Today I’m looking at both Game 3 and Game 4, so (again) here are three goals for the price of one! I’m not sure how to feel about this one… it’s hard to go from tons of excitement to tons of uncertainty. Amidst all the fury and disappointment and anger and confusion about Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, these were just two more games that we had to win regardless of what decisions were made by any and all parties.
Nothing is over until it’s truly over, and I still have hope in this series. It’s clinging for dear life, but it’s there.
(GAME 3) 1st Nashville Goal: David Legwand (3) on Mike Smith, assisted by Gabriel Bourque (2).
The Preds are starting to break into the neutral zone here, thanks to Patric Hornquist pressuring Rosti? Rusty? Klesla at the blue line for the puck. Klesla decides it’s probably smarter to get the jump on Horny instead of getting caught, so he starts to head towards his zone. Looking at the entire Phoenix line right now, it’s immediately pretty clear that at least one or two of them are going to be caught behind the play. Vermette is definitely the most screwed, as he is the farthest away from the play. Shane Doan and Mikkel Boedker aren’t too far behind the play, but they need to really get on a couple of Shane Doan’s horses if they want to get back to help their defense, because the Preds have all three forwards booking it down the ice.
Let’s talk about Adrian Aucoin. He is currently facing in the direction of both the puck and Klesla, and he’s likely communicating with his partner about who’s doing what. This is good. He also needs to be keeping an eye on the Predator bearing down on him. I’m sure he’s aware of Gabby’s existence (or at least I think he is), but if you watch the video again, it doesn’t look like he ever actually turns his head to see where Gabby is, or what Gabby is doing. Now Hornquist just dumped the puck into Aucoin’s zone, and Aucoin knows that his goaltender likes to play the puck, so he needs to make a decision very soon about whether he’s going to go after the puck or cover Gabby man-on-man.
Meanwhile, in the Predators’ zone, Shane Doan is effectively screwed. The puck is going into his defensive zone, and he’s no where close to even exiting his offensive zone. Boedker is a little closer and hopefully knows that he is covering Legwand. This is not up for debate, and it’s not a confusing situation: Legwand is his man. Unfortunately for Phoenix, if you watch carefully, both of these guys are gliding as they exit the Predators’ zone. Why?! SKATE, men! SKATE!
So Smith wanders out to go play the puck, which (as we all know) he loves to do. Although it was fun to blame this goal on his wandering tendencies, he actually did nothing wrong on this play. Aucoin and Klesla are making eye-contact and (I assume) communicating, but I’m not sure about that because neither one seems to know who’s doing what. The blue triangle illustrating Aucoin’s vision wouldn’t be a big deal if he also decided to look somewhere – anywhere – else on the ice. Dude doesn’t move his head once. This is why I wonder if there’s some confusion or miscommunication between these two guys. If they had made a choice about who was going to do what, then they can each go do their separate jobs. Here’s what needs to be decided:
- Who is going to take the puck? Smith has probably communicated what he is going to do with the puck by now. Or at least he should have. I’d be shocked if he hadn’t. So in theory, both Aucoin and Klesla know that the puck is going to go behind the net and onto Aucoin’s side of the ice. Now assuming Aucoin knows what’s going on in front of him (where he has not been looking for most of this play), he’s aware that Gabby Bourque is booking it down the ice towards him. A decision needs to be made on this RIGHT NOW. (1) Is Aucoin going to race into the corner with Gabby hot on his heels, or (2) is Aucoin going to body up against Gabby and fight for the puck against the boards?
- Where is everyone (specifically Klesla) going to be positioned? If Aucoin decides to race for the puck, Klesla needs to open himself up as an outlet pass to get the puck out of the zone. If Aucoin decides to puck-battle in the corner, Klesla needs to be more defensive in his positioning, which means covering either Hornquist or the slot (which is the “safety zone” for most defensemen – if nothing else, just go cover the front of the net).
Assuming that all the above communication took place, Aucoin should be a little more prepared for Smith’s pass right now. Honestly, I can’t figure out why he’s still looking over at Klesla and Horny. Maybe he’s trying to figure out whether Patric’s last name is spelled with a “U” or a “V”. Really though, he should be starting some kind of definitive action. Smith has passed the puck, Gabby is bearing down on him, Legwand is now meandering into the zone, and Aucoin’s just watching the world go by. DOOOOO SOMETHING, BUDDY! Hmm… maybe there wasn’t as much communication going on as their should have been.
