- 1 Offensive Zone Bias
- 2 Forecheck
- 3 Offensive Line Strategies
- 4 Neutral Zone
- 5 Defensive Line Strategy
- 6 Defensive Pressure
- 7 Recommendations
Often there is confusion around the coaching strategies within EA Sports NHL games. What are the best settings? Should we change them? What do they even do?
All questions I’ve asked myself in past years as well. We aren’t all hockey coaches so how are we supposed to know what each strategy does and/or when to use them. The in-game descriptions are quite vague or non-existent so you pretty much are forced to do some research or watch AI vs AI games while “coach” position locked and see what the players actually do. Who has that kind of time!?!? … Fortunately for all of you, and sadly enough for me, I do!
I started with research, but appears there is some room for a bit of interpretation on most hockey strategies so I decided that watching the in-game AI would be best way to determine exactly what positions these strategies will be putting them in.
In this guide, we will cover Offensive Zone Bias, Forecheck, Offensive Line Strategies, Neutral Zone, Defensive Line Strategies, and finally Defensive Pressure.
Breakouts and special teams will have to wait for another day Check out Coaching Strategies Part Two for breakout and special teams strategies.
Here we go!
*To keep it consistent, all of this guides screenshots/videos and the descriptions for them are from the perspective of playing with the Nashville Predators.
Offensive Zone Bias
How to adjust: Left or Right on the D Pad
It might seem odd to cover the offensive zone bias before we even get into the different forecheck and neutral zone formations; however, this plays a huge part in whether your team is on the forecheck or is backing up into the neutral zone.
When a puck is loose in the offensive zone your AI has to decide whether it’s going to get into the zone to setup for the forecheck or if it’s going to back off and setup in the neutral zone to defend.
There are 5 different settings you can use for this:
- Neutral Zone Trap
- Sit Back
- Full Forecheck
Most of you, if not all, can likely guess how those settings will work. They range from bias completely towards the neutral zone with “Neutral Zone Trap” all the way up to Full Forecheck where the bias is completely in the forechecking zone.
As an example, when I was getting the screenshots/video for Neutral Zone formations I set it to “Neutral Zone Trap” so as soon as the puck was loose in the offensive zone they would go straight into one of the neutral zone strategies and I could capture it. That means that even if one of your players dumps the puck in, they won’t chase it – they will just go straight into the trap.
Forecheck and Neutral Zone strategies only come into play when you DON’T have the puck. When you gain possession of the puck then you will be using one of the offensive line strategies which we’ll cover later on in this guide.
How to adjust: Left or Right on the D pad to bring up the menu then RB or R1 to change forecheck strategy.
For those who are new to NHL 17 and hockey in general:
Forecheck is a defensive play made in the offensive zone with the objective of applying pressure to the opposing team to regain control of the puck.
The most popular example of this would be after you dump the puck into the offensive zone you will go after it applying pressure to the opposing team’s defense in hopes of getting the puck back and getting setup for a scoring opportunity. Forecheck can also happen after a rebound or a turnover.
There are four different forecheck strategies in NHL 17: 1-2-2 passive, 2-3, weak side lock, and 1-2-2 aggressive.
I’ve included the in-game descriptions and then went into more detail for each strategy.
Description: forecheck with all skaters looking to prevent breakout passes.
Description: two nearest forwards pressure the puck, while the third forward drops back defensively.
Weak Side Lock
Description: forwards will pressure the play along the boards, where the strong side(side the puck is on) defenseman will pinch along the boards, while the weak side defenseman will drop back and cover the point.
With that said, notice how the strong side D man gets right up near the boards, if the puck comes up that way he’ll pinch down or if the puck goes around the net to the other side the centerman will follow it and that far side winger will come down to pressure the play along the boards and then the now weak side winger closest to us would drop back into the up high position.
Description: one forward in deep, forcing play up the boards into team mates.
In comparison to the 1-2-2 passive you can see how the 2 mid players are positioned further down. If the one player in deep works the play behind the net then the right side winger can drop down and continue pressuring the puck, if the player in deep works it up the boards then the left side winger can work to close off the lane and gain possession.
Offensive Line Strategies
How to adjust: B or Circle to bring up the menu then RB or R1 to cycle through strategies.
*These are per line settings. Each line can have a different offensive zone strategy.
Offensive zone strategies are what your lines will use when they HAVE the puck as opposed to the forecheck and neutral zone strategies that are used to try and gain possession of the puck.
NHL 17 includes 3 different offensive strategies, which have been the same for many years in the EA Sports’ NHL series: Overload, Crash the Net, and Behind the Net.
*These aren’t set plays. They are positional strategies that you could create plays based off of since you will know the general position of each player.
Behind The Net
Description: Control the puck down low near the boards.
