Speed Behind the Puck

I’ve heard a number of people (especially at the higher levels) talk about the concept of speed behind the puck. It’s a concept that has really taken hold in the NHL. In an effort to understand it better myself, I thought I would take some time to break it down.

What is it: Speed behind the puck is the concept that you have a player (often a forward) moving faster than the puck carrier. At it’s most basic level, a player can loop in behind the puck carrier to build up speed. As the puck carrier moves up ice, the support man builds up speed and times his attack to coincide with pressure on a defender. The puck carrier then distributes the puck to the player attacking with speed in space. It can also happen on plays into space – the puck moves north and someone who is supporting below the puck accelerates to cause a change of speed on the attack.

What it is meant to do: The concept is to cause a defender to have to adjust to a speed change and the puck in a different lane. A player may be attacking at a certain speed and in one lane, then someone who has built up speed behind the puck carrier suddenly gets the puck and attacks at a much higher pace along a different path.

Where you see it: Very often it is seen on Power Play Breakouts in the NHL – they try to time the attack to occur at the offensive blue line against a passive forecheck. You’ll also see it against traps and the 1-3-1 forecheck. Speed behind the puck will also show up on simple chip plays – a puck is moved up ice and then chipped to someone with greater speed attacking in a different lane.

What it looks like:

Watch Jeff Carter accelerate behind the puck to retrieve this chip and attack up ice with great speed. With early recognition he gets his feet moving up ice to create speed behind the puck.

Here, Mike Richards has speed behind the puck through the neutral zone – the change of lanes and slightly different speed causes the defenders gaps to be off and allow for zone entry.

Notice Patrick Kane on this clip of the Blackhawks PP Breakout in Game 7. He loops behind the puck in an attempt to pick up speed – while it isn’t a dramatic clip, it shows the basic concept of coming behind the play to gain speed.

Should you use it? This is the biggest question about speed behind the puck. It requires a lot of hockey sense, skill and timing. Players need to be able to skate and move the puck with touch and timing. Personally, I think speed behind the puck is a concept that is a part of the game at every level, but it is rarely recognized or taught. Any time the puck is ahead of you, it is critical to try to accelerate and gain speed to force the defense into a tight spot. Forwards should be taught to accelerate and attack open lanes, even when not a direct option – look to build speed before you have the puck, then use your speed difference to give the defense trouble.

For more on Speed Behind the Puck, check out Darryl Belfry’s videos here and here. Credit to Darryl for being a pioneer in this concept and teaching both coaches and players about the high level skills in the game of hockey. I can’t recommend him enough.