Going into the 2010-11 season, one of the big questions among the New Jersey Devils was how they were going to handle having two elite left wingers. In the summer, despite the league's petulant efforts, the Devils signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a big deal. Given that they also had a dynamic offensive machine, Zach Parise; this was a valid question. When the Devils acquired Kovalchuk in a trade in 2010, Jacques Lemaire kept the two on separate lines. John MacLean experimented with using a line of Parise, Travis Zajac, and Kovalchuk on the right wing in preseason. It went well enough for him to use those three as their top line. As we know now, the experiment didn't go as well as hoped and Parise suffered a major injury in the end of October. The question of how the Devils will utilize Parise and Kovalchuk is still valid going into 2011-12.
However, the line did produce in the 2010-11 season opener against the Dallas Stars. Zajac scored 2:45 into the team's first game to put the Devils up 1-0, make the many fans at the Rock feel ecstatic, and was an early return on this experiment. What was more memorable was Zach Parise's first goal of the season, scored less than 5 minutes after Zajac's. Parise and Kovalchuk rushed up ice in a 2-on-1 and Parise finished the rush with a great shot to increase the team's lead and keep the good feelings going at the Rock.
Of course, we know it would not last. Kovalchuk hit the post later that period, the Stars clawed their way back into the game, and in what would turn out to be a MacLean coaching trademark, the Devils lost the lead in the second period and nearly the game. However, I write this not to lessen the impact of Parise's goal. It wasn't lost on user ALECDK, who requested a break down of this goal. As it turned out, like many of the goals that have been broken down in recent posts, there's more to it than just the shot on net. So please set your viewing to wide and continue after the jump for analysis of the play that led to Parise's first goal of the 2010-11 season.The Video
For those who want to remind themselves of the goal or just to see it happen in motion, here's a video of the play and the goal itself from NHL.com.
This video has two replays following the real-speed goal by Parise. In it, Chico Resch makes a good point on how the whole play worked. He highlighted how the hustling Kovalchuk hindered Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley from setting his position on the play. As a result, Kovalchuk was able to make a good pass to Parise and Daley was stuck going backwards unable to do much of anything to Parise. Normally, you'd want the defender to take on the attacker without the puck in a 2-on-1, so the goaltender only has to worry about the puck carrier. However, as this break down will show, Daley put himself in this spot and what Chico highlighted plays a big role in what transpired. This break down will also show the other big roles.
Note: The following stills are from the video. The poorly drawn arrows, circles, text and other stuff in MS Paint are my additions.
While the video started with the puck going towards Kovalchuk, the play really starts here. This was shown in the first replay, coming from a camera apparently over center ice. Believe it or not, it all started with Parise. His body keeps him and the puck away from James Neal. He looked back and saw two options: Mark Fraser and Travis Zajac. In this still, I thought he wanted to hit Zajac with this pass. I could be wrong since Fraser's reaching out for it and perhaps that was Parise's intention.
Unfortunately, the pass doesn't get to Zajac and Fraser can only get a piece of it. Therefore, the puck is deflected towards left side of the right dot. This loose puck creates a little problem. Zajac now has to hurry over to where the puck's going to be, unless he wants to risk a Star to get to it first in a prime shooting location. That risk is real since at the bottom of this picture, you can barely see Jamie Benn moving up-ice. It's a race for a loose puck. Meanwhile, Parise is finishing his turn and he's going to start moving ahead; though not necessarily for the puck.
Zajac stretched his stick out first and was able to get enough of the puck at swiping it just as Benn got there. Therefore, instead of Benn just firing or collecting the puck, he arrives just as it's going to the left boards.
Interestingly, if Benn did get there first, then it's not a dangerous situation for New Jersey. Parise is moving ahead but he's in the way of a straight pass to Neal. Loui Eriksson is away from the net and isn't open anyway given where Fraser is set up. Anton Volchenkov is in a good position in the slot, ready to clean up a rebound or to go after Benn if he cuts to the middle. And Brodeur has a view of the whole play, with only a moving Parise as the only potential distraction. I don't believe Benn winning this battle would have spelled doom for the Devils; though we wouldn't be talking about this goal if he did. Fortunately, he didn't.
After Zajac's swipe, it appears in this still that Kovalchuk is going to get this puck and start charging ahead. However, he actually will overskate this puck. I don't know whether he misjudged the path of this puck, he was just too fast for it, or both. Either way, he's not going to get to this puck and at this moment, it looks like an opportunity lost. This alone doesn't make Zajac's maneuver a poor one, since the puck is away from all three Stars forwards. At worst, a Star defenseman will get this puck.
