Well, I was honestly not expecting to have only Predator goals to highlight in this post! What an exciting night for Predators fans… a shutout win (congratulations to Pekka Rinne on his 5th shutout and 43rd win of the season), a leap-frog into 4th place (big shout-out to the New Jersey Devils for beating the Detroit Red Wings in regulation), regaining control over our playoff destiny (aaah, how good that feels), and a solid 102 points on the season thus far (with one more game left to play)!
Let’s jump right in to last night’s goals, shall we?
First Goal: Francis Bouillon (4G) on Kari Lehtonen, assisted by Patric Hornquist (16A) and Andrei Kostitsyn (19A).
So before I start with any pictures, let me explain what you’re going to be looking at for this goal, because it’s quite different from what you saw on Wednesday. The amount of players that end up in front of the net for this goal made it very difficult to label, not to mention that it’s hard to figure out who is precisely at fault. To ameliorate the situation, I decided to track the skating paths of four players: two from Dallas (Radek Dvorak and Eric Nystrom) and two from Nashville (Nick Spaling and Patric Hornquist). Alrighty! Let’s talk about some terrible communication!
Place your mouse over the picture for the caption, which names the unlabeled players.
Possibly Dallas’ biggest problem on this goal was the lack of communication about which Star was covering which Predator. I have watched this clip over and over, looked at stills, and tracked each player’s movement, and I still came out pretty baffled. Amusingly, this reaction kinda makes sense when you consider that Frankie Bouillon was able to score on this play (no offense, Cube). Okay, so to the picture! Right away, we have a few clear pairings – Nystrom (abbreviated NY) and Horny, Andrei and Trevor Daley, and Spals and Fiddler. Andrei is sorta covered by two Stars, so he whacks the puck behind him to Hornquist, who is anticipating a pass down the boards.
- Horny: Great positioning, waiting for the pass and possible cycle
- NY: Playing man-on-man and staying with Horny
- Spals: Supporting Andrei, creating an option for a shot at the net, close enough to Fiddler that he can backcheck if Dallas gains possession
- Dvorak: Perfect positioning playing the weak-side wing (covers the passing lane to any Preds defensemen and provides an outlet pass option for Dallas)
Now, because Nick Spaling and Vernon Fiddler are both on center during this play, Fiddler should be covering Spaling. As you can see above, this is clearly not happening (Fiddler is #38). Nystrom is following his man low, so Fiddler decides to stay high and cover the defenseman. This leaves Nick Spaling totally alone, as Daley (#6, and a defenseman) is sticking with Andrei. Dvorak suddenly realizes no one is picking up on the potentially-very-open Nick Spaling… who is heading right to the slot. All it takes is one pass from Patric Hornquist (who is in sole possession of the puck at this point) for Spaling to sink it. Dvorak makes the decision to go cover Spaling, and it’s all downhill from here – though not entirely because of Dvorak. There’s already a decent amount of confusion and miscommunication right now, and it’s about to get worse. Here’s the big problem: when Dvorak decided to go cover Spals, he left the ENTIRE left side of the ice open. There are no Stars available to cover a Predator, if one happens to wander on in.
- Horny: Taking the puck behind the net to open up the ice and hopefully create passing lanes to the front of the net (FORESHADOWING! FORESHADOWING! FORESHADOWING!)
- NY: Still sticking with Horny thus far; job well-done
- Spals: Breaking for the net with Dvorak on his hip, making him less of a scoring liability
- Dvorak: Covering the open Spaling and preventing him from getting a pass from Hornquist
This is where the lines do get a little crazy, like Billy from Family Circus had a few friends over; my apologies. You can already see how many players have squashed themselves into a tiny little area, and it’s going to get worse. The lack of defenseman on the far side of the net is now evident, because Hornquist is freely standing where the missing defenseman should be. Nystrom has still stuck with Hornquist, and is doing his best to cover his man (and is pretty much the only Star on this shift to do so). Dvorak has abandoned Spaling (who is now planted by the side of the net and covered by Robidas), and returned to his normal side of the ice to cover the defenseman he is normally in charge of… blurry little Frankie B., who is taking a field-trip into the offensive zone.
