Elias Lindholm may not have begun the season the way he wanted to (12 points [3g, 9a] through 29 games is fairly paltry for a former 5th-overall pick and natural scorer), but this week saw him break a month-plus long scoring drought with a gorgeous finish in Pittsburgh.
But, as is the case with most of the weekly Systems Analyst features, there is more to this play than meets the eye. His teammates’ quick decision making allowed Lindholm the time and space to score one of the easier goals of his young career.
Above, Ryan Murphy, after receiving a pass from Joakim Nordstrom in the corner, begins the scoring chance with a shot of his own. He actually received the pass along the boards, but deftly cut backwards for a few strides to open his angle a bit.
We’ve seen this create havoc for shot blocking forwards around the League for a while now, but it remains effective to this day. This frame doesn’t do it justice, though.
See how Murphy’s stickblade has a clear line of “sight” to the net, even though Murphy himself does not? This is the benefit of “walking” the blue line. By continually moving, you can be simultaneously changing the angle of your shot, thus making the defender, in this case Conor Sheary, have to work twice as hard to stay in the lane.
Also, note how Sheary’s stick rests on the right side of his body, but the puck is on his left. Probably not a great way to block shots.
As Murphy shoots, Sheary fails to block the lane and the puck is on its way towards net just past Sheary’s left ankle.
But while the puck made it past Sheary, it did not survive past the clump of Jordan Staal, Trevor Daley, and Justin Schultz, who were doing battle in front of the net. It bounces of off one or more of them, then Lindholm, before heading towards the hashmarks.
Luckily for Carolina, Noah Hanifin is a step or two ahead of Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust in getting to the loose puck. He has a clear lane for a shot, but how is he so open? Let’s back up a bit.
Ron Hainsey is the guy to thank for that. As Tripp Tracy so generously telestrates at the top of the above frame, Hainsey went off for a quick change just as Nordstrom gained possession to pass to Murphy. This created some confusion for Rust, as his man was now gone, and he began to look for another mark.
Unfortunately for Rust, Hanifin is fast and good at hockey as he cruises from the far bench straight to the loose puck ahead of Rust.
So, back to the present. Hanifin is totally going to shoot this, right? I mean he’s got a clear lane and could probably cut a bit closer to the net if he wanted and...
...or he could pass it.
Hanifin had such a clear lane to the net, pretty much every Penguin in the frame though he was going to shoot. Schultz and Daley are still tied up with Staal, which leaves Lindholm wide open as a perfect passing option.
Why is Lindholm such a great option, you may ask? Like any good scorer, he knows that going to the net usually yields goals. But here, with the slot clogged, Lindholm stays a bit higher to avoid being inadvertently covered by one of the two distracted Penguins. If he is down lower with Staal, Hanifin loses his passing option and is forced to fire a predictable shot.
And let’s not gloss over how impressive Hanifin’s thinking is here. Very few defensemen would have the cognitive wherewithal to know this passing play is available, let alone make it happen.
The next key is Lindholm’s decision making. Right now (above), he has goaltender Matt Murray at his mercy with both prospective shot blockers unable to get to the play and half the net wide open.
If Lindholm can’t get this shot off immediately, a quick goalie like Murray can traverse the crease in the blink of an eye to make a play on the puck.
But it’s okay though, because Lindholm is still a lethal scorer at heart. He fires the puck instantly, even though his footing isn’t perfect. Murray nearly makes it across, and Daley breaks free just a split-second too late to block the shot, but with Lindholm’s quick release and ability to elevate the puck it was a surefire goal.
To sum it up, just give the puck to Hanifin in stride and get a scorer like Lindholm open. Good things will happen.