Well, a Star defenseman would get this puck if he didn't stumble. Mark Fistric (apologies for misspelling his name in this and subsequent pictures) is at the blueline and he's away from the puck's path. He starts to get over to his left quickly to keep the puck in New Jersey's zone. However, it doesn't go so well. Just look at his skates. They're in such an awkward position that I don't know how he's going to go to his left without falling. Just like how Marc Staal's awkward position allowed Kovalchuk to score a breakaway goal in February; it's never good when a defender on the blueline tries to do too much when caught in a bad position. This is another example.
Meanwhile, look at Kovalchuk's positioning. He's not going to chase the puck directly. He knows he missed it, but that just means it's going to bounce off the wall. Kovalchuk sees Fistric's position and possibly his immediate awkwardness, so he just turns and will just go forward in the hopes of cutting off the puck's angle. Behind him, Parise is just driving through the center of the zone, sensing an offensive counter-attack.
Fistric's down and he's not going to get to this puck. Since he's on his left and his stick in his right hand, he can't even swing at the puck just to get it elsewhere. It's going to glide by him at the blueline and there's nothing he can do about it. Even if he tries to get up, the puck is going to go past him. Even worse: Kovalchuk knows this. His decision to cut off the angle of the puck is going to turn out to be great.
See? Fistric is getting up, but it's too late. Kovalchuk's not going to miss the puck. Let's switch back to the TV camera perspective to get a wider view of what's going on.
Kovalchuk's got the puck, Fistric is out of the play, and Parise's just about to get to the center-line. It's a legitimate two-on-one. Trevor Daley's the one, and he's making a bad decision here. He was on the right point, out of camera view. Since Fistric fell, Daley decided to drop back for what could happen, which was good. That his focus is fixated on Kovalchuk is bad for him, since Parise is charging up behind him. Daley must have saw Parise coming up in his own end; but he's deciding to try and close out the center of the ice.
Kovalchuk enters the zone and Daley's totally watching him while heading in the same direction. In this picture, Daley is going to decide to turn around if only so he can defend with a better view of what's coming up. This is not good for Daley, and ultimately, the Stars. Since Kovalchuk knows that Daley's watching him, he slows up a little and positions himself away from the net. Instead of just streaking forward with the puck to challenge Kari Lehtonen; he knows he can wait to make a pass. All he needs is Parise in the zone, which is imminent at this point; and Daley to do what he's about to do.
Here, Daley is in the middle of turning around so he can skate backwards. The two black lines indicate the passing lane this creates. Daley can't really use his stick to pokecheck or swing at the puck while he's turning. He can't get in the way of this pass. With Parise moving as fast as he is over the blueline, Kovalchuk just has to lead him a little bit.
As Chico said during the video replay, Kovalchuk makes sure Daley doesn't get set on the 2-on-1. That's what allows this pass to happen. Chico was right on target in that this was a crucial part of the play. This will be apparent in the next few pictures.
Just as Daley completes his turn, the puck goes by him and Parise is going to have no trouble getting this pass. I want to highlight that all three skaters here are going towards the net. Parise has the most obvious reason, he's an attacking player who's going to have the puck. Kovalchuk is going towards the net to support Parise on this rush, be it for any rebounds, a pass-back from Parise, or just to keep Dallas honest.
What about Daley? He's heading in that direction as well. Remember that he's been skating hard in this direction from New Jersey's blueline on this play. Even though he's turned around here, momentum is going to keep him in that direction. This isn't a totally bad thing for him, as he'll need to keep going back to prevent the puck from going back to Kovalchuk. Though, that's not going to happen.
This is the view from the first replay in the video, just as Parise got the pass from Kovalchuk. Daley's turned and given his wide stance, he's pretty much in no man's land. Everything to the left of red line indicates how much room Parise has to work with. Daley cannot do anything to Parise provided Parise keeps to the left of the slot. He can prevent a pass to Kovalchuk, but why would Parise want to do that?
