Hockey Defense: Gap Control
The 'Gap' is the distance between a defnseman and a forward coming towards you with the puck. When playing defense, it's important to be aware of the gap, and control the Gap. Judging the amount of gap to leave is not easy, especially if the forward is a faster skater than you.
A Gap too wide will allow the forward to cut to the inside and take a clean shot on net from a prime scoring area.
A Gap too narrow, and you run the risk of letting the forward skate by you with room behind you to move in on goal. I've been burned both ways numerous times, and it's no fun either way.
A common mistake beginner defenseman make is to leave too much gap. This makes it far too easy for the forward to move to the middle of the ice for a nice scoring opportunity.
Once the forward hits the blue line its time to tighten the gap. Stick with him and force him to the outside. While there is always the chance he will get by you, at least he will have a sharper angle to the net, and have a lower chance of scoring.
Gap Control on the Off-Wing
Another good tip on controlling the gap is to check whether the forward is coming in on his strong side, or his off-wing. The off-wing refers to a forward who shoots left coming down the right wing, or a player who shoots left coming down the right wing. His strong side is just his 'normal' side.
You can actually leave a wider gap on forwards coming in on their strong side, and a tighter Gap on forwards coming in on their off-wing.
Why it Works
A forward coming in on his strong side has to expose the puck by bringing it in front of you as he cuts toward the middle of the ice. Leaving a wider Gap, encourages the forward to try cutting into the middle, rather than going to the outside. This gives you a better chance to poke the puck away.
If the forward is on his off-wing and you play too loose a gap, he can cut to the middle of the ice while protecting the puck with his body. That’s why you need to play a tighter gap in these situations.
Related Tip on Controlling the Gap:
How to Play Defense One-on-One