Legs Feed The Wolf – An X and O Breakdown

In our nonstop effort to try to cover every angle of the Men of Four Feathers, this is a new weekly feature we’re going to try out. The hope is to shed a little light on what it is the Hawks are doing from a technical standpoint, and I will try to incorporate more visual aides should this feature stay. As always, any feedback is welcome.

What We’ve Seen

  • Viktor Stalberg on the Right Wing – While it’s a seemingly minor change, getting Vik on the right side of the 3rd line with his left handed shot has already yielded two game winning goals (St. Louis, Scum), and his other goal came from being on the right side as well.

    Putting a left handed shot on the right wing (and vice versa), puts a forward in a far more actionable position to shoot or pass on his forehand while square to the net and the center of the ice. In his dalliances within the Top 6, Stalberg was relegated to the left side because some guys named Hossa and Kane were taking up space on those right wing slots. Being on the third line gives Stalberg the opportunity to create more offense, and he has done so. Opposing teams need to deploy their top two pairs by and large against the Bolland and Toews lines, leaving 3rd pairing bums out there against Vik, Bick, and Shaw.

    Stalberg’s world-class speed is something said bums need to respect, however they don’t quite respect his playmaking ability from the position yet. So what we’re seeing is a much wider gap between the defenseman and a speeding Stalberg, as they’d rather not be beaten wide as opposed to the middle given the film everyone has of Stalberg’s shall we say “suspect” hands.

    The inverse of this is why defenders are on Kane like stink on shit as soon as he crosses the stripe, as they worry about his ability to make a play towards the middle. But if Stalberg keeps exploiting that gap as he has been, it’ll force third pair pylons to waste even a split second longer in thinking about how they want to deal with him, and with Vik’s speed, that could be the split second they get torched.

  • Breakout and Regroup Gap Control – While the most glaring example of this not happening was the Ray Whitney goal in Dallas wherein Patricks Kane and Sharp made a bee-line for the Dallas line as Michal Rozsival’s world imploded around him right inside the Hawk zone, by and large, we’ve seen a far shorter gap between the Hawk d-men and the forwards during breakouts.

    Wingers are returning to approximately the hash marks on the faceoff circles along the boards to give defensemen a target to pass to, rather than floating 75 feet away in the neutral zone as they had been over the last two seasons. And while much credit must be given to Hammer himself for rediscovering his patience with the puck, that he now has options before blindly firing it up the boards and onto opposing tape has certainly helped him greatly.

    This has not only led to far fewer extended sequences with the Hawks pinned into their own zone, but also to more speed coming through the neutral zone when attacking. As they have been in the previous years, the center on a given line should be looping through the defensive zone towards the strong (puck) side of the ice between the tops of the rings and the Hawk blue line. But where that center previously had to sprint at a 50/50 loose puck to win between himself and the man at the point, he’s now receiving a pass, be it direct or indirect, from his winger who has drawn attention to himself and allows for the center to move through center ice with speed.

    Of course there will always be instances, especially with Sharp and Kane, where wingers will cheat up ice to try to get behind the play, but those chances are being taken far more judiciously during the first week.

What To Look For

  • A More Aggresive PK – Though the penalty kill has but a single smudge on its otherwise perfect record so far this season, it could still stand to be more aggressive from its forwards at the top of the box in pressuring point men. The Hawks run a “passive box” formation on their standard penalty kill, which pretty much has the defensive zone quartered, with all four players as close to the intersection of the X and Y dividing axes as the opposing personnel will allow them.

    The idea behind this is to maximize Corey Crawford’s angle-trusting butterfly style and mitigate his lack of lateral mobility by keeping the puck from moving through the center of the ice and keeping shots on the perimeter that he can see. However, Crow’s lack of rebound control and the defense’s unwillingness to engage physically with any man at the top of the crease is creating more chances than a successful kill should yield, regardless of any six game stretch of numbers.

    The Hawks have the speed collectively and at an individual level amongst their corps of PKing forwards to be able to front a puck handler anywhere within their assigned quadrant and still be able to recover when a pass is made, it’s just a matter of starts and stops. It might cause the shifts to need to be shorter because more energy is burned, but when rolling 6-8 deep on forwards for 2 minutes, legs shouldn’t be a problem.

