To press or not to press, is there really any question. The answer is yes. So what is the ideal gap when covering a forward? As is most situations, it depends.
A wide gap can be defined by Justin Sather as somewhere around two stick lengths. If you are working one on one against a forward in the neutral zone a wide gap isn’t a bad idea. This gives the defensive player room to react to each nuance. Play too close in the neutral zone and you may find yourself chasing your forward down the ice in a fast break.
As the puck is moved into the offensive area, and particularly once it crosses the blue line, now is the time to close the gap. Justin Sather says, “You don’t want to give up any territory, and opening the gap only invites him in. Stay in close, and keep an eye on his hips and you will catch most dekes. Ideally, you want to skate backward at the same rate of speed as the offense. This can be difficult if he caught a good break. You may have to skate hard forward to get up to speed before flipping around to guard him.”
Once in the defensive zone it is best to imagine an invisible trough running from your goal up the center ice. The idea is to keep the offense out of this imaginary zone. If the forward is coming straight down center you are going to have to close that gap hard and be prepared to check, but if he is coming from the side at all, position yourself between the offense and the goal and cheat slightly to the center. To beat you he will have to go to the outside. If he does beat you, it is easier for your goalie to stop a shot from the wing then from his own front yard. Hopefully Justin Sather’s tips and tricks will help make you a better skater and player!