A year ago yesterday, I wrote a feature called Systems Analyst about a line featuring Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal and Sebastian Aho. They did good hockey things and scored some goals.
Three-hundred-sixty-six days later, they’re at it again.
The Carolina Hurricanes have been their usual up-and-down best lately, swapping wins and losses evenly over their past four games. But the TSA/Between Two Finns line has been a bright spot, notching 16 points as a trio in their past two games alone.
While the bounces going their way certainly help, this line has created chances not through luck, but by smart plays without the puck.
Looking back at the Dallas game, their forechecking tactics were on full display for Teravainen’s third tally of the night. Aho, not known for his size, takes on a much larger (albeit somewhat wiry) John Klingberg—and wins.
The next step is key. After Aho pokes the puck past Klingberg, Staal has to be the supporting player. If Staal hesitates or lingers higher up, Mattias Janmark has an easy breakout ahead of him. This kind of pressure suffocates the opposing defensemen, and while the perfect hypothetical outlet pass would trap Staal and Aho low, Teravainen is well positioned near the blue line to cover for them.
This is what’s known as a 2-1-2 forecheck. You have two players attacking the puck, one lingering below the blue line, and the defensemen just beyond that point.
It's an aggressive style that requires very active pressure (instead of a passive 1-2-2, which is more waiting for opponents to move first), and one that is well suited for this trio. Their active sticks and quick feet make for a highly effective two-man attack.
With Staal now engaged along the boards, Aho steps in for his turn as the supporting player and manages to find his teammate with a nifty pass as he strips Klingberg (again).
Aho does well to avoid a penalty here. It would have been easy to get carried away with an ambitious stick-lift or an ill-placed slash, but he found the perfect time to strike. Textbook forechecking from both Aho and Staal.
The difficult part for many teams and players is being able to aggressively forecheck while maintaining the wherewithal and skill to make the right offensive play once you have possession. No issue here as Staal feeds a waiting Teravainen for the hat trick.
There are two things I really like about this play. For one, the second Staal gets the puck he looks to make a pass. As strong as Staal is, he wouldn’t be able to fend off both Janmark and Tyler Seguin to go in alone, so a quick pass is absolutely the right call.
Another positive is how ready Teravainen is to shoot the puck. The young forward has taken serious strides in his production this season (15 points in 17 games, anyone?), and his adoption of more of a shoot-first mentality has a lot to do with that.
Look at Teravainen’s body positioning. Hips open to drive the power of his shot, center of gravity dropped low for balance and strength, lower hand dropped to the center of the stick—he’s not fooling anyone with a fake pass like this, but he doesn’t need to.
Past iterations of Teravainen’s game have seen him look for a pass first and use shooting as a last resort. But finding open lanes and planning to shoot ahead of time might just help him reach another level with the Hurricanes.
These three were at it again in Brooklyn, with Aho netting his second of the year. Again, Staal forechecks, this time with Teravainen following as support.
Staal makes this goal happen. There’s little likelihood for him to beat Barzal to this puck, let alone remove his dignity altogether with a ridiculous display of strength, but he does so anyway and keeps the chance alive.
The scariest part of this is how casual Staal looks while manhandling another adult human and kicking the puck to his stick without missing a beat—like it’s boring him.
A slick pass through Calvin de Haan’s legs finds Teravainen who, this time, wisely finds Aho on the back door.
Another example of how Teravainen has evolved this season. Yes he makes the pass, but it’s not his gut reaction—it’s a more calculated choice now.
Watch his move to work around Nick Leddy and create a lane for himself. Leddy does well to block the initial passing lane; the Teravainen of last year may have even tried to force the pass through the Isles’ blueliner. Instead, he acknowledges that the lane is sealed and creates a new one. It’s an astute decision by a player who continues to grow each game.
And don’t take Aho’s finish for granted—like Teravainen, he awaits the pass with good positioning (dropped knee, finishing high with the follow-through) to elevate the puck and get it off his stick in a hurry. Any hesitation would have given Thomas Greiss or Andrew Ladd chance to disrupt the goal.
Teravainen, Staal and Aho have an interesting mix of playing styles and skill sets that have clearly meshed well on the ice. Provided their collective work ethic remains as high as it has been, this line could put up seriously dominant numbers against opponents this season.