    This caliber of pressure will force point men to change the angles of the shots taken, or force them to forgo a shot altogether, thus making Crawford’s rebound control and the forward in front of him largely immaterial. Not to mention forcing quicker decisions from the aforementioned pressured point men which can result in chances the other way, chances the likes of Toews, Hossa, Sharp, and Bolland are more than capable of capitalizing on.


  • gthank

    I really hope this feature sticks. It reminds me of the Systems Analyst breakdowns over at Backhand Shelf, but dedicated to the Hawks. It can’t get any better than that.

  • Accipiter

    Good feature. Keep ’em coming.

  • 334Rules

    Agreed. Even as much hockey as I watch, the fact that I’ve never played in an organized league means that I know what works when I see it (and what’s clearly not working) but I can’t vocalize what I’m seeing. Thanks McClure!

    • hockeydad

      Spot on.

  • justforkicks

    Agree please keep this kind of feature/analysis coming. As someone who is still and always will be learning, this is exactly the kind of “tool” I need.

    • birdhead

      Ditto. love it.

  • Mo Caraher

    Vik, Bick and Chick(enhawk).

  • chidiver

    This will be cool, particularly as the Hawks (hopefully) adjust strategies as needed through the season for 5 on 5, PP and PK. Might also be interesting to break this down on opponents, particularly those with “system” defenses that we hear so much about, yet never seem to get really broken down for X&O hockey morons like me.

  • icemancometh500

    keep this analysis up. growing up in the blackout ages when Hawks hockey was as familiar to me as Pakistani cricket, I could use as much technical knowledge as I can get, if only to impress my friends and to throw out terms like “maximize Corey Crawford’s angle-trusting butterfly style ” at fancy parties.

  • ahnfire

    This is awesome.

    More, please.

    • rhodes


  • Waylon

    Great feature – wish we had this in years past, when I never could consistently come up with accurate summations as to why the team was struggling. Also, this quote: “This has not only led to far fewer extended sequences with the Hawks pinned into their own zone…” Yes, but they sure didn’t employ those tactics over the past two games, when they spent far too much time in their own zone and had lots of difficulty in clearing the puck out and/or leading a rush up the ice. Fix this now, please, or the winning streak will end shortly – like, tomorrow evening.

    • DesertHawk

      I think(hope) a lot of the difficulty we saw against CBJ and Scum, was a combination of fatigue/not wanting to expend to much energy on day one of the back to back. No one in the league (as a team) really seems to have their full hockey legs yet, and we played more games in the first week than anyone else.

      • birdhead

        We have 10 more back to backs and they’re not all going to be against Columbus and Detroit, unfortunately. That needs sorted.

        • DesertHawk

          I’d imagine it will, but I don’t think it was just the back to back, we played 6 games in 8 days I believe… that’s a bit of a ridiculous pace.

          • Waylon

            You’re correct, the Hawks got major – league boned on this schedule, and their upcoming road trip is fairly brutal as well. But I tend to look on the bright side here, and hope that two days off will help immensely, and they’ve played well on the road so far.

          • DesertHawk

            I have a similar outlook. Hopefully we’re right.

  • Paul the Fossil

    This is good stuff and it mostly fits with what I’m perceiving so far. (Though I’d quibble with describing Crawford’s lateral mobility as poor — it’s not a strength of his but there are plenty of NHL goalies who are slower in that regard. Rebound control is his biggest issue no question about that.)

    I might add that the Hawks defensemen seem to all be more patient with the puck this season, not just Hammer. Whether that’s a coaching thing or a maturity thing in some cases (meaning Leddy in addition to Hammer) I dunno but it’s been noticeable in every game.

    And I’m ready for Shaw to be swapped with Kruger in the lines. Shaw is a 4th-line energy guy if ever there’s been one and Kruger meanwhile has more skill to offer. The way Bickell and Stalberg are playing, if the Hawks put an actual center between them that third line could become a serious problem for other coaches to match up with.

    • Agree about Shaw. Way too many turnovers and “where the hell the guy who was supposed to be there… oh Shaw” moments. Kruger looks as if he’s improved this year, and while not a 2nd line center, putting him with two guys who can score once in a while makes a lot of sense. Shaw also is becoming more and more expendable in my book, not Bollig or Mayers expendable, but right behind those two.

