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Systems Analyst: The TSA Line Comes Together

Breaking down one of many fantastic plays made by Carolina’s newfound scoring line last weekend.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

There were only two games to choose from for this week’s Systems Analyst, so it made sense to go to the game where the Carolina Hurricanes scored 5 goals.

Sound good? Cool.

Without a doubt, the story of this game was the work of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Jordan Staal. With 11 points between the three of them, this line broke out in a big way against the Washington Capitals.

It would have been easy to focus on Aho’s long awaited first goal, but it was Teravainen’s goal that was even more impressive for the line.

Actually, Aho did more impressive things on that goal than he did on his own. Let me explain.

The play begins above with Jaccob Slavin receiving a pass across the blue line from Brett Pesce. He looks up to see Justin Williams in good position, and recognizes that his only option is to dump to the corner.

However, Slavin’s dump attempt goes directly into the feet of Williams, and as Slavin attempts to recover, Nate Schmidt comes in for support. It’s important to note that Schmidt is a defenseman, because what happens next is why Teravainen’s goal is technically Schmidt’s fault.

Slavin is looking to outreach Schmidt here, which he would not be doing if Aho was not next to him as a supporting forward. Without Aho, this would be a very, very bad pinch from Slavin and would likely have cost the Hurricanes a goal.

Above, Schmidt pokes the puck past Slavin and thinks he is home free, but the supporting Aho is there to, well, support. Normally, going straight at the puck carrier like Aho does is a risky move—a player with time to look up can simply push the puck past you and walk around—but Aho does it so quickly after Schmidt gets possession that Schmidt never has time to pick his head up to recognize what to do next.

Aho is good at hockey and cuts Schmidt off from the puck, allowing Slavin to corral it behind him.

Now, this is why I said to remember that Schmidt is a defenseman. In the above frame, you see 3 Canes players and 3.5 Caps players. Jordan Staal and Evgeny Kuznetsov are battling in the corner off screen, Marcus Johansson (top of the screen) is covering Pesce in the neutral zone, Brooks Orpik (the half player on the left) is watching Teravainen, and Williams is on Slavin.

This means that Aho is now the responsibility of Schmidt, who is now a full stride away from his man and facing the wrong direction. Not to mention, defensemen rarely venture above the faceoff dots in their own zone, however, with Kuznetsov on Staal it makes a bit of sense as to why Schmidt followed Aho up high.

Nonetheless, Schmidt was anticipating an easy breakout, but because Aho was smart in his maneuver, Schmidt is caught way behind the play as it turns back towards his own net.

The puck ends up in the middle of the aforementioned Staal/Kuznetsov battle after Slavin chips it down low (which is what he meant to do the first time). However, because Kuznetsov is a forward covering a much larger forward, Staal is able to easily protect the puck by shielding it with his body. Had Schmidt been covering Staal, perhaps he could have been more physical and contained the play.

Staal, the wise old sage that he is, makes a cunning pass between both his and Kuznetsov’s legs to get the puck to a wide open Aho, who has now left Schmidt about two strides behind.

At this point in the above picture, it’s a two-on-one below the faceoff circles for the Hurricanes, and Orpik, the last Capital who can do anything about it (besides Philipp Grubauer), is standing still. Okay.

Orpik now realizes the predicament and attempts a late slide to block a passing lane, but Teravainen remains high in the slot to stay open. Had he drifted low, as many players would have, Orpik would have been able to block the passing lane and the play would be dead.

Also, it is crucial that Aho recognizes that Teravainen is high for a reason. If he waits too long to make the centering pass, he could drift into range of Orpik’s block attempt.

Although staying near the hash marks like this gives the goalie more time to react to the pass and subsequent shot, a natural scorer like Teravainen knows to get the shot off quick and high. A goalie coming across quickly will be low and won’t be able to cover much of the top portion of the net.

As Teravainen receives the pass, he is already in position to shoot in order to make up for time lost by staying higher in the slot. As you can see, Grubauer is very low in his stance and deep in his crease, which leaves copious amounts of net for Teravainen to shoot at.

Teravainen finishes the shot high on Grubauer, and Schmidt (remember him?) is late in getting back to cover.

In summary:

Step 1—Support your defense.

Step 2—Give the puck to the Finn.

Step 3—Give the puck to the other Finn.

Step 4—Profit. (Score)