Last season, it took the New Jersey Devils over sixty minutes to score their first goal of the season. They were shutout in Pittsburgh. This season has an immediately better start if only because the Devils won in Philadelphia. It only took 12:05 into the first period for that first goal of the season to be scored. Officially, it came from a wrist shot by Michael Ryder with Ryane Clowe and Andy Greene credited with the assists. Unofficially, it came from a sick nasty wrist shot. The sort of shot that gets a player designated as a "sniper." The kind of shot that makes any supporter go "WHOO!" or "YEAH!" or "WHOOYEAH!" after witnessing it. Goals are appreciated on their own, but this first one of the season was so gorgeous that Tyler Breeze would think about it while taking yet another selfie.
Upon further review, there's a lot more to learn from the goal other than tweeting "That Ryder wrister was #mmmgorgeous." How did the play get set up? How did Ryder get that much space to shoot at? How did he know to shoot it where he did? To get answers and a fuller appreciation of Michael Ryder's first of the season and the team's first of the season, we must break it down.
The On-Ice Situation
The game was at even strength; a standard 5-on-5 situation. It was also scoreless. Here's who was on the ice at the time of the goal and the play itself based on the league's play-by-play log for the game.
On-Ice Flyers: #35 Steve Mason; #15 Michael Del Zotto; #22 Luke Schenn; #12 Michael Raffl; #18 R.J. Umberger; #40 Vincent Lecavalier
On-Ice Devils: #35 Cory Schneider; #6 Andy Greene; #28 Damon Severson; #14 Adam Henrique; #17 Michael Ryder; #29 Ryane Clowe
This video comes from NHL.com. All text and poorly drawn circles, lines, and other things in Microsoft Paint were done by me.
The play does not begin in Philly's end, but in New Jersey's end. Luke Schenn just took a long shot that missed wide. The puck rolled around the boards and that is where we will begin.
Michael Del Zotto decides to pinch in to keep the puck in New Jersey's end. Michael Ryder goes up to meet him. The two essentially cancel each other. Pinching, like most other actions in hockey, carries a risk. If it works, the attack is kept alive and options open up on offense. Possession would be maintained. If it doesn't work, then there's a lot of space behind you that can be exploited. That space is highlighted with that thin black oval behind Del Zotto, where you see no one nearby at this camera angle. Del Zotto skates pretty well and provided someone is back for support, this isn't a bad idea.
However, it didn't work. While Ryder and Del Zotto neither end up with the puck, it comes out towards the right circle. As you can see, Andy Greene is in perfect position to obtain the puck. Because he's smart, he's going to look up to see if anyone fills in that space.
Not initially, but Ryane Clowe is the first player to get in that area. This is actually important to get the puck out. Had a Flyer been present or someone else was providing pressure closer to Greene, then we would likely see some sort of clearing attempt. Because Clowe was there and he's open, Greene has an easy decision. A simple pass up-ice to Clowe.
Note the other skaters in this view. Michael Raffl, R.J. Umberger, and Del Zotto turn around and will begin to hustle back. While we can't see who's back for Philadelphia; it's general practice for those caught up high to get back to help on defense. Also note that Ryder is still turning here. He's going to end up being exiting the Devils' end after Raffl, Umberger, and Del Zotto. This will be important later.
In the neutral zone, Clowe is in control. Well, somewhat. In this shot, you can see his right elbow is up as well as blur representing his stick blade on his left. He's skating with the puck, but he's letting go ahead of him. That's why he's not going to pass it across to Adam Henrique here. It looks like that if he was able to do so, Henrique could try to split Vincent Lecavalier - who hustled back to provide support after Del Zotto's pinch - and Luke Schenn. I know Henrique isn't slow but I don't know if he's got enough speed to do that. It would be a tight window. But it couldn't have happened because, again, Clowe doesn't have the puck on his stick.
Meanwhile, Del Zotto and Raffl are in frame in terms of getting back. Del Zotto is sticking to his side of the ice in doing so, but he's got a lot of ground to cover. It's OK for now because Schenn shifted over. Lecavalier is on Henrique's left to fill in the middle. That's the direction Raffl is also facing. Support is on it's way for Philadelphia.