    • Gozer the Traveler

      fully agree with your point regarding shaw. kruger has looked solid and dependable defensively, and shaw has been pretty fucking frenetic. that energetic play would, exactly as you said, be perfectly suited for a 4th line energy role. i feel pretty bad about frolik’s place as a 4th liner, as good as he’s been playing, but i don’t see who he would conceivably replace on a higher line, and that’s a really good problem to have.

    • justforkicks

      very much agree on the shaw-kruger swap. think that change would be more suited to both of them, though i like the kruger-fro pairing very very much and in which case, should stals really be on the 4th line? unless i have the sides wrong, in which case move along

    • Neo

      Hawks aren’t really playing a traditional third and fourth line. When Bollig is out there Kruger is definitely the Hawks 4th line. But once he sits and somebody double shifts (like Saad) there really isn’t any depth difference between the Kruger and Shaw lines. And if anything, Kruger is really taking the defensive assignments and Shaw is playing more in the offensive zone.

      And, btw, the Hawks are playing more third line against third line. Something they never played with Bolland there.

      So I really wouldn’t want to switch Shaw and Kruger. Stalberg is getting more offensive zone opportunities with Shaw than I think he would get with Kruger. And Frolik is a better defensive player than Stalberg which is why the Kruger/Frolik pairing is getting more of the defensive zone assignments.

      • red palace

        Good points. I was curious going into the season whether Q would use the 3rd line in the same way as with Bolly, but it has seemed to me that except for a bit against the Kings and somewhat more against Doan-Vermette, he has not done so. Fortunately, The offense of our top two lines have not suffered so far from bearing the extra defensive burden.

        Behind the Net is showing 30% offensive zone starts for Shaw and just 20% (!) for Kruger at 5v5. Fro is at 38%, Bickell 41%, and Stals 57%.

        I seem to be more eager to have Q give Shaw time to see what he can do at 3C than many others on this site. But if the points-less streak goes too much longer, I will start to believe maybe he should go not to 4C, but rather back to wing. But where?

        • Neo

          Q is using two centers often in the defensive zone so sometimes the center zone numbers are misleading. Using Frolik’s and Stalberg’s numbers seem to give a better indication of what is going on.

  • cliffkoroll

    Very cool analysis.

  • Joe Banks

    Great article Doc, I think I’ll go have a cigarette now… oh, wait, I don’t smoke.

    Regarding your comments (cheating) on breakouts and “Rozsival’s world imploding”, – this has been the number 1 Hawk killer the past 2 years. Drives me nucking futz.

    Also, “defense’s unwillingness to engage physically with any man at the top of the crease” – the number 2 Hawk killer the past 2 years.

    But alas, that’s why they invented alcohol…

    Please pretty please, some more of these!

    • DesertHawk

      Agreed on both of those Joe.

      • Accipiter

        But you don’t drink, do you ?

        • DesertHawk

          Have I mentioned that? I’m not a big drinker, especially in public, but I’m not opposed to it. I’m more of a one beer every couple of weeks, or a white russian randomly kind of person.

          • Accipiter

            Yes. I also recall that you may like Malort.

          • DesertHawk

            I do. You’re good at keeping track. Can’t find it out here in Arizona though.

          • Accipiter

            I have never looked for here in Canada, but I am definitely intrigued.

          • DesertHawk

            Binny’s will ship it. Except AZ state law apparently prohibits the shipping of alcohol. :has a massive sad:

        • Z-man19

          No one’s perfect

  • Really liked this. Thanks.

  • Red Black and Copper

    I really like this kind of insight and analysis. It teaches the guys that are either just starting to follow hockey that haven’t been involved in organized hockey or the ones that have been following for a while and need something like this to be better informed so they aren’t just talking out of their assholes spitting off about how this needs to happen or that needs to happen without any idea of what they are talking about. It speaks to those of us who have played hockey. It’s the kind of cerebral stuff on a blog that makes it more than just a bunch of drunks talking about their favorite hockey team.

