Coach Joel Quenneville was giving his assessment of 3-on-3 so far this preseason, although some outings haven’t allotted him a good look.
“The other night the game ended so quickly I couldn’t get a good read on it,” he said about 3-on-3 vs. St. Louis on Saturday, which ended a minute into overtime.
The Blackhawks are like every other team in the NHL this preseason, acclimating themselves to 3-on-3 before it starts to count for a point during the regular season. The league implemented it in the hopes of reducing the number of shootouts.
Judging by preseason results, it’s having the desired effect. According to the league, of 17 necessary 3-on-3 overtimes thus far, 13 have been decided in that overtime.
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In the Blackhawks’ first 3-on-3 vs. Detroit, Trevor Daley scored off a 3-on-1 just one minute, 40 seconds into it. The second one was planned regardless of the score at the end of regulation – the Blackhawks had already won 3-1 – and lasted just 60 seconds.
A quick poll of fellow hockey writers shows most 3-on-3 sessions – be it those the league stipulated to have 3-on-3 regardless or ones necessitated by a tie – are ending quickly. And by quickly, we mean finishing in two minutes or less.
Quenneville said there are so many factors that will go into capitalizing on a 3-on-3.
“Changes are a big part of it and puck possession’s key. How do you play without the puck and you’re incorporating goaltending with it. There are a lot of intangibles,” said Quenneville. “Groups of three: two forwards and a [defenseman], two Ds and a forward or three forwards? There are a lot of options you can sort out. The personnel going into games will dictate that but technically we need some rules of thumb of how you play certain situations, particularly in your own end without [the puck.]”
Marian Hossa said he sees the opportunistic angle as well as the concerns of it.
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“There’s so much ice there and it could be a lot of fun. But also defensively it’s not easy to contain,” he said. “Because when you have big, skilled players coming against you and you lose half a step, there’s a scoring chance every time.”
It’s easy to believe the open ice means fire away from the offensive standpoint. But there’s danger in that, too. If a rebound gets away from the team on the attack, things could quickly go the other way.
“Yeah, that’s something you have to watch out for,” Daley said. “The shooter has to protect everyone else. It’ll be interesting to see how it turns out.”
While goalies have that much more pressure on them, Quenneville said they could also be the catalyst for starting their team’s offensive push.
“I think that’ll be exactly what will happen: you’ll be in the offensive zone and you might want to keep the puck, send it down and change, come back and here we go again,” Quenneville said. “Changes are important. Getting fresh guys out there will be critical as well – how do you get the change when you’re tired and in your own end? But I think the goaltender and how he handles it, he could be one more guy who is part of the attack.”
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Corey Crawford’s OK with possibly starting things off with a pass?
“I don’t know. I don’t want to be trying too much. If there’s an opportunity I’ll take it,” Crawford said with a smile. “I have to stop the puck first.”
There is going to be a lot of trial and error with the 3-on-3, especially in the early going. And don’t be surprised if games end shortly after that overtime begins, at least until teams become more comfortable with the new format.
Is 3-on-3 a good thing? Will it be the scorer’s dream? Will it be every goaltender’s worst nightmare? Those questions will be answered as the season progresses. It will definitely be entertaining. And right now, it looks to be serving its original purpose.
“For the people, it’ll be real interesting and a lot of goals,” Hossa said. “And you probably won’t see as many shootouts.”