You have to be good to be lucky...or something like that. The Carolina Hurricanes’ win over the Buffalo Sabres last Saturday certainly had some luck involved, particularly on the opening goal from Joakim Nordstrom. But that’s not to say the Canes did not work hard for their chance; rather, they were able to make the most of the good fortune afforded to them with stellar effort and execution.
That’s a world-class wrist shot, but the plays and bounces leading up to it are worth a second look as well.
Above, we start with Brett Pesce looking to make a breakout pass out of his own zone. His only feasible option, however, is Nordstrom, who would be immediately and dangerously hit by the barely off-screen Dmitry Kulikov. So what can Pesce do?
Notice Jay McClement on the near-side wing. He is the responsibility of Zach Bogosian, who currently is not facing his mark. Pesce smartly looks to him as an option, but with Bogosian in the lane, the pass must be elevated. Like, really elevated.
Pesce makes a great decision (seems to do that a lot, doesn’t he...) and tosses a pass high in the air over the Buffalo players so that McClement can enter a one-on-one race with Bogosian. The puck lands just inside the Sabres’ blue line (as seen above), with both players in pursuit. Nordstrom and Kulikov are also in the area, but the remaining three Sabres are far behind.
Above, Bogosian winds up to attempt to whack the puck back into the neutral zone. Let’s see what happens.
Update: he missed it. As he and McClement inch closer to goaltender Anders Nilsson, Bogosian struggles to locate the puck to make another clearing attempt.
Also, on the far side, Kulikov leaves Nordstrom in order to become a potential passing option for Bogosian, while 42 has plans of his own and heads towards the center of the zone.
Bogosian finally corrals the puck, and again tries to slap it clear of the zone. McClement reads the play beautifully and continues to keep his stick in any passing lane for Bogosian, blocking the clearing attempt (somewhat).
Coincidentally, Kulikov’s decision to leave Nordstrom alone quickly becomes a poor one, but he does not seem to realize it.
The clearing try from Bogosian deflects straight to the tape of Nordstrom, who has been left completely alone by Kulikov, who still does not seem to feel like playing defense. Okay, I guess.
The original angle makes it hard to tell just how open Nordstrom is. The combination of his good decision to go to the front of the net and Kulikov’s bad decision to continue to leave him alone after his role as a passing option is no longer necessary have gifted him the time and space he has as the puck comes to him in the above frame.
The other important part of this play is Nilsson. Notice anything strange about his positioning here? He’s in butterfly position, but no shot has come to him yet. That’s because he is wisely prepared for a quick shot from McClement, who never gets a shot on the play. But being down early and very deep in his net leaves him highly vulnerable to a shot from another angle.
Oh look, a shot from another angle! Credit Nordstrom for getting the shot off immediately, as Kulikov’s very, very late stick-check attempt is fruitless and Nilsson is caught deep and off-angle on the shot. Had he waited another half-second to fire the puck, Nilsson could have corrected his angle and taken away the room on the short side of the goal.
A rare occurrence of positive puck luck certainly helped the Canes on this play, but the decision-making and forechecking were phenomenal. Pesce’s breakout pass through the air was perfectly executed, and McClement’s hounding of Bogosian, who was already struggling to even find the puck, created the chance for Nordstrom, who made no mistake.