Let’s talk bad communication for a second here. Who is in charge of what player? Right now, there are five Stars and four Predators; there is no excuse any Predator not being covered. (1) Robidas has Spaling, (2) Nystrom has Hornquist, (3) Dvorak also has Hornquist, (4) Fiddler has Andrei, and (5) Daley also has Andrei. I count 5 Stars watching 3 Predators, while Cube wanders in totally uncovered. At this point in the play, Dallas is truly screwed in terms of positioning and coverage. No one is 100% sure who they are supposed to be covering; heck, I’m not even sure who’s supposed to be covering who. Until one of several things happens, the Stars will continue to flounder in their zone helplessly: (1) Dallas somehow regains control of the puck and breaks out of the zone, (2) the Predators cycle a bit more around the boards, giving Dallas time to reconsider and readjust their positioning, (3) Lehtonen covers the puck/lets the puck in and the play dies, or (4) Dallas ices the puck and these guys get off the ice.
The game ends here (literally), and the Preds’ winning percentage when scoring first is now up to 82.9%. There’s a massive gathering in front of the crease, which includes three Predators and three Stars, while Dvorak watches from the faceoff dot. Since he left Spaling in Robidas’ care, Cube was his player to cover, and he definitely didn’t do that. The puck rebounded out from Horny’s shot on Lehtonen (see the blue arrow in the previous picture), and Cube sent it home.
While Cube celebrates his 4th goal of the season, Nystrom absolutely loses it and swings his stick over his head before slamming it on the ice. Nystrom probably should have prevented Hornquist from getting that shot off, but he’s not really to blame here (Dvorak wasn’t paying attention to “low scoring” Francis Bouillon). But that’s alright! Well done, Frankie! Congrats on being a sudden scoring machine. I expect 5 more goals during the playoffs.
Also, this picture is priceless:
Second Goal: Patric Hornquist (26G) on Kari Lehtonen, assisted by Brandon Yip (4A) and Mike Fisher (27A).
This one is a good, ol’ fashion sneak-attack. It’s also a really simple and basic goal, so after that tragedy of a play up there, this is a nice change of pace. Let’s keep keep it short and sweet, because honestly there isn’t too much to see here.
Leading up to this moment in the video, Martin Erat led the Predators as they broke out of their zone. He gave the puck to Mike Fisher, and Fish carried it into the zone before sliding a pass over to Brandon Yip (currently happening in the screen shot above). Meanwhile, Sheldon Souray casually watched the whole thing go down. Like the first goal, Dallas currently has the Predators out-numbered; unlike the first goal, everyone is covering their man (well… at least for now). Robidas has staked a claim to Fish, and Ryder and Souray both have their eye on Brandon Yip. Ryder will cover him if he stays high, while Souray will take over if he decides to go low.
Yip takes Fish’s pass and chucks the puck on net (Atta boy, Yip!! Shoot that puck!). Jamie Benn, who was caught behind the play, has backchecked enormously and is just able to get back in time to harass Yip a little before he puts the puck on net. Here is where the big mistake of the play occurs: Lehtenon gives up a juicy rebound. Here is also where the second big mistake of the game could have happened: who is in charge of Yippy? (Check out the next picture and you’ll see what I’m talking about.) Again with the communication issues… Ryder and Benn never decided whose job that was. Luckily for them (I guess?), Yip never gets to the puck, but man was he close. That could have been disastrous for Dallas and very exciting for me. Okay, so now in the next two pictures, check out the times on the clocks. It’s not so much important to the play as it is a really great measure of how fast this game truly is, and I wanted to point that out.
Like the first goal, the Stars are about to be get themselves in trouble because of a forward caught unaware and a sneaky Predator. This time, it’s Patric Hornquist, who is absolutely dazzling. Exactly zero Stars expected him to come screaming into zone like this, and he took full advantage of that. At this point in the video, I’m not even sure Ryder realizes that Horny is next to him, to be honest. There is 2:02 left in the period, and Horny is about 15 feet away from the puck.
There is still 2:02 left in the period, and Horny is 0 feet away from the puck. Ryder has advanced precisely one stride upon realizing that a ninja just snuck up behind him and now has the puck. Stop and look at the slot in front of Lehtenon for a moment; it is WIDE open. The Stars defensemen are clinging to their posts, flanked by two Predators. Ryder was supposed to be in charge of letting (or, more specifically, not letting) people into the slot, but because he didn’t see Hornquist flying into the zone, the safety of the slot is now severely compromised. Every single Dallas player is caught flat-footed and doesn’t know what to do, so they stand there and watch Patric Hornquist score his 26th goal of the season.
If the Predators can continue the “secret player” attack, wherein they sneak someone in behind the play and then shovel them the puck for the goal, that’s going to be very helpful during the playoffs. Unfortunately, we will probably be playing a team that is slightly more aware of this tactic and how to prevent it than Dallas was last night, but it tends to be hard to play against regardless of who you are.
Maybe the Preds can work on perfecting it during their game against Colorado on Saturday…