Flyers: Why Right Handed Defensemen Matter

Erik Gustafsson, Philadelphia Flyers (Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)
Erik Gustafsson, Philadelphia Flyers (Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Philadelphia Flyers
Matt Niskanen, Philadelphia Flyers (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Does it make a difference?  My answer of Yes, No, Sometimes, is accurate, as it also depends on what facet of the game the player is currently engaged in. The answer changes depending on what the player is trying to do and where on the ice he is trying to do it.

The core function of a defenseman is to defend of course. While defending, from the defensive blue line back to the net, being on your strong side does not make much of a difference. Most defense in the defensive zone is a scramble. It is a mass of motion and confusion. You find a man to cover and try not to lose them or the puck. If a defenseman starts on the strong side they will likely be forced to cover something on their weak side.  Defenders look to engage opponents to take the puck. These battles have little to do with the defender being on the strong side or weak side.

In some cases, being on the weakside can actually provide the defender a slight advantage. Defending the rush is one such case, when defending on the weak side, the defensemen’s stick is in its natural resting position and takes away the middle of the ice, making it harder for an offensive player to cut back through the middle into the highest danger part of the ice.  If on the strong side, if the offensive player attempts to cut inside, the defender’s stick is pointed to the outside, not in the middle, causing vulnerability in the center of the ice.

Also, at least for me, it is easier to bring the puck up ice while playing on the weak side.  The passing angles are better when the puck is closer to the middle of the ice.  When along the boards on the strong side it limits the angle that down ice passes can be sent, from 140 degrees on the weak side to 90 degrees on the strong side. Oncoming forecheckers have less area for outlet passes.

These are mostly good things, so what is the difference, when is it a disadvantage to play the weak side? That of course in the offensive zone.  If playing the strong side, when the puck is cleared along the boards, as the majority of clearing attempts are, the defensemen can keep his head facing the offensive zone allowing him to see it and all the players in it. Further, the defensemen can keep his stick in a strong position, a natural forehand shooting position, and gather the puck along the boards. The puck is controlled by the forehand by virtue of being on the strong side and is in a position to be immediately distributed.  Playing the weak side is a far different experience.