Let’s watch as Aucoin has an “uh oh” moment. Yeah, see that guy there Adrian? You’re supposed to have been keeping an eye on him… Okay, now I have a thought about how Aucoin transitions here. I will be honest and say that don’t know if a professional analyst will tell you the same thing, but I think this is reasonable. See the direction in which Aucoin transitions from skating backwards to skating forwards? He’s turning towards Gabby Bourque. Look at where the puck is right now, though; it’s not even half-way behind the net. In my completely-unprofessional-opinion, if Aucoin had transitioned the other direction (i.e., turned facing the net), he could have beat Gabby to the puck. Readily. But it almost seems like he doesn’t even know where the puck is until he sees Gabby go flying by him, and then he’s like, “Oh… I bet he’s going to the puck. I’ll follow him.” Now I’m not sure where Klesla was going on this play. He’s heading for the puck right now, but there was never any way he was going to reach it before it went behind the net and towards the far corner, so he must have planned on being the outlet pass. However, he sees that Aucoin clearly forgot about doing his job, so he’s gonna have to slam on the breaks and get defensive very quickly. Legwand, meanwhile, is strangely uncovered. Boedker was right with him earlier, so where is he now? Legwand is the trailing offensive forward, and Boedker should be the first forward in, so even if it wasn’t his job to cover Leggy (which it was), he should be covering Leggy. Perhaps he’s just out of sight?
Huh. Apparently not. Legwand has the whole freaking zone to himself. Klesla, as mentioned above, has realized that Gabby is going to reach the puck first and is booking it to the front of the net because his head is actually on a swivel and he sees that Legwand is totally uncontested in the slot. By doing this, he leaves Horny wide open, but you have to pick your battles, and going to the slot is more important. Smith is galloping back to his net as fast as he can, but the dude’s a goalie… he can’t move that fast. He is unfairly screwed right now because…… Aucoin was beaten to the puck and gave Gabby the opportunity to do whatever the hell he wants. So yeah. Pretty much every Coyotes is completely screwed right now because Aucoin missed his assignment.
Oh hey, Boedker! Wait… why didn’t you just go right to Leggy? Why did you follow his skating path? What took you so long to get back into the zone anyway? Where’s Shane Doan? He wasn’t far behind you, so shouldn’t he be here by now as well? So many question, so few answers. Let’s watch Gabby give Legwand a beautiful pass while Klesla does his best to play goalie.
Boedker is literally coasting right now. Literally. It looks like he just got on the ice for warm-ups. He sees Leggy, and knows that Leggy is his man, but would apparently rather enjoy the show than participate in it. He must have turned down Doan’s rental-horse offer, because he certainly ain’t on one right now. Neither is Doan, it would seem, as he is no where to be found. Leggy shovels this one home.
Wait just a second… ANTOINE VERMETTE – the guy farthest away from the entire play – was able to get back to help before Shane Doan? What the hell?
(GAME 3) 1st Nashville Goal: David Legwand (3) on Mike Smith, assisted by Gabriel Bourque (2).
The most noticeable thing about this goal, to me, is that Phoenix was slightly panicky here. They were trying to break it out of their zone, and while they didn’t completely lose their minds, it seemed rushed and confused and uncertain. Nashville took advantage of that.
The man-on-man play here is somewhat laughable, so I wouldn’t put too much thought into it; everyone’s kinda all over the place and not sure what to do. The only “real” pairing is Martin Erat and Radim Vrbata. Okay. So Oliver Ekman-Larsson (whose nickname is Harry, because he looks like Harry Potter) gains control of the puck from Sergei Kostitsyn and chucks it into the corner. Ray Whitney heads over there to pick it up. Sergei is sorta tied up by Oliver, so Mike Fisher (as the center is supposed to do) heads into the corner to help corral puck. Erat and Vrbata are about to swoop up out of the play momentarily, so we won’t see them for a second.
Here’s where the Coyotes’ first little problem rears it head. What does Whitney do with the puck now? His immediate passing lanes are cut off by Weber, Fish, and Sergei. Fisher is zeroing in on him fast. Hanzal is about to make himself slightly more open, but Whitney is facing the goal line and he’s smart enough to know that a blind backhand pass up the boards (near a lurking Shea Weber) is stupid. He’d have approximately zero outlets and would likely whip it behind the net right now if it weren’t for Sergei Kostitsyn. Although you can’t really tell from this shot, Sergei is also making his way towards Whitney, which opens Oliver up for the pass. For the record, this isn’t a bad move on Sergei’s part. When Fish pressures Whitney, the puck is gonna go somewhere, so if he’s there, he can try to snag it.
Okay first, Marty’s back…. and Vrbata is not. This will be a problem for Phoenix. Second, the Coyotes next (and arguably biggest) mistake happens: Oliver decides to take the puck for a walk up the ice. Now I know very little about Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but what I’ve heard is good: he’s a second year defenseman playing his first full season with the Coyotes, he’s reliable, he’s a good skater, he registers a lot of PP time, and he’s pretty responsible. I don’t ever watch him play, and I haven’t kept an eye on him this series, but I think it’s reasonable to compare him with Roman Josi (if you disagree, feel free let me know). Unfortunately, one of the problems with young players is that sometimes they make stupid mistakes. It’s part of learning, and it happens. In my opinion, Oliver E-L should have done one of two things here (spoiler alert: he does neither).