Clowe gets the puck back on his stick and carries it in to gain the zone. Now Henrique, who cut in before he'll head towards the middle, can move in. Note Schenn's stick here. If he didn't have it out, then Clowe could feed Henrique for a pass as he's going to the middle. Schenn may catch him and Lecavalier has his eye on #14, but it wouldn't be the worst thing to try. But because Schenn has his stick out, Clowe doesn't have a passing lane. He'll keep it.
On your left, you can see Del Zotto still catching up. He sees Schenn watching Clowe, so he'll keep going straight ahead. Raffl turns in the neutral zone. Here, I thought he's doing this to see if anyone is coming in from the "weak" side. All of the players in orange are facing the near side here. A Devil coming in on the far side is worth looking for. One sort of comes in.
As Clowe didn't have a passing lane to Henrique with the puck as he entered Philadelphia's zone, he goes up to hold up. This is a good idea because it'll allow him to look for options. If he doesn't have any, he can dump the puck into the corner. Just after Clowe held up, Schenn decides to go in for a check. If Clowe takes too long, Schenn can separate him from the puck - allowing a Flyer to win it if he doesn't get it himself. So he's committed to #29. It's a good decision. Not just because his reward is great, but note his positioning. He's angled such that Clowe would have to make a difficult pass to get it towards the net. While Henrique has a step on Lecavalier in this moment of time, Schenn fills in any potential passing lane to him - and will do so as he gets closer to Clowe.
Meanwhile, Lecavalier is marking Henrique. As both players are heading towards the net, with every foot closer, Henrique is a little less dangerous. Even if he somehow got the puck, he'll have to control the puck rather quickly to do anything good with it. Plus, Steve Mason would be ready for him. Lecavalier has decided to stick with Henrique. In this shot, that's not such a bad idea.
On the far-ish side, Raffl's reason to turn in the neutral zone was not for naught. Unfortunately, he's getting beaten inside by Andy Greene. Now, Greene isn't a player I would necessarily say is really fast, but he clearly motored after passing the puck out of the zone. That pass would become the secondary assist for the goal. His importance on the play will come in a bit. So if Greene is open with the middle of the ice not really accounted for because of Lecavalier sticking with Henrique, why didn't Clowe pass it across? Del Zotto. He's back in the zone and his eyes are right on Clowe. While he can't do anything to Clowe, his position here effectively prevents a pass across the ice to Greene.
So what option does Clowe have? Well, remember how Ryder was the one who met Del Zotto on the initial pinch?
Ryder now enters the zone. He's the trailer. I told you he'd be following Raffl, Umberger (who's also now in the zone but in the middle of the ice), and Del Zotto. Trailing skaters can be really difficult to defend. Given where all of the other Flyers are, they can't do anything about him. They can just hope Schenn hits Clowe before he could make the pass. Unfortunately for them, Schenn is just about to get into contact with Clowe when Clowe makes the pass. His patience paid off with an easy pass. Now, Ryder will have the puck with a lot of space in front of him. Space that's a creation of Lecavalier sticking with Henrique, Raffl sticking with Greene, Umberger entering from the middle, and Del Zotto only now turning after reaching the high slot because he was so focused on Clowe. If only someone said something earlier.
Speaking of Henrique and Greene, note where they are now. Greene is in the slot, cutting across it. Ryder's not going to be able to feed it up, but that's OK. Raffl is chasing Greene. Henrique and Lecavalier are battling in front of the crease for position. This is most uncomortable for Mason, who about to not be able to see what's going on. That's going to be costly in a few seconds.
Del Zotto may have turned as Clowe passed it to Ryder, but he's caught flat footed. He's not being hesitant, he's just a bit surprised. He's still shuffling his skates as Ryder skates towards that big pocket of space above the near-side dot. Schenn finishes his check on Clowe. Greene is gliding as Raffl is still catching up to him. Henrique and especially Lecavalier have blocked out Mason. Mason may know Ryder has the puck and maybe that he's moving up from the his left point. He's not going to know what comes next.
Let's switch to a different camera angle that's conveniently behind Ryder from one of the replays in the video. This is about where Ryder had the puck. Del Zotto is in trouble, indeed. I highlighted in red the gaping net that Ryder is about to see if he doesn't see it already. He's pushing up forward, so he's not able to fire it immediately. He'll want to get closer.
