In watching the two Carolina Hurricanes games against the Detroit Red Wings this week, I saw a little good and a little bad. But every so often, there was a moment of greatness. This was one such moment.
Everyone and their brother saw that give-and-go coming, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive that Jimmy Howard got across to make the save. Plus, it helped that Victor Rask shot directly into his glove. But I’m not here to talk about the actual shot, I’m here to take another look at how Rask got the shot in the first place.
The situation didn’t actually begin well for Carolina, as Lee Stempniak’s dump-in attempt actually rimmed all the way around the boards past his teammates, making for what should be an easy Detroit breakout.
As you can see above, all players are expecting a quick chip and are preparing to head the other way. Drew Miller is alongside the near wall to pick up the puck.
Already, we have our first turning point of the play. Jeff Skinner—acting as a defenseman in this case—decides to stand his ground on the blue line. It’s certainly a risk, but one he felt comfortable taking with support behind him and a 3-0 lead. Plus, Miller’s chip was not likely a breakout attempt, but rather a shot to ice the puck to kill penalty time.
Miller fails to realize both Skinner’s presence and the amount of time he has to get the puck out with a stronger dump or even a controlled breakout.
So instead of finding its way to the neutral zone, Miller’s chip play ends up being played back down low by Skinner. But it shouldn’t be an issue for the Wings, they’ve still got all four penalty killers in the zone and can contain the puck-carrier to the side.
But notice Stempniak still lingering around the front of the net, undetected by Detroit. Kinda seems like bad defense, no?
Victor Rask (the red blur on the left) receives Skinner’s chip/dump/pass with limited options. Two Detroit players are quickly converging on him and he’s running out of space.
But at the same time, both defenders are going the poke check route. Hm. That doesn’t seem like a great decision as they are the only remaining defenders besides Howard himself, but who am I to judge?
Cue the second turning point of the play. Rask deftly avoids both poke checks and finds himself with an unabated lane to the net. Had one Red Wing hung back closer to the goal or established some type of body position on Rask instead of reaching on a prayer, it would be a different story.
So now we have a very rare situation in hockey. There are at least three Detroit players between the blue and goal lines at the start of the play, and none of them are between the puck and the goal. Sure 2-on-0’s can happen, but hardly ever this close to the net. Needless to say, it’s less than ideal for the Wings.
Rask faces a choice here—does he pass to Stempniak or look him off and go for a shot from the hashmarks and hope for a soft rebound? Or does he just go for the glory himself and deke Howard out of the net?
He makes the right call, in my mind. But this is the third turning point in the play, and the first one that doesn’t go Carolina’s way. Stempniak knows it should be a give-and-go, but doesn’t bother to sell the shot at all. His stick blade still faces away from the net, so when Howard tracks the puck to his stick, he can easily tell that it’s going right back to Rask.
If Stempniak angles his body towards the goal and faces his stick blade as if he were to shoot, Howard likely hesitates, giving Rask the split-second he needs to fire the puck home.
Stempniak telegraphing the pass to Rask and his subsequent shot into the glove made it easier, but Howard deserves credit here. Getting your pads across the net is easy, but getting your glove all the way across and keeping it high enough to actually save a shot above the pad is a different animal altogether. A very flexible animal with fast reflexes, probably.
This play may not have worked in Carolina’s favor, but the power play working with such confidence is a good sign. Between Skinner standing his ground and Rask coolly weaving through three Red Wing sticks at once, the poise and ability of this unit has clearly come a long way. Also Jimmy Howard is ridiculous and is made of rubber bands.