In watching the Carolina Hurricanes games this week, it was easy to determine that the team was not quite the same one it was in October. Most noticeably, the play of Jeff Skinner and his linemates, Victor Rask and Lee Stempniak, had faltered enough to the point where the line was separated.
But last night against Anaheim, the trio were reunited and they showed Canes fans more of the magic that propelled Skinner and Rask towards the top of the league scoring race last month.
The play happens pretty quickly, so make sure you get a good look from all the angles. It takes until about the third replay to actually see what happens.
So how does this play seemingly materialize out of thin air, you might ask? Good news: I brought screenshots.
We start above with Stempniak battling with two Anaheim defenders—Kevin Bieksa and Antoine Vermette. He and Bieksa battle for possession while Vermette comes in too for support.
Looking at that picture, the Ducks seem to have the advantage. They have five players in the area to Carolina’s three. No problem, right?
Right, no problem—as long as they get the puck.
But Vermette left Skinner alone in order to help Bieksa, which requires him to not lose possession, otherwise he’s leaving his team out to dry. Guess who gets the puck. Here’s a hint: it’s not Vermette.
Skinner strips the two Anaheim defenders, and Chris Wagner, who was watching Rask in the first frame, has now retreated to cover the Canes’ defenseman at the blue line.
So now, we have two Ducks tied up with Stempniak, one Duck removing himself from the play (Wagner), Nick Ritchie on the right side covering a ghost, and Cam Fowler trying to cover both Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask because Vermette was out of position.
Above, Fowler looks utterly lost, and Skinner’s eyes are already locked on to the now wide open Victor Rask. Vermette and Bieksa are helpless against what is about to happen, and Ritchie is still covering thin air.
Because Skinner was able to strip the puck, the Ducks’ entire defensive zone responsibility distribution is history. They are mentally scrambling to figure out where they should be, and Fowler is the man literally stuck in the middle of all of it.
Skinner wisely waits an extra second behind the net to get Bernier to bite towards his glove-side, where Skinner should be coming around the net, and his pass has caught Fowler in no-man’s-land as he continues to try to cover two players at the same time.
Both Bernier and Fowler are looking in the wrong direction when Rask gets the puck, which is, uh, not ideal. But the above picture doesn’t do it justice. Hang on.
There we go. Masterpiece. There’s a yawning net for Victor Rask, and the only Ducks in the same zip code don’t even know he has the puck.
All that’s left is to finish the play, which Rask does beautifully. The above frame is an example of what is affectionately known as “absolutely phenomenal shot placement.”
Bonus: check out Skinner’s weird shimmy to avoid getting hit by Rask’s shot, as if 49 was going to miss an open net like this one.
Skinner clearly knew the play he wanted to make before he ever got the puck, and his chemistry with Rask coupled with the poor defensive decision-making of the Ducks allowed for gorgeous tic-tac-toe play.
The Hurricanes’ comeback effort was too little, too late last night, but plays like this one continue to showcase the offensive brilliance of Skinner and Rask.