Most hockey trainers believe a player’s shift should not last longer than 45 to 50 seconds. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy teaches from that textbook. If the stopwatch runs longer than that, he said, “Look out.”
Especially in the early weeks of a new season, when players are reacquainting themselves with the pace and physicality of the NHL grind, a long shift is a short path to a goal against. Players who stay out too long skate and think more slowly than their fresher opponents. Poor decisions can rapidly compound.
“Obviously your legs [go], but your brain goes too when you’re tired,” Cassidy said. “It doesn’t think as well. The messages don’t get sent to the rest of your body and you seize up a little bit.”
This was apparent on the Bruins’ lone goal against in Saturday’s season-opening, 3-1 win over the Stars. Luke Glendening scored the tying goal in the second period after the second line — Taylor Hall, Charlie Coyle, Craig Smith — and Brandon Carlo were on for a one-minute, 34-second shift of up-and-down, grind-it-out hockey.
How it happened, and the teaching points Cassidy will reinforce in the early season:
Shift length shown, with game clock in parentheses.
0:00 (7:41) — Out of a TV timeout, Cassidy deploys the second line for a defensive-zone draw. It’s their turn in the rotation. Coyle loses the faceoff on his strong-side dot, but the Bruins regain possession and skate it out.
0:13 (7:54) — Coyle, looking to dump the puck into the offensive-zone corner, mistakenly thinks he has gained the red line. It’s an icing.
Coyle wins the defensive-zone draw, on his off side, against Joe Pavelski. The Stars battle for possession. The puck stays along the boards, all five Bruins sweating to get it out.
0:21 (8:02) — Pavelski thumps Hall, who is involved in three separate battles in the defensive zone during this sequence. He is on his way to being a tired winger.
0:43 (8:24) — The puck comes to Carlo in front of the net. The defenseman makes a short outlet to Coyle, who has Smith to his left. The safe play would be to clear and change, but this is a line geared to skate and score.
The Bruins have a 1-0 lead, and are outshooting the Stars, 21-7. A goal could break the visiting team’s will. A potential 3 on 2 is too difficult to turn down, even though the Bruins have the long change — teams switch ends after each period, and the home team has to skate further to its bench in the second period.
“Some of your shifts in the second, you’re on your way up the ice and you’re halfway through a shift, you’ve got to make a decision,” Cassidy said. “If you’re going to stick out that rush going up the ice, you’d better have enough in the tank to come back.”
Carlo activates and joins the rush. Mike Reilly, who started in the D-zone with Carlo, changes off.
0:50 (8:31) — After Coyle (left), Carlo (middle) and Smith (right) drive their lanes, Smith takes a cross-ice feed from Coyle and fires on goal from a sharp angle, as Hall catches up to the play. A long rebound catches all four Bruins, and two Stars, below the dots. Pavelski collects at the top of the circle and the Bruins, their tanks getting close to ‘E,’ are chasing.
0:59 (8:40) — Jeremy Swayman makes a save on pinching defenseman Ryan Suter, who had a 2 on 1 with Pavelski against Matt Grzelcyk. On their way into the attacking zone, Dallas gets a crew of fresh bodies on the ice.
1:07 (8:48) — Loose puck to Carlo behind the goal, after another battle in the corner. A teammate calls for a hard clear. Carlo has the puck on his backhand, under pressure. He chips it to the corner, hoping for Hall. But the winger, flat-footed in the slot, can’t get there. It’s an easy play for pinching Dallas defenseman Miro Heiskanen, who just came off the bench.
“There were a couple of puck touches there we could have been better with,” Cassidy said. “There’s different ways you put out a fire. One is with good stick-to-puck defending, or a blocked shot and a clear.
“Those types of plays defensively, and there’s some putting out the fire offensively — sometimes what happens in those long shifts is the offensive guys want to change, too, right? So you get a puck back when a lot of them are heading to the bench to change. Now it’s a little bit of having the composure, support, we’ll slow it down, they’re changing, there’s no pressure, we can take a breath, and get a few of those guys off.”
1:21 (9:02) — No relief coming. Dallas is fresh. The Bruins are skating in cement. Esa Lindell puts a long wrister on goal.
1:29 (9:10) — Smith has a chance to clear after a Tanner Kero slapper caroms to the wall. He tries to find Hall, but angles it too sharply off the boards. Kero intercepts and charges down the wall.
The plan should have been to “stay inside the house, protect the house, and hopefully get the save, the clear, the block,” Cassidy said. “We’re never against icing in that situation. It’s fine. We’ll just reset. What happens is the opposite — three guys get caught outside the dots.”
1:34 (9:15) — Hall is gassed behind the play. Carlo, Smith, and Coyle surround Kero, who finds Glendening unmarked in the slot. With Grzelcyk trying to cover three open Stars, Glendening has plenty of time to beat Swayman.
“Sometimes guys want to sort of say, ‘I’m tired, I’m going to go to the puck carrier and I’m going to end this,’ ” Cassidy said. “Well, three guys thinking the same thing, you’re tired and you can’t get there, that’s what happened. That’s part of hockey. It happens a lot. It’s why you’ve got to try to stay out of those situations.”