Any time Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby goes over the boards, everyone in the arena is watching and waiting for something special to happen.
From the opposing bench, tireless efforts have gone into preventing that.
Nothing gets more attention in the Stanley Cup playoffs than a superstar, from the likes of McDavid, Ovechkin and Crosby to rookie of the year front-runner Auston Matthews and game-changing defensemen Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns. Slowing them down takes days of preparation and scouting, the right strategy and a village on the ice to keep top players from taking over a game or a series.
“Those guys are difference-makers in the game,” said coach Peter DeBoer, whose San Jose Sharks have held McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers to two points in four games. “When you look at the analytics and the percentage of the offense he’s involved with with their team, it’s something you’d be crazy not to pay attention to.”
There’s a reason lesser-known players Zack Kassian, Bobby Ryan, Jaden Schwartz and Jake Guentzel lead the playoffs in game-winning goals with so much attention devoted to bottling up and frustrating the stars.
“Everybody probably more focused in the D-zone and everywhere and try to be smart all three zones. Nobody wants to lose,” Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov said. “Just kind of simple things defensively, but it’s not always easy to do.”
Hockey is considered the ultimate team sport because it’s more difficult for a single player to make a significant impact than in other sports, but the process of stopping him is more complex. Columbus coach John Tortorella said “you can’t map it out like football where you have a 3-4 defense” and Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said it’s not realistic to try something like a box and one in