  • Gozer the Traveler

    great stuff,

    your bit about the breakout is especially important, i think; if you look back to when the wings really had the hawks penned in their own end (rhyme!) for parts of the 2nd and most of the 3rd, you’ll notice a whole hell of a lot of defenders blindly clearing the pucks up the boards, forcing our forwards into a board battle of which they were often on the losing end. i don’t know if it was a fatigue thing (center not looping through the center of the ice for that breakout pass in enough time for the defender to safely make the play before being smothered by forecheckers?) or what, but when they got away from using the middle of the ice to break out things went to shit pretty quickly.

  • Leightons5hole

    talk more about momentum or what an 8 year old should do

    • Accipiter

      8 year olds should listen to Edzo.

  • DesertHawk

    I like this bit.

  • Accipiter

    Re: Stalberg on the RW
    A few people have mentioned the idea of getting Kruger to be the C on a line with Stals and Bickell. This would greatly benefit Stalberg while on his off-wing. Kruger is a L handed shot as is Stalberg. Since Stals will be receiving passes on his backhand a lot of the time (which is harder to do, but should be no problem for NHL’ers) it would be ideal if the passes are coming from a L handed C as the angle to make or accept the pass is more forgiving, especially when breaking out of your own end or through the centre ice area (one of the reasons Hossa prefers a L handed C). The obvious advantage once in the O zone is a better angle to shoot at the net or to be open for one-timers on cross ice feeds. The disadvantage would mostly be in the D zone (similar to a D man playing his opposite side) where Stals would need to adjust playing on the boards or challenging a D-man taking a point shot. What the fuck was my point ? Oh yeah, Q, try putting Kruger at the 3C spot.

    • MySpoonIsTooBig

      Also, Kruger is better than Shaw at pretty much everything except for fighting and inexplicable defensive zone turnovers.

      • Accipiter

        Noted. In my haste I failed to mention the upside of 16 over 65 at the 3C spot.

  • Captain Cornhole

    this is awesome and please continue to write these every week

  • Z-man19

    One of the things I hate about hockey on tv is that you can’t always see all 10 guys on the ice. I understand what you are saying about the hawks forwards and their positioning when the D have the puck but you usually don’t get to see that positioning on tv. I’d give anything to watch a game from the camera behind the goalie so you could see the entire ice.

    I like this a lot. Hope you keep doing it

    • Accipiter

      Ahem, 12 guys.

      • Z-man19

        I have a belly full of white dog crap and now you’re dropping this shit on me? Who needs to see where the goalies are? They are the only ones that when they aren’t in the camera’s view they probably aren’t doing anything but picking their ass.

        • Accipiter

          I don’t know what it is about your face,
          [holds up fist]
          but I just wanna deliver one of these right in your suck hole.

          • DesertHawk

            FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!

  • Z-man19

    NYI beating PIT 4-0. This is quite pleasing to watch. Minus the really bad boarding that just happened. That was really dumb

    • justforkicks

      that was stupid, but holy shit am I happy to see the pens go down to the Islanders. Alas it wasn’t a shutout as I hoped but 4-1 ain’t bad!

  • flavius

    Good stuff, MM

  • Rizzuto

    Long time lurker, first time poster – just wanted to say that I agree with the regulars: this is a fantastic feature, particularly for someone like myself who’s only ever been a spectator of the game. Thoroughly enjoy all of your content, and this is a tremendous addition. Thanks for all your work!

  • Rizzuto

    Thought I had posted a comment, doesn’t seem to be showing up, so apologies if this is a double post…

    Briefly: first time poster, long time lurker. I agree with the regulars – love this new feature, particularly because I’ve never been a player. Thanks for all the great work you guys do!

    • DesertHawk

      It did show up, you appear to have been Disqus’d

      • Rizzuto

        Indeed. Thought I deleted the duplicate, too, but clearly not. I give up…Disqus is hard.

  • justforkicks

    You guys were looking for a site with stats since Time on Ice seems to not be updated, right? Maybe this will help! Maybe it’ll come in handy for future analysis =)

  • justforkicks

    Detroit beat Dallas 4-1 and Avs are up 3-2 on CBJ. Sucks Landeskog is going to be out for some time after that hit

    • Accipiter

      Isn’t Minnesota playing Columbus ?

      • justforkicks

        You would be correct. Had Avs on my mind. The edit button is my friend

        • DesertHawk

          Yeah, cause now Accipiter looks like a crazy who can’t read.

          • Accipiter

            I pride myself on looking like a crazy, but I assure you I am no Jacques Demers.