Fortunately for him, that gaping net was created by Mason being screened. He's got Lecavalier and Henrique right in front. Even if they moved, Raffl is cutting across the slot because he's still following Greene. Provided Raffl keeps moving, Ryder's about to have a shooting lane at an uncovered part of the net. How did it get uncovered in that way?
Another replay angle focused on Mason. To me, this was the smoking gun. The announcers correctly note that Lecavalier providing a screen was a big problem. He's 6'4", 215 pounds. Mason is not going to see around someone that large. Because he knows something is coming, he has to guess. He noticed Greene coming down to his left, and he's open. So he drops to his knees and shifts his body left. Therefore, that gaping net to his right is only going to grow - especially the top corner. That's a target for Ryder.
It's time for the shot. I'm confident Ryder sees the right side of the net opened. You can see Mason's head peeking in between Lecavalier and Henrique. He's not going to be able to stretch out to his right for anything coming that way in less than a second. And he's also looking just before the shot even comes. Raffl is no longer in the way, as he chased Greene down into the corner. I think he even sees Mason's right pad on the ice. That's a tell that he's down and he's not going to be able to reach far to his right. Ryder is at the top of the circle and he's ready to fire. Del Zotto makes one last lunge, but all that means for Ryder that he has to elevate the puck. Given that Mason's down, I'd like to think he was going to try to do that anyway. More importantly, it is what he does.
And "WHOO!" and "YEAH!" and "WHOOYEAH!" for a sick nasty wrist shot that opened up his and his team's account for the 2014-15 season.
Like past breakdowns, it wasn't until the decisions and risks all added up before it cost Philadelphia. Del Zotto pinching at the start was defensible. He was right to hustle back on defense before Ryder could gain the zone. Schenn was correct in his actions. It's hard to fault Lecavalier to deciding to stick with Henrique. I can understand Raffl chasing Greene to avoid leaving the defenseman open down low. I can't fault Mason for the goal against because he literally didn't see what was going on. He just guessed wrong. But put together, it created a bad situation.
The first real error was Del Zotto focusing too much on Clowe as he entered his end of the rink. When Del Zotto turned around, he saw Ryder about retrieve the puck. But because he was caught surprised, he couldn't get the traction necessary to get into that space Ryder entered. At the time of the shot, Del Zotto at least stretched his stick out. But it was too little, too late for the defenseman. Ryder knew he had the time and space to work with. This compounded the second error: Mason getting screened by his own teammates. Lecavalier sticking with Henrique by itself was a good thing. But he needed to either muscle Henrique away from the net or try to get in front of Henrique to give Mason a better option. By Ryder's shot, he was able to see around Lecavalier - at that point it was too late. Raffl coming across the slot provided another distraction too.
Overall, I think the root cause for the Flyers on this play was communication. Did anyone point out to Del Zotto that Ryder was coming in late? Did anyone yell to Umberger to come in closer or Raffl to disengage from Greene going to the corner? Did someone tell Lecavalier to move his big body? (Henrique could've still screened Mason but one man is easier than two, and Henrique is smaller.) I'm not sure. I think that could have made it a more difficult shot for Ryder.
What made the play successful for New Jersey was patience and awareness. Greene recovered the puck off the pinch-in, looked up, and saw Clowe in a position for a clean zone exit. Clowe could have tried forcing a pass to Henrique on the zone entry or shortly after the entry. Clowe could have tried to forcing a longer pass to Greene when Raffl was getting turned. Instead, he waited and found Ryder. Ryder was smart to trail behind the Raffl, Umberger, and Del Zotto. As those three headed into their end, Ryder was all alone on his entry - and rewarded Clowe's patience along the boards. Henrique and Greene headed towards the net; the former helped set up a screen and the latter took a Flyer with him. Ryder recognized both as he got the pass. He skated up, saw how much net he had (and possibly Mason being down and away), and saw a shooting lane to that net open up. All he had to do was fire it quickly to the target. Since Ryder has one of the better wrist shots in the league, he was able to fire the puck in with a beautiful motion.
The goal wasn't just a sick nasty wrist shot by Ryder, it was a fine example of taking advantage of what was in front of him.
What was your favorite part of the goal? Ryder's shot? Clowe's delay? The play away the puck? Who on the Flyers made the biggest error? How glad are you that I'm doing this from the first game of the season as opposed to the second game? (I'm real glad.) Would you call Ryder a sniper based on this goal? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this goal in the comments. Thank you for reading.