Crash The Net
Description: Best suited for strong, physical players. Allows for lots of shots using both screens and deflections. Players without the puck crowd the net on the rush.
EA Sport’s description does a good job of describing this one. Forwards that don’t have the puck will crowd the net as you can see in my screenshot above. Given how prevalent deflection and rebound goals are in NHL 17 it is certainly not a bad strategy and definitely the easiest to execute as it comes down to just getting shots on net from anywhere.
Description: Best suited for skilled players.
With that said, it is true that this strategy is best suited for skilled players. It usually involves a lot of cycling the puck as the goal is to pull defenders out of their position so you can open up a passing or shooting lane. If you frequently lose the puck then it’s unlikely you will be able to execute it as intended.
You can see the difference in the screenshot versus the “Behind the Net” positioning. There is closer support down low so you can do short passes and the winger is a bit higher on the boards.
There is a lot of opportunity for you to cut out into the slot here as you cycle. Just based on the screenshot you can tell that if any of those 3 players over commits then it will open up a possible lane or one-timer pass to the far side winger beside the net.
Update: Looking for more advanced Overload tips? Check out my new How to Score Using Overload post.
How to adjust: Left or right on the D pad to bring up the menu then LB or L1 to adjust neutral zone strategy.
Same idea as forecheck strategies except in the neutral zone instead of the offensive zone. There are again four different settings that we will cover in detail below: 1-3-1, 1-4, 1-2-2 Red, and 1-2-2 Blue.
Description: Neutral zone trap with one defender pressuring the puck carrier, three players defending the blue line, and one deep in the defensive end defending the net.
Description: Neutral zone trap with one defender pressuring the puck carrier and four players defending the blue line.
Description: Defenders will hold the neutral zone and apply pressure to the breakout at the red line.
With that said, you will rarely see dump-ins when playing online players in NHL 17 as most want to just carry the puck in – so if this trap is done correctly you can get a neutral zone turnover. Especially in NHL 17 where the puck is really loose so checking players has become a little easier with the exception that stick lift currently doesn’t work but hopefully that will be fixed soon! May already be fixed by the time you read this(Please EA! Pleeeeease).
Description: Defenders will hold the neutral zone and apply pressure to the breakout at the opposing blue line.
Defensive Line Strategy
How to adjust: X or Square to bring up the defensive line menu then RB or R1 to cycle through strategies.
Now, if your opponents do manage to get past your neutral zone trap and setup offensively in your zone then your defensive line strategies will need to kick into action. These take three different forms: Collapsing, Staggered, and Tight Point.
*Strategies are set on a per line basis
It’s also a common misconception that these strategies only apply to your two defenseman, not true and in-fact they change your forwards positioning more than anything as you will see shortly. Think of it more as all your players being defenders when in the defensive zone.
Description: players collapse to the front of the net and slot.
You can see how close the support is low in front of the net. This use to be my favorite strategy back in the days when the puck was basically glued to players sticks and they could just dance around until they got into the slot for that easy cheese snipe – having your defenders collapsed in the slot helped block that play.
Nowadays, and especially in NHL 17, with it being easier to knock the puck off players sticks; the dangling around slot cheese is not quite as common although still very prevalent if you get caught chasing and pull your players out of position.
One thing to note about collapsing in NHL 17 is that sometimes the AI gets a little too close. The below appears to be some sort of phone booth setup, I’m not exactly sure but now that I’m basically a pro hockey coach after watching all this AI vs AI gameplay, I can say for certain that it is not a good setup.
Description: A good mix of low and high coverage.
Having that one player high makes this a staggered setup. You have at least some point coverage here. Which is very important in NHL 17 as there are a lot of goals coming from point shots.
Description: Wingers staying up high to cover the opposing team’s defenseman.
As I just mentioned, there are a lot goals being scored this year starting with a point shot. So using a tight point setup isn’t a bad idea as it does help reduce that but notice in the screenshot, if that defenseman happens to get around your winger then they will have almost a perfect lane to take a shot. I still prefer the staggered setup for that reason unless they are taking an absurd amount of point shots and constantly passing up to them then the additional coverage up high and opening up the slot a bit may be justified.
How to adjust: X or Square to bring up the menu then LB or L1 to cycle through pressure settings.
There are 5 different pressure settings ranging from protecting the net up to high pressure. I’ll list each and the blurb that they have in-game. The positioning from the above strategy will stay the same no matter what, but how aggressive the players in the vicinity are towards the puck carrier is what should change.
- Protect the Net – Players collapse in the defensive zone
- Contain Puck – players will stay between the puck and the net
- Normal – a solid mix of one on one and zone defense
- Puck Side Attack – Players on the strong side attack the puck
- High Pressure – your team is at their most aggressive
I normally go puck side attack as I want to put some pressure on the puck carrier to force a turnover. I’m not totally convinced there is much of a difference between the three middle settings, it was difficult to tell while watching AI vs AI. If your opponent is frequently skating into your zone and scoring from the slot then try the puck side attack or high pressure – your defenders do appear to step up more often when set to either of those two.
