Though the Carolina Hurricanes’ home point streak came to an end last night, a parallel individual streak continued for one young player. Sebastian Aho now has points in four straight games, including goals in two in a row. Last night’s effort was perhaps one of his strongest yet.
Aho came into the league with a known scoring touch, and this is a prime example of such. And despite the evident luck that aided him on this play, Aho repeatedly put himself in the best circumstances to take advantage of his good fortune.
(Above) We first see a regular zone entry with Teuvo Teravainen carrying the puck in the middle. It’s nothing special, just 3-on-3 across the line, and all players are onside.
The problem for Carolina is the lack of space given to them by the Devils. New Jersey’s defense has done well to block the Canes’ attackers from clean lanes to the net, and a well-placed/timed poke check could send them the other way on an odd man rush.
But Teravainen and Aho read each other well, with the former swinging through the zone to drive back the defense while dropping it to the latter (who now has room to work with).
At the top of the screen, Jordan Staal begins to separate from his defender as Aho moves towards the center of the zone.
New Jersey has remained bunched together in the frame above, allowing Teravainen and Staal more space to work with, and giving Aho more options.
The highest immediate scoring potential lies in a pass to Teravainen on the left side, as he has a clear lane to the net. The passing lane is surprisingly available too, with New Jersey’s Damon Severson holding his stick on the opposite side of his body from where Teravainen is skating.
But Aho being a left-handed shot makes this play improbable, if not impossible. He could try the pass on his backhand, but the degree of difficulty regarding accuracy spikes dramatically. And if he switches to forehand, he gives Severson more than enough time to get into the passing lane.
The second option mentioned above probably seems feasible to another young player, but Aho knows better and plays the percentages. He passes to Staal on the wing, who is already loaded to fire a shot on net.
Staal’s shot ricochets wide and ends up on the stick of Teravainen to the left of the net. But look at the numbers in the above picture—five Devils to four Hurricanes is not a great ratio for the home team, but every single player is watching Teravainen below the goal line.
And here’s why that’s bad. Notice Ron Hainsey above entering from the right of the frame, uncovered. Teravainen (behind the net) could make the obvious pass to Staal on the half-wing boards at the top of the picture, but instead throws a risky pass through the middle to an open Hainsey and catches everyone by surprise.
Even Hainsey gets surprised by the pass, but he manages to corral it on his backhand. And the puck-watching from New Jersey’s defense has given him some breathing room to quickly figure out his next move.
With his head up and eyes locked on goal, the turning Hainsey winds up a shot with no traffic immediately in front of him. Noting this as a rarity in the NHL is a massive understatement.
And while Hainsey looks to shoot, Aho has found himself behind the (again) puck-watching New Jersey defense. Players are around him, but no one is really covering Aho.
Hainsey’s shot goes through the bodies but misses wide, hitting the end-boards and beginning to bounce back above the goal line. Again, Aho is untouched in front and makes his way to meet the rebounding puck.
Also of note—Cory Schneider is out on top of his crease to cut down the angle on Hainsey’s shot, as he should be. But his positioning leaves him vulnerable to a play from in close to the net.
The lively boards in Carolina are a double-edged sword for obvious reasons, but here it is clear that Aho is getting used to his new home. He reads the bounce perfectly and beats the two Devils to the puck, and sweeps it towards the net.
The importance of Aho diving for and immediately shooting the puck cannot be overstated—if he stays on his feet and tries turn his hips before shooting, the opportunity likely passes him by.
Aho’s quick thinking and ability to shoot from anywhere result in the Canes getting on the board for the first time during the game, and give us this fantastic screenshot.
On the broadcast, Tripp Tracy mentioned that Aho is becoming a leader on the team already, and I agree. He is by no means a vocal general on the bench, but he certainly shows his teammates that he is prepared to contribute in all situations, even if he is the only one (it was not only his second straight game with a goal, but also his second straight as the Canes’ only scorer). His accountability and pure talent show just how lucky Carolina is to have the young Finn.