Hockey isn’t known for it’s tactics. Sure, the nuances of the dump and chase are lost on many, but as a whole, it’s largely considered an “action” sport rather than much of a “tactical” one. That’s an unfair assessment somewhat, but unlike other sports, hockey doesn’t rely as much on “matchups” or “eating up the clock.”
However, due to the playoff situation a-brewin’ in the Western Conference, we could see quite a few implementations of non-standard strategy in the Phoenix-Dallas game next Sunday, April 13th.
Here’s the breakdown, as of April 6th, the Stars lead the Coyotes by 1 point for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Stars also hold the tiebreaker, regulation + overtime wins, which the Coyotes cannot regain (they have 30 to Dallas’ 35, with 4 games remaining.) Let’s break down all of the possible scenarios going into the final game here:
1) Dallas has a 2 point or greater advantage on the Coyotes.
Result: The last game is moot, Dallas has clinched a playoff spot.
2) Dallas has a 1 point advantage on the Coyotes.
Result: The Coyotes must win in regulation to make the playoffs (due to losing the tiebreaker if the game goes into overtime, a problem which would be fixed with a 3-2-1-0 point system.)
The twist: Where this scenario gets interesting is in the third period. A tie game would most certainly lead to Dave Tippett, tactical genius that he is, to pull his goalie with a minute or two remaining, given that taking the game into overtime ends his season. It would be extremely rare to see a team potentially win a game on an empty netter (from my research, there has never been a game decided by an empty netter, ignoring situations where a team is down 1, pulls their goalie, gives up a goal, then scores a goal, and situations where the goalie is pulled on a delayed penalty).
3) Dallas and Phoenix are tied in the standings.
Result: The team that wins the game makes the playoffs. Simple, right?
The twist: If the game were to go to overtime, the two teams could end up just playing 5 on 5 hockey. “What do you mean, the overtime period is, by rule, 4 on 4?” you may ask. My theory is that there is the potential, depending upon each coach’s willingness to take the risk, that either, or both, teams may pull their goalie in the overtime period, valuing the additional attacker more than the goalie. What is a more likely outcome, in my opinion, is that a post-icing faceoff may lead to a goalie being pulled, or any power play in overtime would likely lead to an empty net.
The double twist: By puling your goalie in overtime, you forgo the point given by losing in overtime. Normally, teams would not take this risk, but when losing means being eliminated from the playoffs (irrespective of whether you’re back 1 point or 2), desperate times may call for desperate measures.
4) Phoenix leads Dallas by 1 point
The result: Any Phoenix win, or any Dallas win gets the respective team into the playoffs.
The twist: There isn’t really one, but could you imagine the tension if the game were to go to a shootout?
5) Phoenix leads Dallas by 2 points
The result: See situation 2, but reverse the role between the two teams.
6) Phoenix leads Dallas by 3 or more points
The result: Phoenix is in, end of discussion.
Clearly, next Sunday’s game could be the most interesting, and perhaps confusing, games seen in recent history. One can only hope that the results this week will lead to one of the above scenarios.