Cheli in a pinch
At the opposition blue line, Chris Chelios would rather pinch in than back peddle if the opposition has any difficulty getting the puck out of its own zone. He pinches more than any other Detroit Red Wing defenseman and uses the strategy to create havoc.
"It's a lot better to play in their end than in our own end, especially since you can't hook or hold up," said Chelios. "You create a lot of turnovers at their blue line. Even if the puck gets out of the zone, at least we're in a position to come back rather than backing up to the red line."
That requires coordination with Chelios' defense partner, often Brett Lebda over the past three seasons.
Lebda will back below the blue line and cheat over towards Chelios when he senses his partner is going to pinch in. That positioning allows Lebda to better pick up a loose puck or in a worst-case scenario position himself to defend against an opposition rush.
"I love it when he does it," said Lebda. "Even if he pinches down and the puck squirts loose, he's not going to let the puck and the guy by. I can come over and pick up any loose pucks. He's really good at reading the situation on when to go and when not to go. I love it because it lets us play in the offensive zone more.
"I've learned now over the past few years how to back him up and read him and play closer to him. He would tell me, 'Get over, get over.' I'm starting to see what he means."
Although pinching requires a veteran's wisdom, it's difficult to determine whether Chelios pinches more now than earlier in his career. Twenty years ago, Chelios played a much different role on the ice than nowadays. Back then, Chelios was more of a puck-carrier, someone relied on to score 15 goals and tally 60 or more points in a season.
"I had the puck a lot more in Montreal, so it's hard to say," said Chelios. I like to play tight, depend on my partner. In the past, I've had defensive partners, so when I did pinch, they'd be back. Now I play with Lebs, so I'm a little more cautious because he's the one that's supposed to be going up the ice."
And after so many games together, Lebda has a read on Chelios … expect the unexpected.
"He's Cheli … You never know what he's going to do," said Lebda.