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Systems Analyst: Jaccob Slavin’s Milestone Night

The second-year blueliner earned his first career hat trick in a wild win over the Islanders. Here’s a deeper look at how he did it.

Jamie Kellner

Monday night saw quite the spectacle from the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Islanders, with the teams combining for 12 goals in an 8-4 Carolina win. But even through the offensive outburst and generally sub-par goaltending, Jaccob Slavin’s first NHL hat trick stood tall as the story of the night, and rightfully so.

What’s fascinating about these goals is that they came on three different types of plays/shots—a traditional shot from the point, a breakaway, and a goal off of a rush. You won’t find a better example of just how involved in every play Slavin is when he’s on the ice.

We’ll start by getting into the first goal. Brett Pesce gets it started with what looks like a slap shot, but his job is made harder by the traffic in front of him.

Pesce wisely goes with the alternative option of a slap-pass to Victor Rask, but the puck (just inside the near circle by the hashmarks) takes a deflection towards the boards.

Here’s where the play is truly made: Elias Lindholm and Joshua Ho-Sang are racing for the puck. The latter seems to have the edge, and could end the play with a simple chip out of the zone. Slavin himself anticipates this, and positions himself to begin backpedaling.

But Lindholm outworks the young Ho-Sang and manages to strip the puck without ever touching it. He simply gets in Ho-Sang’s way and shields the puck as it bounces towards Slavin, who is already primed to shoot.

Lindholm’s key decision just to shield the puck instead of taking possession keeps the Islanders guessing and allows for Slavin to have such an open lane. Most of the blue jerseys likely anticipated Lindholm picking up the puck and going around Slavin to the far side, and were unprepared for a quick shot from 74.

How open was the lane, you ask? How about no traffic except a defenseman screening his own goalie at the top of the crease. It’s hard to find ideal shooting conditions as a defenseman, but Slavin came pretty close with this one.

Moving on to the second goal, the Hurricanes find themselves on the penalty kill with Sebastian Aho and Calvin de Haan doing battle on the near-side boards. Brock Nelson and Slavin offer support for their teammates on the fringes.

As the puck kicks out to Nelson, Slavin applies some pressure and deftly pokes the puck off of his stick and into the neutral zone. Now the race is on.

Nelson has the early jump, but Slavin’s highly underrated skating ability allows him to quickly close the gap on Nelson.

Yep, he’s fast.

Once again, the theme of puck-protection and using the body as a shield comes into play. Slavin leans into what was probably a very tired Nelson and wins the puck battle at the blue line.

If you’ve seen Slavin in a shootout or on a breakaway, you know he’s got some sneaky good hands in close. It’s not exactly rare to have a defenseman who can deke around like Slavin can, but it is uncommon to be able to do it as consistently as he does.

This is what makes the play for Slavin—he protects the puck from Travis Hamonic by going to his backhand, and simultaneously fools Thomas Greiss. Greiss probably isn’t expecting much of anything fancy from Slavin, so he goes down a bit early. He’s in fine position, but isn’t prepared for what’s next.

In the prior frame, Greiss’ stick was protecting his five-hole perfectly. But when he moved across to follow Slavin’s deke, he opened it up wider and allowed for Slavin’s stick to follow the puck between his legs and prevent him from sealing the puck underneath him.

The end result is the puck trickling through Greiss and across the goal line. And I’m no expert, but I think “on your stomach facing the corner” is not where you want to be as a goalie after a breakaway.

Slavin’s third goal may have been the most fluky in terms of how it went in, but the way Slavin sets himself up is brilliant. We see Teuvo Teravainen with the puck in the above frame, and most of the players on his side of the ice.

But Slavin knows that he has a lane on the weak side, and begins to take advantage of the spotty coverage by the Islanders.

Teravainen makes the simple pass across to Slavin and “oh we should probably cover that guy,” say the Islanders. He’s got the entire neutral zone to skate, and could probably go for Hamonic one-on-one if he wanted to.

But Slavin, the good teammate and smart player he is, takes a look before he crosses the blue line for any potential passing options. In this frame, he could feed Aho for a potential breakaway, but with the backchecking Islanders in full force, he elects to keep the puck.

Looks like he made the right call. De Haan and the rest of the blue jerseys have caught up with Aho, and Slavin can now make the easy choice to just rip a shot.

Fortunately, his shot takes a bounce off of Hamonic’s shaft but stays on target, making the puck far more difficult for Greiss to track. The speed has changed, the angle has changed, and the little black disc has turned into a wobbly, jumpy orb.

And somehow, it finds its way into that tiny slot between Greiss’ pads, but under his stick, and into the back of the net. Obviously there’s plenty of luck involved here, but Slavin’s decision at the beginning to join the rush in the first place was crucial even getting the chance in the first place.

You really can’t say enough about how well Slavin has developed this season. He’s evolved into Carolina’s premier “any situation” shutdown player, and can be counted on to deliver night in and night out. And while he may never be a high-scoring defenseman like an Erik Karlsson or Brent Burns, these goals are proof his ability to chip in offensively as well.