Playing Shorthanded: Using it to Your Advantage

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Playing Shorthanded: How to Use the Penalty Kill to Your Advantage

With the possible exception of soccer, there is no major spectator sport that referees have more control over than hockey. Basketball officials can foul out a superstar scorer, baseball umpires can take runs off the board, and football refs can call pass interference penalties that result in hefty yard gains.

While all of this is valid, hockey refs have the power to force teams into one of the diciest of situations: playing shorthanded, or skating with at least one player less than the opposition.

Power plays often open up the game in an impactful way for teams, and hockey betting aficionados will often immerse themselves into metrics highlighting which teams take advantage most consistently. Obviously, it isn’t an ideal situation for a team to play extended parts of a hockey game shorthanded. But it doesn’t have to be a crushing blow to a team’s chances for victory either.

Here are a few ways a hockey team can overcome situations where the numbers are working against them:

Critical Line Changes

It is not completely unheard of for teams who are killing a penalty to beat the odds and score a shorthanded goal on their fully staffed opponents. However, the team that is playing with a player in the box must compensate for the efforts of the penalized player. 

It’s human nature to think that way, and many times players want to play aggressively to mitigate the disadvantage. If that is the approach a team that is playing shorthanded wants to take, they might want to consider line changes more liberally than they would otherwise.

Naturally, a player who is being asked to cover more of the ice will likely run out of gas more quickly. Having multiple players come in fresh to withstand the power play can help keep the energy level at a constant level. 

Strike Unexpectedly

Players on the positive side of a power play will exude more confidence and attack the net with reckless abandon, since the numbers are in their favor. This of course is to be expected, as they do not want to squander a golden chance to score while their opponent is down.

However, a team that is playing shorthanded might actually be able to capitalize on their opposition’s hyper-aggressive approach against them. If a team and their goalie can step up and properly manage the onslaught of shots, an opportunity can arise for a counterattack.

The team benefiting from the power play might have their defense playing down low more than it normally would in a full-strength situation. In the event that opportunity comes to fruition, it may only take one or two savvy passes from the shorthanded team to create a breakaway or a one-on-one scoring chance for themselves.

Don’t Look for the Big Hit

In checking leagues, hockey players are often praised for a hit that sends their opponents into the boards, thus relinquishing control of the puck. Bodychecks can inspire a team looking to exert its physical dominance, which can change the course of a game.

Teams that are playing shorthanded should not look to play the body though. Skating with this purpose solely in mind can cause a player to misdirect their energy, creating an inability to recover to their position. It is better to make their presence known by simply bumping their opponent off the play while maintaining a disciplined attitude until the penalty kill is complete.

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