For the past few seasons, I have broken down the first goal of the regular season scored by the New Jersey Devils. Tradition tells us exactly who we are, so who am I to go away from it? Besides, it’s a way to highlight that first lamp-lighter and see how it happened. Last season, the first of the season was technically an own-goal in a 1-3 loss to Winnipeg. This season, at least it was last touched by the Devils and it was in a 1-2 OT loss to the Florida Panthers. That’s a little better to look at. (And, no, I’m not counting a fluke bounce off Ben Lovejoy to be the team’s first of the season.)
Just as importantly, the goal resulted in the first points for two new members of the New Jersey Devils organization. Yohann Auvitu, who made his NHL debut, created the shot. When it happened, I thought he scored the goal himself - but it was deflected into the net so he was credited with an assist instead. It’s still his first point and it led to the game being tied 1-1. Last season’s top defensemen in the Finnnish Liiga certainly won’t forget that he made his mark in the best league in the world right away. The man who deflected it is also new to the team: P.A. Parenteau. In this past summer, he was signed by the Islanders to provide scoring depth. After preseason, he was placed on waivers and the Devils claimed him. In his first appearance, he too can say he made an immediate contribution to the team by getting a piece of Auvitu’s shot.
For both players, it was a momentous occasion. That’s all the more reason to break it down and see how it happened.
The Game Situation
From NHL.com, the was the situation at the time of the goal.
- The on-ice situation: Even strength, 5-on-5 play
- The time: Within the final minute of the first period; the goal was officially marked at 19:31 (29 seconds left to play).
- The Devils on ice: #11 P.A. Parenteau (F), #16 Jacob Josefson (F), #22 Kyle Quincey (D), #33 Yohann Auvitu (D), #35 Cory Schneider (G), #37 Pavel Zacha (F)
- The Panthers on ice: #1 Robero Luongo (G), #18 Reilly Smith (F), #19 Michael Matheson (D), #21 Vincent Trocheck (F), #36 Jussi Jokinen (F), #55 Jason Demers
The Video of the Goal
NHL.com has a video with replays of the goal scored.
All of the following pictures come from this video. Any poorly drawn shapes and text on the photos are from my use of Microsoft Paint.
I’m going to begin with Auvitu taking a shot. No, not the shot that went in. The one before then. Josefson had the puck defended away by two Panthers and it was knocked towards the right (relative to the TV camera) point.
Auvitu stepped up and fired a wrist shot. The puck cleanly went past the out-stretched stick of Jokinen and stayed low. In fact, it went all the way to Luongo. He made a pad stop in the traditional butterfly stance. That was fine. What was not fine for Florida was Pavel Zacha.
Zacha came flying in from the left all alone with no Panther anywhere near him. The video didn’t include a standard view of this play, it was only captured in this tight-angle in a replay. Still, it does tell us how the situation came to be for the goal that did score. Zacha fell while rushing at the rebound, hoping to get it over Luongo. He was right in that he had to get the puck over the goalie. Unfortunately, he angled it such that it went too high and instead hit the cross bar. That would’ve made for a great first goal. Instead, the puck is going to hit off the iron and go right.
#19 on Florida is Michael Matheson. He would become one of the heroes of the night given his game-winning play in overtime. Here, he’s just the first one to the loose puck. Sensing pressure from Josefson, Matheson opts to chip the puck away with a backhander. It was the right call by the defensemen. Had he try to control it, Josefson would get in his way. All he needed to do was knock it towards or past the blueline to provide relief after the cross bar was hit.
This is the most crucial part of the whole play. Yes, more crucial than the goal itself. Matheson’s chip had the puck bounce after hitting the ice. Auvitu had to back off in preparation for the puck leaving the zone. But as the puck’s bounce was losing momentum, he held back - a risky play in case the puck went past him and Vincent Trocheck was present to take advantage - just in time to hit the puck. As you can see by the circle, the puck is just on the blueline as Auvitu hit it forward. That means the Devils remained onside. The linesman, Michel Cormier, states that and the video confirms he made the right call.
This is important to highlight. Not just because it was part of the play that led to the goal, but also to establish that this really was a legal goal. In motion, it wasn’t that clear whether the puck stayed in or not. Florida could have challenged the goal. I’m going to guess they didn’t think there was enough to show the puck really went beyond the blueline or that they saw something like this and correctly kept their challenge to themselves. Either way, the goal stood.
When Auvitu hit the puck, he didn’t just knock it forward. It actually went in the direction of a Devil: Zacha. Let’s switch to a viewpoint from the Devils’ end.
Yes, the man who was on the ice after trying to put home a rebound was the first to touch Auvitu’s keep-in. Zacha covered a lot of ground on this play. He one-touches it towards the right sideboards. It may not seem like much, but it will matter in a little bit. Meanwhile, look at the other Devils. Josefson is just off to the right of this picture, he’s going towards the slot. Matheson holds up in the right circle to assess the situation while Demers is in the slot. Parenteau and Trocheck both left the zone and will now re-enter after Auvitu kept the puck on sides.
Zacha’s one-touch gets past Jokinen. Jokinen has to turn and this gives Zacha the chance to get inside position on him as well as the puck. Forcing a defender to turn, even in tight circles, makes it easier for someone to skate right by them. While this is happening, Matheson is still in the right circle. He has to be. He doesn’t know whether the puck will be knocked in deeper or whether he needs to pick up someone else. Therefore, Josefson will freely go towards the middle. Demers will take him. Meanwhile, Parenteau will head in towards the slot and it looks like Trocheck will stay with him. Lastly, there’s Auvitu himself. Seeing that Zacha is in a good spot to get to this puck, he’s going to take a stride or two to get back in the zone. This will give Zacha an easy out when Jokinen does engage with him.
