Kendall Banks.)

Here's another "how to" blurb on executing offense for one of those rare moments when a high level game is not a furball of ten bodies on the bottom around the puck. These situations do happen and to some extent you can make them happen though they do not occur at a high frequency during the game. This is an area of the game that needs to be practiced to a degree out of proportion to its frequency of occurrence. You must be prepared to capitalize on opportunities.

Number one objective, once you realize you are in a two on two situation with the puck: do something to force the defenders to switch their coverage. Test their execution. Do they both pick up the switch? Or do they allow one person to become open? Herein lies the opportunity to score.

A typical two on two goes like this:
One player has the puck, 1st defender approaches, 2nd offensive player goes for the pass (using the techniques discussed for 2 on 1's), pass is successfully completed, 2nd defender immediately defenders the 2nd offensive player.

This is no good. The second defender can easily read the play from beginning to end. If that is all we can do, then we are better off tightening up the play and going back to a semi-controlled furball attack. Which is the right decision, much of the time. Trying to open the game when the odds are that the other team will likely gain possession, and you have no shot to score, doesn't make sense.

When do we try to open it up with a two on two? What do you look for?

Look for the opportunity to make the first pass early. You're not trying to beat the 1st defender, you're trying to force or tempt the 2nd defender to commit to the same player as the 1st defender does. This may create an opportunity for a productive pass-back or give and go. Even if both defenders don't go to the same player, getting to the "second" defender first may set up an opportunity to beat the 2nd defender one on one. The 2nd defender may have to commit unexpectedly and make the mistake of attacking with no back-up. If the 2nd defender does that, a shoot & chase or a good move means a score.

Look for the opportunity to swim directly at the 2nd defender. If you make a sharp turn early, away from the 1st defender and directly at the 2nd defender you may end up with both of them committing to you. This may seem counter-intuitive as you will probably also be heading in the direction of your teammate who is probably trying to get some spacing between you. Let your teammate worry about that. If you can get two defenders on you, your teammate should be able to find an open hole.

Look for the opportunity to "burn" (get past) the 1st defender. If for some reason you believe you can take them (possibly because the pass is so obvious), then this is the time to try. Not when you have a 2 on 1, and simple execution should make a score. Not a 1 on 1, where the defender has pool to give and is set up to play you soft. Now, if you burn the defender, you'll have a surprised last man in a 2 on 1 situation.

Look for the trailer. If you don't like what you see in front of you, take a quick look back. If the trailer is in a position to get the puck and draw one of the defenders off you guys, and then flick it back up, then go for it. All right, so it isn't a 2 on 2 anymore.

Good defenders do half of their job by anticipating what is going to happen. If you can do exactly what the defender is not anticipating, you have them half beat. There are lots of ways of doing this. Some of the best can come from your own team's mistakes and chaos. If two of you are hustling and arrive at the puck together, rather than one player going up and the other player taking the puck, or one player taking the puck and the other splitting wide for a pass (both options can be easily anticipated) try swimming together until the first defender approaches and then making a slide pass to a give and go. Think of yourself as the 2nd defender. What would make you more nervous?

What you need to figure out is how we are all going to know when an attempt at an open style play is over. When is it time to tighten it back up? Maybe just as simple as one open play at a time. If it works, great, if not, tighten it up pronto. Keep it tight until there is a decent looking opportunity to try another open play.

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