DETROIT – On the other hand …
Well, there aren’t that many other-handed hockey players. Left-handed shots dominate the game because just about everyone who is right-handed in life, shoots left and everyone who is left-handed shoots right.
The theory has changed over the past 30 years with the influx of European players being a leading cause. It used to be that your dominant hand would be lower on the stick for a more powerful shot. Now, the dominant hand is almost always at the top of the stick to give a player better stickhandling ability.
For defensemen, that means that right-handed shots are few and far between. When Brian Rafalski was signed as a free agent, one attractive point was that as a left-handed person, Rafalski was a right-handed shot. That’s a big reason why forward Mikael Samuelsson is used on the point on the power play … because he’s a right-handed shot.
But those right-handed shots are few and far between.
The Detroit Red Wings had a good balance on the blue line during the season with Rafalski and Chris Chelios (an old-school right-hander who shoots right) as right-handed sticks and Andreas Lilja being a left-handed shot who prefers to play the right side. In addition, Brad Stuart is a left-handed shot who has played primarily the right side since joining Detroit. That gave Detroit four options on the right side for three defense pairings.
As the Red Wings enter Friday’s Game 3 of the Western Conference final (8 p.m., Versus, Ch. 9), however, there is a shortage on the right side of the blue line.
Lilja has been on the shelf for weeks with a concussion. Chelios has been a healthy scratch. That leaves Rafalski and Stuart manning the right side on the top two defense pairings.
When Rafalski was injured in the second round, rookie Jonathan Ericsson flipped over to the right side paired with Nicklas Lidstrom.
Now that Rafalski is back, Ericsson forms the third defense pairing with Brett Lebda and Lebda is on the unfamiliar side of the ice.
Both Ericsson and Lebda, however, say that adjusting to a mirror image of that which they are familiar hasn’t been difficult.
“It just all comes down to what you’re used to and what you prefer,” said Lebda. “When I first started playing the right with E (Ericsson), I would drift to his side because you don’t think about it. Now, I’m fine.”
Here are some of the disadvantages to being a left-handed shot on the right side:
-- Playing a puck along the boards in the offensive zone, you have to use your stick backhanded to play the puck. If it’s a pinch, you can’t take a hand off your stick to play both the passing lane and boards.
-- Coming up ice, you take passes from your defense partner on your backhand.
-- On regroups, it’s difficult to look up ice for a left-hand shot on the right point as you circle to pick up the puck. On the left side, your off shoulder is pointed up ice and sneaking a peak on the transition is easier.
On the plus side, it’s easier for a left-handed shot to get off a shot on goal from the right point. In addition, the passing lanes from the offside are better. And it’s easier to work an opponent towards the boards backing into your zone and reach farther with one hand on the stick because you don’t have to reach across your body.
“Some guys really like it on one side and not the other,” said Ericsson. “For me now, when I play with Nik Kronwall on the penalty kill, it doesn’t matter what side. If we get caught on the other side, we just stay there. Same with Lebs (Lebda). He has been switching too, so we’re both used to it.”
When Ericsson was first paired with Lebda during the regular season, the veteran asked the rookie for his preference of sides. Ericsson opted for the left.
With Ericsson and Lebda were re-united in the Western Conference final, Ericsson is back playing the left side.
“I’ve always played the left,’ said Lebda. “Even when I started here, it was with Cheli (Chelios) and he always played the right. He’s kind of old-school, a big believer that you stay on your side. We got used to each other that way.
“When E first came up here, I asked him where he’s more comfortable because I wanted him to be as comfortable as he could be. I took the right side and I’ve kind of liked it. E played that whole Anaheim series on the right side with Nick (Lidstrom). So now that we’re back together, if you end up over there, we’re not in a rush to switch sides.”