Now, let's talk about the goaltender, Kari Lehtonen. In this picture, he's now looking at Parise but the rest of his body has been facing Kovalchuk. This is because he's been watching Kovalchuk the whole way until the pass was completed. That's not a knock of Lehtonen. Since he's the goaltender, he's supposed to stay focused on the puck-carrier - especially since it's Ilya Kovalchuk. That's normal in defending a two-on-one; Daley should have picked up the open attacker. But he committed to the middle way back in the neutral zone. Anyway, Lehtonen's still on the right side of the crease with Parise getting a quick view of the wide open net. Lehtonen knows he has to act fast and throw his body to the right to prevent Parise from getting an easy goal. After all, from this picture, it looks like Parise's going to shoot. Given how much daylight he has, he could certainly do that. Here's the TV camera video from the goal video in motion.
It looks like Parise's going to shoot. His stick looks to be in motion, his foot is up, and he just looks like he's about to unload a shot to catch Lehtonen by surprise. Daley dives (or falls?) to prevent a passing option that Parise doesn't look like he's going to use (and he won't as we know now).
There's just one problem for Dallas: Parise fakes this shot.
Yep, he just keeps the puck on his stick and moves into the left circle. Daley's down in the slot and is still sliding towards the net. More importantly, as seen in both pictures, is that Lehtonen bites on this fake - hard. In the top view, you see him stretch out to his right in a desperate attempt to cover the left side of the net to stop a shot that doesn't actually come. As a result, he ends up low, as seen in the TV camera view. More importantly, Lehtonen is continuing to slide to his right due to the force he put into earlier. Lehtonen had to take this fake or risk a long-shot from Parise beating him. Unfortunately for him, Parise is in full control to beat him shortly.
Just as he gets in line with the hashmarks, Parise is about to fire a wrist shot looking for the far post (see the black arrow). Lehtonen is down in a full butterfly position as he slides. It's all he can really do. By putting his pads out like this, he has a chance to stop any low shots. with his glove hand out, he could snag any medium-height shots that aren't out of his range. Lehtonen even manages to keep his stick on the ice to provide some protection for his five-hole. However, his biggest problem is physics. He's still gliding to his right. While it looks like Lehtonen is in good position as Parise is about to fire this shot, once the shot goes, he's going to be slightly off from where he currently is. Parise knows that and will exploit that.
Helping him out here is Daley. Remember how I pointed out how he fell and had all this momentum that would carry him towards the net? It comes to fruition here. He's just about to hit Lehtonen here. While this can be seen as a benefit in that he adds to the prevention of a low shot getting, through it's really a detriment since he'll affect Lehtonen's motion and his stance. Sure, because of Daley, Parise can't easily make a pass right onto Kovalchuk's stick for an easy tap-in. He doesn't have to, however.
All Parise had to do was go over Daley and Lehtonen's right pad to put it into the net. Daley crashed into Lehtonen, pushing him out further to his right, and with the height of the shot, there was no way this wasn't going in the net. Parise, Kovalchuk, Benn, and everyone on that side of the rink knew it too.
The Summary & Conclusion
I almost want to call this a prototypical Devils goal. It all starts with a play in the defensive zone, it becomes a quick counter-attack, and the player who started it all finished it off at the other end of the rink. Parise skated like a mad man to get up there, and his decision to fake the shot before taking it was excellent. Lehtonen had to bite on it and made it easier for Parise to place the shot he did take. Kovalchuk made a good read after something didn't go right in his own end, and his decision on when to pass it to Parise was just about perfect.
Like most goals,though, the Devils did benefit with a break or two going in their way. Fraser's re-direction of Parise's pass didn't turn out to be an error, thanks to Zajac beating Benn to the puck and putting the puck away from many players. Kovalchuk overskated the loose puck, but got a huge break in Fistric falling down, which allowed him to go to where the puck would be instead of chasing it down. Most of all, Daley's decision to go to the center of the ice, fixate on Kovalchuk initially, and then turning around in his own end made Kovalchuk's pass to Parise possible and allowed Parise to have no challengers other than the goaltender. Again: factors beyond the Devils' control made the two-on-one and the goal itself possible. If there's an overriding lesson from all of these breakdowns, then that's it: a goal is not often the sole result of a player or player(s) doing work on their own.
Now that you've seen Zach Parise's first goal of the 2010-11 season, I want to know your opinion on the breakdown of this play. Were you surprised to see Parise go end-to-end for this goal? What in the breakdown stuck out to you the most? What do you think would have happened if Daley picked up Parise from the neutral zone on; or if Fisrtic didn't fall down? Please leave your answers in the comments along with any other thoughts about this particular goal. Thank you to ALECDK for this goal breakdown suggestion, this will be the last one I do for some time; so please don't suggest anymore for the time being. Thank you for reading and please stay safe if you're in the path of Hurricane Irene.