Before I make any recommendations, I just want to make a couple points clear.
1. In order to get the above screenshots/videos I had to go to both extremes, full forecheck and full neutral zone trap then set each lines bias towards dumping the puck in. In a regular online game you likely won’t often see the players setup exactly how I have them in the screenshots because they simply don’t have time to get into position between when you lose the puck and the opponent is heading up ice with it or when you regain possession.
The players will be reacting to the puck carrier and other players around them which will constantly be changing their positions.
2. When you are playing, YOU are part of the strategy. It was easy for me to watch AI vs AI and see where the players go but when you are actually playing it can be a lot more difficult to recognize where you should be. Familiarize yourself with the strategies you want to use otherwise you will end up leaving a big hole in your forecheck, neutral zone, and defense. The above information will hopefully help you avoid that.
I know I’ve poked a bit of fun at the
occasional frequent stupidity of the AI(wtf Ekholm?!) but they can also be very smart – They react to your positioning, so if you skate in deep with the defenseman, the AI winger will drop back and cover the point. Or when you are cycling in the offensive zone if you pull the player below the red line up high then another player will drop down.
This leads us to the most common mistake players make online, trying to dangle around with one player and then losing the puck. While you were dangling and being forced all around the ice avoiding defenders you are creating chaos for your AI players as they attempt to cover your position thinking you are going into theirs. I mentioned this in my NHL 17 Defense Guide as well.
In short, sometimes the AI’s stupidity actually starts with your own! I know that’s a real buzz kill for all the “hate EA Sports” circle jerkers out there, but I did say sometimes 😉
Okay, onto the strategy recommendations.
These recommendations are based on how I like to START a game. Throughout the game you will hopefully pick up on your opponents play style and can adjust. I didn’t adjust them mid-game very often in the past; however, with what I’ve learnt from writing this post I will be using them a lot more and I encourage you all to do the same. Find out what fits your play style and more importantly what is effective against your opponents play style.
Offensive Zone Bias
A common theme throughout my starting strategies will be aggressiveness. I prefer to come out fast and try to get the first goal as quickly as possible.
I’ll start with a “Press” or “Full Forecheck” bias.
I normally prefer to carry the puck in unless I am forced to dump it. So Forecheck strategy doesn’t come into play that often for me. I’ll usually leave it on 2-3 or Weak Side Lock unless I’m pushing for a late tying goal then I’ll go up to 1-2-2 Aggressive.
Offensive Line Strategies
Overload or Crash the Net.
Overload provides more scoring opportunities for me than behind the net so I prefer it for my skilled lines and then your more grindey lines can take advantage of crashing the net for the grease goals.
“yeah, that’s right I use Overload… I must be pretty skilled. No big deeeal.”
Being completely honest, I forget to change these all the time; however, after writing this post I’ll be paying a lot more attention to it so I know the AI’s positioning. Unfortunately AI plays a huge part in online versus and most online game modes with the exception of 6v6 EASHL/OTP. Let’s be serious here though, how difficult is it to get 6 working adults all online at the same time for at least a few hours?
“Sorry guys my roommate needs the TV” … your household only has one TV? You are a grown ass adult go buy a cheap monitor! … Get it together buddy. That sort of lack of commitment is a great way to find yourself in free agency amirite?
Again, I start aggressive with a 1-2-2 Blue. If I find the opponents is often getting past my players for odd man rushes then I’ll scale it back a bit and also scale my forecheck bias back as well.
Defensive Line Strategy
With the effectiveness of point shots and rebound goals it just feels like collapsing isn’t as effective as it use to be. Having that high slot coverage helps a lot. You can always adjust if you find your opponents is taking tons of point shots or weaving their way into the slot.
Puck side attack.
Beginning of a game I want to keep pressuring the puck carrier in all zones to make the opponent feel like they don’t have time to do anything, frustrate them. If they are getting around my defenders and into the slot then I’ll scale back to a “Normal” or “Contain Puck” strategy.
A very important note here again is not taking your defenders out of position, you will just open up holes for your opponent to skate right into and snipe. Definitely recommend checking out my Defense Guide if that happens to you frequently.
Wow, this ended up being much longer than I expected. Hope it’s been helpful! If you would like to be notified of new posts/guides then please do subscribe in the form below and/or Follow ChelTips on Twitter. You can unsubscribe at anytime, although so far no one has! Thank you 🙂
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See ya on the bench! er… I mean the ice.
Update: Ready for part two? It’s now ready for you! Check out the Breakout and Special Team Strategies.