Zacha decides to make that play instead of backhanding the puck into the corner. It’s a good decision by Zacha and not just because Auvitu will get a primary assist in a few seconds. Recall where the other Devils were in the last picture. No one was near the corner; Parenteau is heading towards the slot and Josefson is heading to the left side of the ice. A dump to the corner will make it easy for Matheson to pick it up. A pass to Auvitu keeps the puck in New Jersey’s possession. And this pass is easy because Zacha has inside position and presence. Jokinen will hit Zacha, but it’ll be too late.
Let’s switch to the TV view of the replay for the rest of this. We need to see where the eventual goal scorer will be.
He will be wide open for a little bit. Trocheck was not really engaged with Parenteau but he re-entered the zone by him. He turns away to skate towards Auvitu. His turn is wide and he’s still in motion in this shot. At this moment, Trocheck denies a passing lane to a wide open Parenteau, who is entering the slot proper. And I do mean he’s wide open. Josefson drew Demers towards the left circle and Matheson is still at the right dot. There’s a lot of space at the right circle’s inside hashmarks and that’s where #11 is going. Auvitu can’t feed him here. And it’s questionable he has a shot at Luongo, too.
So Auvitu did the smart thing and delayed a little bit with the puck. He who hesitated was not lost in this case.
The lanes opened up for less than a second after Auvitu waited with the puck. Trocheck is now out of the picture. He’s turning back around, but he’s too late. Matheson picked up Parenteau heading to the right inside hashmarks. He will meet him at about there. Josefson has Demers’ attention. Jokinen just left Zacha after a check. Reilly Smith, well, he’s effectively not involved. There’s just Auvitu with the puck. Parenteau isn’t open anymore for a pass now that Matheson is heading in his direction. But where they will engage is going to be in Auvitu’s shooting lane. So the defenseman will elect to take a shot through the traffic that will form.
By the time Auvitu brings his stick down for the slapshot, Luongo is screened by Parenteau and Matheson. You can see Luongo leaning to his right in this shot, trying to look around him. Experienced and talented as he is, any goalie who can’t clearly see a shot is in trouble. At the same time, Matheson is looking at Auvitu as Parenteau will come around him. This will make it so there’s two bodies along the way of the shot.
Auvitu will hit this slapshot and keep it low and forceful enough to get to where the screen is. There is such a thing as shooting into too many bodies in front. Had Josefson stayed on the right and/or Trocheck moved faster to get in the way, it would have been more likely that the shot would be blocked or knocked away. Two bodies such that the shooter knows about where he needs to fire it and the goalie has difficulty to see it is more preferable. And it absolutely worked. Parenteau got a tip of the shot and then:
Luongo, expecting a low shot, was beaten to his left while in his butterfly stance. Parenteau was credited for the goal, Auvitu received his first NHL assist, and Zacha picked up a legitimate secondary assist.
There are a number of things I took away from this breakdown. First, Auvitu really stood out from beginning to end on this one. His keep-in was close but crucial to the whole play even happening. Auvitu’s initial shot at the start of this play nearly resulted in a goal and his second shot actually did. I think this is evidence that his shot is an asset. And those two shots were different in their timing. The first one was a quick one with no hesitation. The second one had hesitation to have Trocheck get out of his way, which worked. If you were excited for Auvitu heading into this season, then this play should have you excited to see him in future games this season.
Second, Zacha deserves plenty of credit for how much ground he covered. From diving at a loose puck to above the right circle in a matter of seconds, he’s a quick one. While his assist is a secondary, shame on those who would disregard it for being a secondary. His touch of the puck after Auvitu’s keep-in and his short pass along the boards led to Auvitu having the space to shoot the puck. Getting inside presence on Jokinen not only made the pass possible but it kept Jokinen engaged with him instead of going after #33.
Third, if there’s a failure on Florida, then I’d have to assign it to Trocheck. He was with Parenteau entering the zone. Instead of keeping with him and providing another body that could have denied Auvitu’s shot, he left him. While Matheson was able to pick him up at the end, Trocheck didn’t succeed at what he tried to do. He turned towards Auvitu in the hopes that he would intercept or prevent Auvitu from making a play. Auvitu waited for Trocheck’s stride to take him out of the lane before firing. Trocheck’s decision didn’t pay off.
Lastly, Parenteau followed the old saying of “go to the net and good things will happen.” OK, he didn’t get to the crease. He really went to the right side of the slot. But he applied the general principle and was rewarded for it. I usually assign deflections to be based more on luck than anything else. Yes, they can and are practiced. However, they are very difficult to repeat in a game situation in a sport where a tiny change in angle or velocity is the difference between a goal, a save, a missed shot, or a blocked shot. Still, the goal doesn’t happen if Parenteau didn’t get to where he was. He made the right decision off the puck to get his first goal with the Devils.
Now that you’ve read my breakdown and conclusions of the Devils’ first goal of the 2016-17 season, I want to know what you think. Who impressed you the most on this play? What did you learn from this breakdown? Are you at least a little more excited about what Auvitu can provide to the team? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this breakdown of the team’s first goal of the season in the comments. Thank you for reading.