The Perfect Season Ender: A 6-Pack on the Mountain


I love the Predators. This was a fantastic season, and I am so proud of the way the rounded it out last night. I expected a win over the Avs, but I was not expecting six goals, especially with the entire first line (Martin Erat, Mike Fisher, Sergei Kostitsyn) healthy-scratched. It was a day full of hockey, and I watched 4 different games between noon and 1am (EST). By the time the Predators/Avs game rolled around (at 9 my time), the most visibly excited I could get for each goal was a tired smile and an eyebrow raise, but I pulled through it and thoroughly enjoyed the game. Six goals! SIX! Who knew the Predators were capable of scoring that many goals in one game? Fantastic. There are many, many great things to say about the Predators after this season, but I’m going to be brief: I am damn proud of the franchise, and I absolutely love this team.

On to the actual article!

I will be the first to admit that I know very little about goaltending, other than the fact that goalies seem to be pretty eccentric (though wonderful) people, but the goals I’m going to look at this morning are specifically related to poor goaltending. If I got anything wrong, or anyone with real goaltending experience has valuable information to add, leave a comment! With that disclaimer, let’s climb aboard the analysis wagon.

Colorado Goal 1: Matt Duchene (14) on Anders Lindback, assisted by Chuck Kobasew (7) and Cody McLeod (5).

Like I said, both of these goals could have been prevented by better goaltending. Theoretically, of course, every single goal ever scored could fall into this category, but these two are different; these goals specifically and unequivocally should (or could) have been prevented by the goaltenders. Anders Lindback and Jean-Sebastien Giguere are not the only players to blame, but they both receive a wag of the finger (and behind-the-back thumbs-up, if your nickname is “Jiggy”).

The Goal

I’m going to go ahead and warn you right now that this paragraph is not about the goal; it’s a tangent about communication and Ryan Ellis that I couldn’t bear to omit. If you want to read it, go ahead, but if you just want to get to the goal, go to the next paragraph with bold at the top. There are two things going on here: (1) not obvious communication, and (2) obvious communication. This is the best screen shot I could get that illustrated both.

First: Not obvious communication. See Ryan Ellis’ head? Instead of looking directly at his man (to his right), Ellis is looking almost straight ahead. This is because he has just checked in, albeit silently, with Jack Hillen. Watch the beginning of the video very closely: Ellis is initially watching Chuck Kobasew, not Cody McLeod (his man). He knows McLeod is accounted for; he wants to make sure Kobasew is too. These are the kinds of details I’m sure Barry Trotz brings up to his players, because you can’t just know if your man is covered – you have to know that your teammates are doing their jobs as well. High-five to Ryan.

Second: Very blatant stick-pointing. Again, Ellis is making sure Hillen knows who to cover, and this is where it gets interesting. This kind of communication is very rare. Think back on plays Weber and Suter (or even Gill and Josi) make. Do you see this happen? No. My experience (as a defenseman) is that pointing derives from uncertainty. Ryan is a rookie with 32 games under his belt who hadn’t played in almost two weeks. His stick-point is a tiny detail, but it says a lot. This is Ryan Ellis returning to a basic comfort level in the hopes of playing his best hockey. Watch the video and note, very importantly, that Hillen follows Ellis’ lead in pointing. Hillen had zero intention of pointing until Ellis did (at which point Hillen responds by correctly acknowledging the two men who need coverage). Defensemen who have been in the NHL for years do not point. They know and trust themselves and their teammates in various situations and plays. This does not at all mean that Ellis and Hillen have trust issues, but instead means (or at least implies) that Ellis is uncertain about the play itself. This was just his fourth shift of the night after two weeks off. He is trying to prevent any mistakes from occurring on this play by ensuring communication with his defensive partner at the most basic level. I was actually pleased when I noticed that Ellis did this because it means that when Ryan is uncertain about a developing play, he is going back to what he knows is important (communication and man-on-man coverage) and not panicking. (Or at least he did in this situation.)

Boring communication tangent completed – if you skipped it, you just missed out on reading pure goal. Moving on! Sooo, this man-on-man stuff is going to get old quick, but what can you do? It’s important! Pairings on this play: Ellis/McLeod, Hillen/Kobasew, Goose/Duchene. McLeod has the puck and is breaking into the Predators defensive zone with Kobasew (whose name I always thought had another “k” in it). Goose is backchecking here, and while he’s doing his best to get to the puck, he also needs to realize that both Ellis and Hillen have their guys accounted for. Duchene is going to be that slow, “surprise” player (think Ninja-Horny from the Dallas game) if Goose doesn’t cover him.

Now here’s where two things happen that shouldn’t happen. First, Lindback is about to give up a rebound, which leads to him losing control of the puck. For the record, I’m not concerned about McLeod getting a clear shot at the net. Ellis is playing the body, and if you play the man, the puck will come free. McLeod knows this, so he chucks the puck on net to the waiting Anders rather than lose it along the boards. Second, Goose begins abandoning his new BFF, Matt Duchene. Why are they now BFFs, you ask? Well, obviously Matt Duchene –> Vodka –> Grey Goose –> Paul “Goose” Gaustad.

Oh, that and Duchene is the only other Avs player around who needs coverage and Goose is just sorta chillin’, so he might as well.

