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Playing the System: Active Defense Leads to Goals

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The Wild are desperate to score more goals this season, and activating their defense is a good option to create that much needed extra offense.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Wild need to score more goals. We heard this all off-season and even through the first few games. Well, on Thursday night we got a good look at a way this team is going to be able to put a few more pucks in the net. And like most things Wild related, it's all about the defense. Now using defenders to create odd man rushes is nothing new in hockey, but it's something we just have not seen this team do under coach Mike Yeo. Things look to be trending in the right direction though, as both goals against the Arizona Coyotes were a direct result of Jared Spurgeon jumping up in the rush and doing incredible Spurgeony things.

Let's begin by looking at the first goal.

Koivu does a good job allowing two defenders to close in on him before moving the puck up to Vanek near the red line who has made himself an option by skating back toward the puck. Spurgeon has the entire middle of the ice to himself and immediately steps up into the play. Vanek spots Spurgeon and does a good job of getting him the puck in stride.

Spurgeon carries the puck through the neutral zone and finds himself in what is essentially a 2-on-3 with Charlie Coyle.

Spurgeon sees that he does not have favorable numbers entering the zone and dumps the puck in...... Wait, what, he doesn't dump it in? Oh, that's right, carrying the puck into the zone with control is a good thing, and the Wild do that now! The Coyotes defender here is forced to react to Spurgeon's speed and that creates a nice gap between the two that allows for a rather easy controlled entry into the zone. Spurgeon dishes the puck off to Coyle at the blue line, heads straight to the net and manages to get a deflection on Coyle's shot. The puck is eventually moved back out to Spurgeon (who has circled around the zone back to the blue line), and Coyle heads to the front of the net.

Spurgeon does a great job keeping his head up and delaying his shot long enough for Coyle to get his body and stick into position in front of the Arizona goal. Instead of attempting to clear Coyle from the front of the net, Ekman-Larsson backs off in what I think is an attempt to allow Mike Smith to see the shot. Not having the front of the net cleared is usually personal preference for goaltenders (and coaches), and I would assume that with Mike Smith being as tall as he is (6'4"), he would rather just look around one player to see the shot. Spurgeon is clearly shooting for a deflection here, and with all that space in front of the net, Coyle is able to deflect the puck top shelf. Controlled entry, puck support, low to high puck movement, traffic in front, easy goal.

The second goal is a result of even more Spurgeon magic.

The play begins in the Wild zone after the puck was rung around the boards and over skated by the two Coyotes forecheckers. Spurgeon immediately sees the opportunity to create a numbers advantage and jumps into the rush.

The Coyotes defenders do a good job of maintaining good gap control on the Wild attackers here. Spurgeon does a great job slowing up just enough at the blue line and moving to his right to avoid the poke-check of Michalek. Spurgeon moves the puck to Parise and drives to the net.

The general idea on a 4-on-3 or a 3-on-2 is to have one player drive to the front of the net and bring a defender with him, leaving the other attackers more space to operate. In this case, Spurgeon drives the net and both Michalek and Schlemko follow him. Pominville fills the space voided by Spurgeon, sees that there is traffic in front, and blasts the puck past a flailing Mike Smith.

Pominville's goal comes off of what I think is a pretty low percentage shot. A better scoring chance could have resulted if he had slipped the puck back to a trailing Granlund because Korpikoski commits so heavily to Pominville. That being said, a slap shot from just above the top of the circles with traffic going to the net is never a bad play.

Both of these goals show that there is more to creating offense from the defense than simply pinching in at the opposing blue line every once in a while. Having an extra man in on the rush gives more options to the forwards, and also causes confusion among the opposing defenders. Defenseman  joining the rush can be risky hockey, but if the Wild truly want to put more pucks in the net, this could be their best option (aside from scoring on the power play every once in a while). It's pretty clear that Spurgeon is the best offensive weapon the Wild have on the blue line right now, and it's exciting to see him beginning to discover just how dangerous he can be.