The other night when the Kings took on the Winnipeg Jets I was utterly fascinated.
The game was night and day, black and white, and good and bad. Unfortunately for Jets fans the "bad" side of the spectrum was mostly on their squad. Never before had I noticed a team give so few options to their defenseman on a breakout. Maybe it was due to the Kings' high forward pressuring the zone, or maybe it was due to Winnipeg forwards getting caught too far up ice. Either way, the young and incredibly average group of blueliners for Winnipeg were often left on an island with one forward available for a move up ice. So what happened when that forward was covered or the carrier was pressured? Red line and in. Classic dump and chase hockey. Except it wasn't even dump and chase. It was, "Oh my god, I have no options and no one is moving, I need to get rid of this before I turn it over." hockey. The more common option was just mentioned; turning it over. That happened on several occasions with the Jets, and at least two times it led to goals.
Take a look.
The pressure the Kings apply is pretty insane here. However, when you watch carefully on how the Jets move up ice when Thorburn is carrying the puck you can see just how few options he has aside from dumping it in.
He has two forwards standing so close together they could hold hands, no immediate drop to a defenseman, and forwards prepared to stand up at the blue line if he dumps. Naturally, he dumps it, it gets hung up at the blue line, and it leads to a Winnipeg breakdown.
Here's another one.
This goal is even worse for a couple of reasons.
Winnipeg Dman, Jacob Trouba, is left with ZERO options. Well, he does have one; A forward standing about 6 feet from him also covered by pressuring forwards.
The two other forwards are so far up ice that they are out of passing range and of little use to the Dman unless he dumps it in successfully. Clearly since this led to a goal, he didn't. Multiple things happened on this which led to the goal outside the breakout also. Trouba went for an ill-advised change, the forwards got caught too far up ice, and the Kings got a good step up at the blue line to break up the tip/dump-in.
Winnipeg was an absolute train wreck on the breakout Sunday night. No surprise they lost 4-1 really. However, that's one bad game and this wasn't intended to slam the Winnipeg Jets by any means. It's more so a compare and contrast sort of thing, and an example of how uncrisp breakouts can wreck your game. At times I was feeling it for the Jets blueliners, as they had so little to work with that they ended up being on the wrong end of turnovers and goals.
So without further delay I give you the King breakouts. They are so stupid good, and when they are on it's hard to stop.
The Kings set up their breakouts in a way to make as many players available as possible. It seems like a basic concept, but it can be difficult to execute in game.
By now I'm sure you've noticed that most of the Kings' breakouts start with the D carrying the puck. He'll normally have an outlet set up on the halfwall in his own zone. That option is usually given 3-4 choices. Drop back to one of the two D men, go to the men through the middle, or try to make the risky cross ice feed which can sometimes be left uncovered. If all else fails, you dump it.
Here's an example, and maybe not a perfect example, of the type of breakout the Kings run generally.
Williams is going to have several options available. He has the streaking winger on the far side, he would normally have another forward driving the center, and he has the drop pass into the middle, back to his defenseman.
Obviously, it doesn't always work out that perfectly and the Kings have to make adjustments on the fly. The Rangers for example did an amazing job in the finals of pressure the outlet man on the boards. That made him have to make decisions quick, which led to not so crisp breakouts and some turnovers.
Here's another example of Kings players making themselves available. This one is from this year against the Coyotes.
Here, Voynov has the option to go back to the halfwall when the Coyote forward presses in. That would create the standard breakout with far side and middle. He also has a long outlet option, and a cross ice D option.
Again, compare this to a team like Winnipeg who visibly struggled on carrying the puck out of their own zone on Sunday night.
It's not always easy for the Kings though, and here is a good example of Chicago clogging up the neutral zone in an effort to stop the King breakout. We hear that term all the time, "Clogging up the neutral zone" and here it is in full effect.
Obviously Toffoli isn't in the most ideal of situations here, with his back against the run of play. But his options are significantly limited. He has one sure fire safe play, and that is to drop to his Dman. On this particular play he opted to try the cross ice feed and it was intercepted.
This is where you can fall in love with the strategy of hockey and individual play making. The mixture of coaching and individual play. A veteran player or player of extremely high quality who is pressured in this situation would know to make the smart play in the heat of the moment. Toffoli, being young and inexperienced, tried to force a play. Lesson learned right?
That's where the precise nature of Kings' breakouts can be mesmerizing. They always give each other options, multiples ones, and rarely do they give up possession on a good breakout. When the Kings have a sloppy game it's normally for one of two reasons: Bad breakouts or good up-ice pressure by the opposing teams. Yea you can lose games on bad breaks or a loose play here and there, but when watching the Kings have a noticeably sloppy game I always look to the breakouts as an indicator. A good game? Same thing. Here's just one more at full speed for the sake of re-living this moment from the Kings Sharks series. Right at the start of the video, this breakout which leads to a goal is a perfect example of what that can do.
Because of the way the Kings work as a unit on the breakout, it's fairly simple to see why they dominate possession stats. Clean breakouts with less turnovers leads to having the puck more.
There are multiple different styles in hockey when it comes to breakouts and possession. Some teams forecheck with two forwards, others with one. Some coaches even go full Bruce Boudreau and let Corey Perry hang out at the red line when their team is in their own end. It's what makes the game fun to watch at times.
Tonight when the Kings take on the Edmonton Oilers, watch carefully to see if you can pick up the Kings traditional breakout. I'm sure most of you have watched so much Kings hockey that you see it all the time and don't even realize it's a strategy. It's just Kings hockey. The reality is that it is extremely precise execution that not every team can do. Appreciate it, because it's a pretty masterful thing to watch when it's on. It's also pretty horrible to watch when it's not working. Ever see those Kings games where it just never looks like they can put two stick to stick passes together? Yea, exactly. It happens though.
The Kings start up at 7:30 tonight on the second game of a six-game homestand. Be ready for a fun one against Edmonton. Also, fairly exciting to hear since there has been considerable hype around him, but Darnell Nurse is going to be making his NHL debut for Edmonton. A real talent to watch on the blue line.
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