What you didn’t see happen between the last picture and this one was Kobasew taking a whack at the rebound. Anders isn’t sure where the puck is, but he thinks Kobasew passed it to McLeod, so he dives over to cover the far side of the net.Unfortunately, the puck was between his legs and all he had to do was close them. Man-on-man role call! Hillen/Kobasew? Present. Ellis/McLeod? Present. Goose/BFFDuchene? …..’ello? Instead of sticking with the slow, trailing forward, Gaustad rushed to the front of the net, possibly because he also thought McLeod had been passed the puck (I can’t think of any other reason). Matt Duchene was abandoned and alone. Goose was supposed to stick with him, and he didn’t. Abandonment leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering (it’s not the exact Yoda quote, but it’s close enough). And boy did the Preds suffer.

As Anders dives to cover the side of the net he fears is in danger, he inadvertently pops the puck out to the angry and abandoned Duchene. Goose sees this, and (I’m just gonna assume) immediately regrets skating away from his BFF. Suffering is about to occur. Now, part of the blame for this goal goes to Goose. He didn’t cover his man, and in so doing, left him completely alone with a loose puck and an empty net. A good part of the blame for this goal goes to Lindback, however (sowwy, Anders!). The initial rebound from McLeod’s shot is not well-controlled, so Kobasew has a chance to swipe at it, which creates havoc and confusion about the location of the puck, and eventually allows for an abandonment-issues-riddled Duchene to chuck the puck in the net. But it’s okay Anders. Next time just eat the rebound like a gummy bear. Here, have another Skittle. You played great outside of this one oopsie!

Nashville Goal 5: Brandon Yip (3) on Jean-Sebastien Giguere, assisted by Nick Spaling (12).

The Goal

Ain’t nothin’ better than showing up your old team, right? Well, Yippy got the job done – and in a rather unusual way, as well. As you can probably tell by the body positions of McGinn, Duchene, and Barrie, the Avs had thought they were about to break out of their zone, but the Predators slowed their roll. Barrie had possession of the puck along the boards, but lost it to Yip. Nick Spaling (who has shown up quite a bit on here, considering this is only my third post) was hanging out all alone in the slot, so Yip, who is about to be under pressure from three different Avalanche, passes it over to him.

Hejduk now switches pressure from Yip (who is now puckless) to Spals (who is now puckful), and this forces Spaling to make an interesting – and fantastic – decision. Slightly unrelated, but worth mentioning out of interest, are the specific Avalanche players on the ice: defenseman Tyson Barrie, and….. four forwards (one of whom isn’t in the frame). Judging by the fact that this happened once throughout the entire game, I think it’s safe to say that this is not normal. Just a weird line change, I suppose.

Anyway, Spaling has meandered over to the faceoff dot with the puck, and Hejduk is carefully pressuring him. Spals now does something that I think is just flat out really cool. Instead of wrapping the puck around the boards, he flings it into the corner so that it will pop out directly behind the net, but not ON the boards so Yip has to fight for it. It works perfectly, too.

So far so good for both teams. Duchene has taken over Yip-Watch from Barrie, Hejduk is peeling off the boards and will likely head back towards Spaling to cover him (theoretically, at least, because he doesn’t end up doing so), and Barrie is covering the front of the net. Here’s where the first big mistake happens (you can’t see it yet, but you will in the next picture): Barrie decides to go…. “help” Duchene with Yip. Honest to God, I can’t figure out why. There is zero reason to do that. He knows Yip is going to circle the net (where else can he go?), and he knows Duchene is right on top of Yip. WHY WOULD YOU FOLLOW HIM?? Just go park your butt on the opposite post of the net and wait for him to come flying around! Maybe this is a playing an ex-teammate thing, where Barrie wants to show Yip how awesome he is? I have no idea. But it was a terrible decision.

First thing: Ninja-Horny is back! Man, his positioning is PERFECT. Davy Jones is right there, and he doesn’t even see him. Now, passing the puck to Horny would be a great idea, but you can tell from Yip’s angling that such a thing is not going to happen. Instead, he is going for the improbable and unlikely: the wrap-around. And here comes the second huge mistake of the play: Giguere doesn’t cover the far side of the net. Now I haven’t the slightest idea of what goalies do positionally on wraparounds (i.e., what leg goes where, what the stick does, etc.), but I do know they are supposed to have the 5-hole completely cut off and their body tight against the post. (PSA: If you are a goalie and want to educate me a little bit about this, please write a comment below. I would be interested to learn more.) Wraparounds generally do not work. They either produce rebounds out to the side of the net, or they are smothered by the goalie. Luckily for Brandon Yip, Giguere isn’t feeling too jiggy. Even luckier for Brandon Yip is the fact that Tyson Barrie decided to join what now looks like a conga line going behind the net. Barrie left the entire crease completely free of any Avalanche players, and thus no one was available to poke the puck off of Yip’s stick.

Poorly done, Gigure. Poorly done. Wraparounds are very basic stuff. That’s why people so rarely score on them. Barrie gets a huge no-no for the really stupid choice of going to go conga behind the net, but Giguere gets the biggest no-no of all for letting in a wraparound goal.

Now, before I go, here’s some homework. Check out Roman Josi’s goal from last night; can you figure out how he got his own perfect version of the Ninja-Horny goal from the Dallas game? It’s pretty excellent stuff. Craig Smith’s goal is relatively similar (and just as beautiful), but his goal was more to do with the Avalanche seeming to forget about him, rather than him sneaking into the play.

The playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings start on Wednesday (in theory, at least, as the official schedule isn’t up yet), so between now and then, I will post few articles with goals from the Predators’ regular season series against Detroit. Playoffs series are completely different animals from regular season series, but the Predators and the Wings both play very specific styles, and that will definitely stay the same. Keep an eye out!