The Carolina Hurricanes may have lost four out of their last five games, but their one win in that span produced a trademark effort from Jeff Skinner.
#53 in red has been dazzling Canes fans since he first entered the league (when he was named rookie of the year as well, I might add) and if there is such a thing as “vintage” Skinner, his goal against the Florida Panthers certainly falls in that category.
Take a look below.
That’s like a beautiful scoring oasis in the middle of the desert that has been this past week of Hurricanes hockey. So let’s dissect it and make it last just a bit longer.
The play begins above in Carolina’s zone after a Jakub Kindl shot rebounds back to the top of the circles to be fought for by Vincent Trocheck and Victor Rask, with Kindl remaining close by as support.
Notice Skinner off to the side; his mark is Aaron Ekblad, who is off-screen to the right. Skinner’s elite awareness gives him a jump on this play. His feet are already moving up ice as Rask begins to strip the puck away.
As Rask looks to gain full control of the puck, Skinner begins to cut hard towards the center of the ice. Kindl, much to his chagrin, turns away from Skinner and does not see the speedy forward wheeling past him.
Above, Rask corrals the puck and finds Skinner briefly open in the neutral zone. His pass slides just past the outstretched Kindl and right onto Skinner’s tape.
Notice that, in the previous frame(s), Skinner is facing the camera. But here, he is directed towards the benches. By turning himself around like this, he is able to constantly be facing the play and remain a passing option the whole time.
This underappreciated aspect of Skinner’s game is key to this play—if he tries to go up the ice with his back to Rask, it makes the pass from 49 much more difficult to complete and likely stops the scoring chance in its tracks.
Ekblad, who Skinner was covering before, did not read the play as early as Skinner did and ends up a step behind.
This may be the most important part of the play. Some players use size to protect the puck, but Skinner uses his own most effective tool instead—his skating ability. As Tripp Tracy pointed out on the broadcast, Skinner’s edgework is quite impressive when he makes his move on James Reimer, but his wide stance is what gives him the chance to make that move.
Here’s a different angle:
A wide stance like this is good for several reasons. For one thing, it helps a player keep their balance. But particular to this scenario, it creates a barrier for a defender to have to go around to get to the puck.
If Skinner fails to protect this puck with his stance and body position, the much bigger Ekblad likely reaches around to knock the puck away with ease.
Reimer, likely thinking that Ekblad has thrown Skinner off enough to prevent any kind of stickhandling, goes down early. Here’s a tip: when a natural scorer is coming down a step ahead of his defender, don’t make the first move.
Skinner is able to catch Reimer unaware by quickly pulling the puck to his backhand. Just take a second and look at how much net is available to shoot at. That’s at least 60% right?
However, Reimer almost recovers well on the play, getting his glove and pad out on a good angle to keep the lower part of the net covered.
But Skinner knows all his good work means very little without a goal, and he finishes with style. Going top shelf from literally inside the crease is no easy task, but Skinner had no choice given Reimer’s admirable attempt to make the save.
Yeah, the offense has dried up a bit this week, with Skinner included. And that’s pretty disheartening given the week the Canes had prior to Thanksgiving. So plays like this are a nice reminder of what the team is capable of, and that panic time doesn’t have to be long-lived. Here’s hoping the Hurricanes can provide a few more bright spots, and maybe even a win or two this weekend.