- Pass the puck up to Martin Hanzal by banking it off the boards between Sergei (who’s left handed and won’t be able to get his stick on the puck) and Fish (who’s right handed and etc., and is also in the middle of squishing Whitney into the boards).
- Pass the puck behind the net to a very open Michal Rozsival (Oliver’s defensive partner, who is clearly anticipating that pass in this picture). Even if Erat gets to Rozsival first (where’s Vrbata?), it’s not a bad move; the play shifts, the Predators shift, the Coyotes who are currently covered become open, Rozsival could pass the puck back, and the Coyotes could set up a more controlled break out.
But no. I guess Oliver just got too excited? Perhaps he thought the lane was more open than it actually was? Maybe being called “Harry” all the time made him think that he could do magical things on the ice? I don’t know. But what he’s about to do is both un-magical and pretty dumb (I say dumb because he had much better and safer options to take advantage of).
Oliver decides to skate the puck up. You’ll see Roman Josi do this every so often too, but he usually doesn’t do it under this much immediate offensive pressure. The other Coyotes realize that they’re breaking out RIGHTNOW! and start booking it up the ice while trying to arrange themselves to be helpful. Vrbata (who should have been (1) covering Erat and (2) a bit lower) opens up as an outlet pass… Hanzal is sitting there waiting as an outlet pass… Whitney is heading towards the center of the zone to become a secondary outlet pass… Rozsival (a defenseman) is streaking up ice (baaad idea – who’s gonna cover if something goes wrong?) and is wide open as a secondary outlet pass…… and then, as Oliver tries to get the puck to Vrbata, Martin Erat ruins everything.
(By the way, a round of applause to Sergei Kostitsyn: he’s absolutely booking it to get on the backcheck.)
Marty rains on Oliver’s parade and steals the puck. Oliver watches helplessly and tries to use the summoning charm from Harry Potter to get the puck back, to no avail. We can also see Marty’s irrefutable magnetism with the puck. Okay yes, prior positioning helped create the current scenario, but regardless…. why are four of Phoenix’s five skaters within ten feet of Martin Erat? Or, ignoring him, why are they within ten feet of each other? There’s a lot of not-excellent positioning here, but in my opinion, Radim Vrbata is the worst offender.
Someone needed to be the weak-side winger (WSW) during this play, and because everything was going down on the left side of the ice, the job falls to the right winger – Vrbata. He wasn’t exactly doing his first job (covering Erat), so you’d hope he was at least doing a job, right? Haha. If you look at the picture before this one, he’s sorta being the WSW, but he’s too high to play the position correctly. And it’s not like he just started to get out of position, either. Look at both the second and third screen-caps of this goal – there’s no WSW. The middle of the ice is wide open, and as the WSW, that is Vrbata’s job. He needed to be chilling in the high-slot-ish-area to (1) cut off the passing lane to the far-side defenseman, (2) keep an eye on whatever’s goin’ on in the middle of the ice, and (3) provide options for the guys along the boards. He wasn’t there earlier, and he was a bit too high when he did show up, so he is definitely too high now.
Meanwhile, Rozsival suddenly realized that he screwed up by dashing up ice without purpose, Oliver screwed up by skating and losing the puck, Vrbata screwed up by not covering either Erat or the high slot, Whitney will be screwed because he’s moving too fast to get back and help defensively, and Hanzal is screwed because he’s so far away from the play.
Marty passes the puck to a very open Sergei. Oliver tries summoning the puck again. Rozsival hustles back down the ice to play the position he should have been playing all along. Vrbata, Whitney, and Hanzal watch, fear in their eyes. Weber’s Beard nods approvingly.
Marty does a good job of getting in Ray Whitney’s way (to some capacity) without drawing a penalty. Oliver, still desperate to correct his mistake and retrieve the puck, tries to be more commanding with his magic. It doesn’t work. Sergei gets the puck, turns towards Smith, and passes it to Fi– oh for the love of… he passed the puck again?! Yes. He did. But hold up just a second, because this is one time I absolutely commend Sergei Kostitsyn for passing the puck. Let’s look at Smith.
- Where the HECK is Sergei gonna put the puck if he shoots? You might say five-hole (it’s huge right now), but actually scoring via five-hole is very difficult, as goalies can close it up remarkably fast. It’ll rebound out, the Coyotes will get it, and play will move down ice.
- See where Smith’s stick is right now? You don’t have to be an expert to know that he was gonna try to poke the puck away from Sergei before he shot it.
