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On the importance of an active defense

John Carlson, Jamie Benn, Cody Eakin, Jason Demers

John Carlson, Jamie Benn, Cody Eakin, Jason Demers


The next time you hear somebody complain about the Norris Trophy going to high-scoring defensemen like Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban, feel free to refer them to Capitals assistant coach Todd Reirden.

Reirden was hired in the summer of 2014 to help turn Washington’s blue line into an attacking force.

Per CSN Washington, here’s how Reirden sees it:

“If you’re (an opposing) defenseman, because the game is so fast, if they’re seeing four players come at them instead of three, it causes them to defend differently. You might back up a step to assess and now all of a sudden Nick Backstrom gets an extra second when he enters the zone because of the appearance of four guys on the attack.”

Even Karl Alzner, the prototypical stay-at-home blue-liner, knows that defensemen can’t solely worry about their own end. Not in a league where scoring has become so difficult. The more passing options, the better.

“You need to have the attack from all five guys,” said Alzner. “You can’t just let your forwards do it.”

Meanwhile, in Nashville, here’s what Predators coach Peter Laviolette said the other day:

“Anytime your defensemen can activate in the offensive zone on cycles and down the wall or down the middle, in zone plays, it presents a different set of challenges. The coverage becomes less simple. It creates more holes not only for them but for others.”

Look, nobody’s saying that defensemen don’t have to play defense. They obviously have to play defense. That’s why teams with two-way forces like Drew Doughty and Zdeno Chara have won Stanley Cups. The fact Doughty has yet to win the Norris is unfortunate, because he’s a far better player now than he was in 2009-10 when he racked up a career-best 59 points.

So no, points aren’t everything.

But remember, this was the goal that won the Cup last year:

If Duncan Keith doesn’t jump into the attack and provide a passing option, Patrick Kane probably just throws it down into the corner, lest he turn it over at the blue line.

Keith was the Blackhawks’ most important player in the playoffs. He was the undisputed pick for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

“The teams with the best records are the ones with defensemen getting up in the play and contributing to the offense,” Alzner said.

Related: Nobody’s got a better blue line than Nashville