The NHL has changed the game. While the previous season featured several fun surprises, this year there is no turning back. The puck line is the new black, and everyone is trying to figure out what it means. If you’re unfamiliar, the puck line is the line composed of the player with the puck and the teammate closest to him. It used to be that teams would play a shut-down role, focusing on keeping the puck out of their own zone and deferring to the players with the bulk of the shot attempts. While there are still several teams that play a similar style, the game has changed, and teams now win more due to quality of scoring than due to team defense.
What Does It Mean When The Puck Is Ahead Of Its Time?
This year, the puck has been ahead of its time for most of the season. Not only have the lines broken down the classic defensive barriers, but they’ve also taken the game to a new level. In fact, through five months of the season, the puck has been in the offensive zone over three hundred times more than it’s been in the defensive zone. That’s a change that didn’t occur in the last few years, and it’s been fueled by a number of factors, including:
- Shooting more and harder
- More goals being scored
- More goals being scored early in the season
- An increase in quality of goaltending
- An increase in the speed of the game
- More players capable of putting the puck in the net
- More shots on goal being attempted (partly due to increased scoring and partly due to increased puck possession)
To put it simply, hockey has changed, and the lines have played a huge role in that. The question is, “What does betting the Puck Line mean now?”
The Puck Is More Important Than Ever
Although quality of goaltending has improved significantly, the goals still tend to come from the stick of a player in the slot. That’s because the goaltender has less time to react and more time to think while the puck is on his stick. It used to be that the defense would drop back to create space for the goalie to work with, but that’s less of a role today. While there are still several examples of brilliant play from the defense, the biggest difference this season is that the defenders no longer dictate the pace of the game. More often than not, the puck ends up in the right place at the right time, and that’s made all the difference. The power play, the penalty kill, and even the game itself have been impacted by this shift. For defenders, the challenge has changed from staying aggressive to staying ahead of the puck.
When the puck is on the ice, both teams tend to play a more aggressive style, and that’s made for more scoring and more open ice. The importance of the puck hasn’t diminished though; in fact, it has increased in direct proportion to the reduced role played by the defensive team. With more scoring and more open ice, the rebound opportunities have also increased, which means there’s more space for offense to work with when the puck is put back in play. The last few years have seen a rise in scoring, but it seems like the pendulum has now swung back, and there’s no turning back.
Why Do Fans Care About The Puck Line?
With more scoring and more open ice, there’s always more opportunity for fans to get involved. Whether it’s at a hockey game or at a soccer game, fans can get extremely excited when play is going on towards the puck. The anticipation is usually followed by a string of groans and complaints from players when the puck doesn’t quite end up where they want it to. While this can sometimes result in humorous cheers, most fans are usually more interested in winning than in showing off their personalities. This is particularly true at the professional level where players are likely more skilled than the average fan, and it takes more time to appreciate the skill. While it’s always fun to cheer for your favorite team regardless of where they are on the ice, it’s often more fun to root for the team that you understand is stronger than your own.
Having a team that you can relate to is important, and fans have found a way to connect with the Montreal Canadiens this year. After years of disappointment, fans can finally cheer for a team that isn’t afraid to put the puck in the net. With Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher leading the way, Montreal can finally put its years of frustration behind it.
With more and more fans getting involved in the game and caring more about the result of a game than the personalities of the players, it’s important for teams to keep the puck moving and out of their own end.