- If Sergei tries to roof it, the puck will be gloved down, deflected up into the netting, or miss the net entirely.
So instead, he decides to pass the puck to the hidden Fish. This will force Smith to cover the post, leaving the entire back side of the net WIIIIDE open. This pass is an EXCELLENT decision by Sergei.
Rozsival has aaalmost reached Sergei, which is pretty impressive considering how screwed he seemed earlier. Sergei’s just sitting there waiting for the return pass from Fisher to hit his stick, which proves that he was willing to shoot the puck! Fisher has passed back, and Smith is proactively trying to prevent the puck from getting to Sergei. Oliver has seemingly given up on trying to summon the puck at this point and is gliding towards the net.
Sorry, Oliver… I dunno where The Wizard is right now (see what I did there?). Unluckily for Smith, his outstretched stick popped the puck up into the air, but I’m convinced that he would have been screwed even if he hadn’t knocked it in himself, because Sergei was all over that puck. Here’s a close-up of the Smith-tip:
That puck was going right between Smith’s glove and blocker, and if Smith hadn’t tipped it, Sergei’s stick would have…. and look how open that net was. I heard a bunch of people call this goal a fluke, but I just can’t agree with that. This was a great play by Erat, Fish, and Sergei; the Coyotes were just plain screwed.
(Game 4) Phoenix Goal: Shane Doan (3) on Pekka Rinne, assisted by Mikkel Boedker (4).
Okay, and finally, let’s look at the lone goal from Friday night’s game. This goal basically comes down to losing coverage of your man, putting the puck on net, and a really weird bounce.
This is right off a neutral zone faceoff; Vermette wins the puck back to Klesla, who shoots it into the Predators zone. The next shot cuts to the far boards, after the puck wrapped around the net.
Treebeard (AKA Hal Gill) has decisive coverage of Shane Doan, our eventual goal scorer. Leggy is watching Mikkel Boedker, Gabby could cover Antoine Vermette, but because he’s a winger and Vermette is a center, it’s more likely that Hornquist will pick up Vermette as he swings towards the high slot, and Gabby will stay put near the boards to keep an eye on both the board-battle and the right defenseman. Roman Josi is in the slot, the defenseman’s comfort zone. So far this looks good.
But then Doan comes crashing into Gill, knocks him flat (which is seriously impressive), and tips the puck to Boedker. Boedker, who is being pressured by Legwand, passes it right back to the now-uncovered Doan. Vermette is also uncovered at the moment, but Hornquist (as we are about to see) is all over him. The one problem with Horny covering Vermette is that Klesla now has unlimited space to wander down into the zone and participate in the play… which he tries to do.
Speaking of defensemen, Roman is in/is about to be in a somewhat uncomfortable position. He doesn’t really have anyone to play man-on-man with, and therefore simply has to be an extra body in front of the net. In my experience, this scenario creates kind of a helpless feeling. You are involved in the play, technically, but you aren’t exactly an active participant. Everyone but you has a man to cover, so you end up doing a lot of watching and waiting for your chance to help. Maybe it’s challenging an incoming puck carrier, or chasing the puck behind the net, or poking a centering pass out of the way, but you have to stand and wait for it, and it’s kind of unsettling to watch the play develop around you… or at least it was for me. For all I know, it might not bother the pros one bit, but those are my two unprofessional cents on Roman’s situation right now.
It’s even easier to see here… notice how Roman’s just kinda standing and waiting? There really isn’t much for him to do. Okay, back to the actual play at hand. Now Hal Gill might be slow, but thank God he’s tall, cause that means he can travel farther faster. Doan’s got a few strides on Gill, but I’m pretty sure one of Doan’s strides = half of one of Gill’s strides. Horny is doing an excellent job of removing Vermette as a passing option for Doan, and Gabby is effectively cutting off the pass to the right defenseman. Klesla is wide open (and would have a great shot on Rinne), but Doan’s angle makes it really difficult to get him the puck.
More awkward, crouching Roman. Oh, and Treebeard has caught up to Doan. Like I said, he might be slow, but he goes a long way with one stride. Gill actually knocks Doan’s stick off the puck, but as Gill’s stick swings back, he sweeps the puck with it and puts the puck on net. And here comes the awkward bounce. Instead of describing it, I’ll just post the zeroed-in screen caps.
Them’s the breaks, boys and girls. This is why we watch hockey. One tiny, little thing can change the entire outcome of a game, and it’s thrilling. Sometimes. I wish that one tiny, little thing had gone in our favor on Friday, because the fact that we were literally a stick blade away from not losing this game is a pretty big pill to swallow, but that’s hockey. Let’s hope that Game 5 will be different, and the breaks will be in our favor!