Hockey 101: The Defensemen

Washington Capitals Defensemen

44 – Brooks Orpik     74 – John Carlson

27 – Karl Alzner           2 – Matt Niskanen

88 – Nate Schmidt      9 – Dmitry  Orlov

4- Taylor Chorney
6 – Mike Weber

Welcome to the first in a series of articles explaining the different positions on a hockey team and what their role is. First up, the defensemen.

Being a great defensemen isn’t about shots or hits but the entire package. Defense typically is for grinders and fighters, those whose primary objective is to prevent the other team from scoring.

What is a Defensemen?

They are often referred to as defensemen or blueliners, the latter a reference to the blue line in ice hockey which represents the boundary of the offensive zone. Defensemen generally position themselves along the line to keep the puck in the zone. A good defenseman is both strong in defensive and offensive play while also defending and attacking.

What is their job in regulation play? Shorthanded? Overtime?

In regulation play, two defensemen complement three forwards (left winger, center, right winger) and a goaltender on the ice. Exceptions include overtime during the regular season and when a team is shorthanded (i.e. has been assessed a penalty), in which two defensemen are typically joined by only two forwards and a goaltender. In NHL play in overtime effective this season, the teams have only three position players and a goaltender on the ice and may use either two forwards and one defenseman (typically), or conversely, two defensemen and one forward.

Offensive Zone Play

In the offensive zone, the defense plays the blue line. It is their duty to keep the puck in the offensive zone by stopping the puck from crossing over the blue line. Passing the puck quickly is key to opening up shooting lanes or taking the shot themselves if the lane becomes open. Because defenseman are expected to shoot at the opposing net from long range, they usually develop some of the hardest and most accurate slapshots in the NHL.

During a power play, the defensive player can set up at the point and distribute the puck to the teammate he feels is in the best position to score, similar to the point guard in basketball or quarterback in American football.

Defensive Zone Play

When in the defensive zone, the defense is responsible for keeping the opposing team forwards opportunities to a minimum when they are on a rush, forcing them to the corners and blocking both passing and shooting lanes. When the opposing offense puts pressure on the defense, the skater usually plays closer to the net, attempting to block shooting lanes but also ensure the goalie is not screened so he can see the puck. It is especially critical to clear any rebounds away from the goal towards a teammate.

Neutral Zone Play

In this area, the defense tends to hang back towards their own blue line, usually playing the puck up to another teammate. This is where the defense joins the rush but should not lead it.

What award is given to the NHL’s best defenseman?

Each year the NHL presents the James Norris Memorial Trophy to the best defenseman in the league. Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins—an eight-time Norris Trophy recipient— is often considered to be the greatest defenseman in NHL history. In addition to his Norris Trophy honors, he is the only defenseman in NHL history to capture the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer. In 1998, Orr was selected as the best defenseman of all-time (second overall player behind Wayne Gretzky) in The Hockey News’ Top 100 NHL Players of all-time. Niklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings is second to Orr with 7 James Norris Trophy’s.



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