A two-on-one attack—in which two offensive players take on a single defender and the goalie—is an exciting cat-and-mouse game. Both offense and defense have several options available to them, and the players on each side try to anticipate what the opponents are going to do. Oftentimes there’s also an element of trickery, with each side to trying to disguise their strategy. In a previous post, we discussed the best ways to defend in this situation, and here, we focus on the offensive players.
Two-on-One Offensive Strategy
The attacking players have the clear advantage, as they have the single defender outnumbered. But the first order of business is for the offensive player without the puck to stay onside as they cross the blue line. A whistle for offside stops an odd-man rush before it even gets started, and will earn you serious glares from your coach and teammates. Both skaters should attack with speed, as this will force the defender to make a decision more quickly, and the ability of both attacking players to read the defenseman’s intent is vital.
The puck carrier has two main options—pass or shoot—but each of these can be broken down into several more options. Plus, there’s no rule that says there should be only one pass. The puck-carrier can pass to their teammate and then receive the puck back for a shot. This is a lot to think about in a short time, and one of the biggest mistakes the puck carrier can make is waiting too long to make a decision. The longer you take and the deeper you get into the attacking zone, the fewer your options: As you get closer to the goal, there’s less space to work with, the angles get sharper, and the advantage shifts to the defender and the goalie.
5 Keys to a Successful Two-on-One Attack
1. Read the defenseman:
As noted in our earlier blog post about defending a two-on-one, the defenseman usually takes responsibility for the attacking player without the puck. If the defenseman shades too far toward to that side, it gives the puck carrier more space to cut to the middle, drive the net, and get off a shot. Alternatively, if the defender shades too much toward the puck-carrier, that leaves the other attacker open to receive a pass. You can sometimes get the defender to freeze by faking a shot, which then opens up a passing lane.
If the defender stays high in the zone, you can attempt to beat them with speed, which will force them to make a decision on which way to move. If this freezes the defenseman, you can go around them for either a shot or a pass. A defender who continues to retreat leaves the puck-handler with a better chance of getting in on goal for a shot. Making the defender move one way or the other creates openings the two attackers can exploit.
2. Know yourself and your teammate:
The way you and your teammate hold your sticks will affect the path of your attack, the angle of your shot, and the placement of your pass. A left-handed shooter attacking down the right has a much better angle on goal because their stick blade is toward the middle of the ice, which makes more of the goal available. If the puck carrier is on their on-side or strong side, they should skate more toward the middle and be sure not to get too wide and cut off their own shooting opportunities. (A right-handed winger coming down the right, for example, would be considered playing their on-wing or strong side, whereas a right-handed winger playing the left side would be considered playing their off-wing or weak side.)
The stick orientation of the player without the puck is also important because it determines the best placement of a pass. If their stick is in front of them, the pass must lead the player more. If a player is a left-handed shooter going down the right side without the puck, they may open up for a one-timer, so the pass would be slightly behind them.
3. Pass early:
The sooner you make a decision to pass or shoot, the better, and you should certainly make the pass before you get to the face-off spot. By passing, you force both the defender and the goalie to move, which opens up gaps. This is why some players like the double pass. The puck-carrier passes as soon as they cross the blue line, which causes both the defender and goalie to shift and keeps them on their toes. When a second pass sends the puck back to the original puck-handler, the goalie is often out of position, leaving the near side of the net open.
4. The player without the puck must be ready for anything:
As you skate into the zone alongside a teammate, you don’t know whether they’re going to pass to you or not. But you must be ready to receive a pass at any time. Don’t simply watch the puck; get yourself ready for a pass and shot. And if the pass doesn’t come, be ready to jump on a rebound. That means that you should skate toward the net, not past it. Just because you don’t get the pass doesn’t mean you aren’t part of the play. By simply being in position, you attract the attention of the defender and the goalkeeper, which keeps them from focusing solely on the puck-carrier.
5. Shoot for a rebound:
No matter who shoots the puck, it is vital that you hit the net, creating a possible rebound. Don’t go for the top corner because if you miss, the attack is over and there’s no chance for your teammate to bang home a loose puck in front. Keep the puck down, picking a spot under the goalie’s arms or between his pads. Some players will even shoot at the pads on purpose to create a rebound opportunity.
Unless the defender allows the puck-carrier a straight path to goal—which is unlikely—scoring on a two-on-one requires teamwork, trickery, timing, and skill. Practice two-on-ones at full speed, so you get a sense for how quickly you must make decisions, where and when the best passing opportunities are, and how you can best ensure a rebound opportunity. Then, when you get the chance during a game, you’ll be more likely to pick the best option, resulting in a goal.