          • justforkicks

            Well Accipiter could always edit his comment and then you will look crazy instead!

          • Z-man19

            Yes, but we all know DH is perfectly sane, Accipiter …..?

  • GreenLantern411

    I know I’m one of many to say this, but this was fantastically enjoyable. Please keep this up and continue the edu-ma-cation of us.

  • Chesterfield King

    Sharks not lookin’ so hot

    • The Doctor

      I’m a-ok with that.

    • DesertHawk


    • Accipiter

      All tied up now.

  • Neo

    Interesting observation on Stalberg. I agree. Over the last couple seasons, Stalberg has looked better on the right. Funny thing is most of them do. Best players as kids are usually centers. If they aren’t centers most are usually playing the right wing or the left defenseman.

    So Stalberg, Frolik and some say Saad all tend to look better on the right. Even Sharp, who shoots right, is said to prefer the right side.

    And Leddy and Olsen were left side defenseman trying to play the right. Hawks really look good adding two right-handers on D. And Hammer on the right side has been the biggest revelation of the new year, imo. He is the only one on the team that has looked as good if not better on his off-side.

    • Accipiter

      When you say that some players (forwards that shoot L) look better on the right are you specifically referring to offensive output ?

      • Neo

        Both driving play and offensive production (including shots). Again some players “like” playing on their off side. Unfortunately the Hawks really don’t seem to have any of them except for Sharp who is right handed.

  • Neo

    Here are the primary lines for Stalberg last year:

    Those percentages are from the total Hawks percentages for all lines for the year.

    I only have 20 of 22 goals but here they are:
    RW rush move to middle wrister
    RW rebound
    RW rush move to middle wrister
    RW cycle move to front of net
    LW tap in
    RW wrister
    RW wrister and rebound
    RW wrister
    LW wrister on change
    RW wrister
    RW ENG
    LW wrister
    RW cycle and wrister
    RW wrister
    RW to front of net
    RW rush move to middle
    LW wrister
    RW rush
    LW front of net
    RW rebound

    So I have him for 15 of these 20 goals as either a RW or in a RW cycle. Only 5 goals on the left and two of those from the front of the net. Yet he played far more often as a LW.

    • Fascinating stuff here. Glad to see the stats back up the eye test, thanks for the deep dive on this. This tells me two things, both of which there were other indications of prior, but I am now certain of:

      1) Stalberg has been criminally misused by Joel Quenneville
      2) Stalberg is going to make a lot of money this summer, probably not here, if Q keeps him at #3 RW.

      • Neo

        Yeah, there are all kinds of square pegs trying to be jammed into round holes.

        I don’t see how Stalberg usurps Hossa or Kane on the top two lines.

        But the Hawks really haven’t been able to use the third line in an offensive way. That is because the Hawks need Toews and Bolland to play against the other teams top two lines.

        Playing Bolland at two has let Stalburg play offensively on the third line RW. But the Sharp/Bolland/Kane line is being pinned in the defensive zone A LOT. Kane has been on fire which has hidden that situation but how long can that last?

        And I agree with you that Stalberg is going to make a lot of money on some other team next year. It will be interesting to see if he gets traded before that.

        • James Nakis

          The only reason you wouldn’t trade Stalberg is if you were seriously considering buying out Marian Hossa, right?
          It sucks that Stals can’t seem to crack the top 6 and a bunch of factors that he can’t really control are to blame. He blossomed into a really nice player for us.

          • Neo

            You know, I sorta have come to that conclusion too. 2014 the Hawks have a huge decision to make. Keep Hossa for what might only be two more years at what would be 28M in salary cap space (cap and recapture costs). Or buy him out.

            Buying him out this year would definitely let them keep Leddy AND Stalberg. And would finally let them have some actual cap relief. This “recapture” stuff is going to be painful…

          • Couldn’t agree more. This offseason may be tough to take. The only thing that could take away some of the sting would be a Cup.

  • mike_hlt

    Love this stuff! … especially liked the PK diagram. I know it’s a simple
    thing, but I always thought of it as a rectangle. Just seeing it as
    more of a trapezoid helps.

  • Sapper84

    This is a great feature for the site. Love it

  • Woooods

    Any insight into the torrid +/- for Seabs/Dunc?