It hasn’t exactly been the best week for the Carolina Hurricanes, but there a few positives to take away. The return of Bryan Bickell has certainly been wonderful to see, and Jeff Skinner somehow elevating his game to yet another level has been nothing short of fantastic.
One that may have slipped under the radar a bit was Lee Stempniak potting his 200th NHL goal on Tuesday, with the help of the aforementioned Skinner.
Seems like an easy tap-in for Stempniak, but the speed of that play makes his ability to one-time the pass across rather impressive. Plus, the assists on the goal are worth a second look in themselves.
Jaccob Slavin kicks things off as he carries the puck through into the neutral zone. He doesn’t exactly have a ton of passing options, so it seems likely that he’ll just gain the red line and dump the puck in.
But wait, #JaccobSlavinIsGoodAtHockey and makes a great play, as he often does. Take a look above—you can see that a lane to Skinner is well covered by Matt Dumba, but there’s a vast open space near the boards that 53 could easily win a race to.
From this angle, it’s easy to tell that the Wild players are focused on Skinner—as well they should be, he had 15 goals in his last 15 games at this point—which allows Stempniak to hang around on the weak-side (away from where the puck is) wall.
As Skinner receives Slavin’s bounce pass, he immediately has his head up. He could continue forward with the puck, curl back, and wait for Derek Ryan to fill the middle lane, or he could go with the riskier option of a seam pass to Stempniak.
The Stempniak option is risky because Minnesota now knows he’s there...
...as you can see above, Marco Scandella (middle of the ice, #6 in red) instructs Mikko Koivu (left of Scandella, facing camera) to cover Stempniak on the wing. But from this vantage point, it’s easy to see the amount of space that Stempniak has created for himself by staying wide.
Koivu now has to match his north/south speed while also covering ground east/west. Had Stempniak tried to cut to the middle sooner, Koivu would have had a far easier time tying up his stick or blocking the pass.
Scandella, assuming Koivu would have Stempniak covered, jumped to aid Dumba in covering Skinner. With two guys on the puck and Scandella’s stick in great position to block the pass, the play should be dead here.
Nope. Skinner’s awareness allows him to beat Scandella by a fraction of a second, putting the pass just behind his skate. Here’s a GIF because still frames don’t do this pass justice:
It starts a split-second too late to tell how the pass beats Scandella, but needless to say, Skinner got it off just in time.
Not even a diving Koivu can block the pass, but Devan Dubnyk has had time to come across the crease given the distance that Skinner’s pass had to travel. Still, there’s enough room for Stempniak to wire his 200th and tie the game.