On December 14, 2018, the New Jersey Devils made an incredible comeback to beat the Vegas Golden Knights. After going down three goals within the first ten minutes and being behind by three again later in the second period, the Devils scored four goals within the second and third periods to force overtime. Overtime has been a bad time for the Devils this season, but given where they were in that game, it was appreciated. Still, confidence was low for a Devils team that has been beaten in all five of their five previous appearances in overtime. On, that Friday night in Newark, things would be different.
Nico Hischier, the budding star of the Devils, went hard to the net and put home a puck while falling down. The goal ensured the team’s first overtime win of the season and it completed the biggest comeback the Devils have made so far in this season. The struggles in the “fourth period” did not occur. How bad were those struggles? Until this past week, they were really bad. Here are the game-by-game stats in overtime from Natural Stat Trick:
The Devils were not only not scoring goals, but they were barely attempting any shots until recently. Except for the last two games, the Devils were significantly out-shot in nearly every game. The exception would be the overtime loss in Florida only because Florida scored quickly, had the goal wiped away upon review, and legitimately scored shortly thereafter. The opposition would dominate possession and create opportunities to score, where they would succeed. Turnovers have been especially costly; something Evan Sporer broke down and highlighted in his article at The Athletic ($) about the Devils’ overtime woes. It was not until this past week where the Devils were able to survive for five minutes and they just did it on December 9 in Anaheim. The last two overtime periods were easily the best for the Devils so far in this season.
In other words, Hischier’s goal was a big deal for a team who’s been bodied after 60 minutes concluded. It is also a visually impressive goal. Therefore, it deserves a breakdown.
The Game Situation
- The game was tied up at 4-4 in overtime.
- The situation was even strength, so it was 3-on-3 hockey.
- The Devils on the ice: #1 Keith Kinkaid, #13 Nico Hischier, #45 Sami Vatanen, #90 Marcus Johansson
- The Golden Knights on the ice: #19 Reilly Smith, #29 Marc-Andre Fleury, #71 William Karlsson, #88 Nate Schmidt
- The play starts with 4:29 left on the clock, 31 seconds into overtime.
The Video of the Goal
From NHL.com, here is the video used for this post:
All screen captures in this breakdown are from this video. Multiple angles are used. Text, shapes, and poorly drawn arrows and lines are from me using Microsoft Paint.
Let’s begin with this high-reverse angle shot from one of the broadcast replays of the goal by MSG. This showcases the breakout play that started it all. According to the official play-by-play log, the previous event was a defensive zone faceoff win by Nico Hischier against William Karlsson. That was with 4:45 left on the clock. This starts about fifteen seconds after, so New Jersey was able to set this up:
The Devils were set up behind the net. Sami Vatanen has the puck behind the goal line. Reilly Smith was up as a forechecker. With Marcus Johansson cutting across and heading up the boards to Vatanen’s left (the right side here), he drew just enough attention from Smith to pull him away for a bit. William Karlsson was also in the offensive zone and he’s heading towards the right side of this picture. Vatanen read this and went to his right to the opposite side. Nico Hischier was also back, he’s going to skate to the circle, turn, and head up ice.
Hischier gave the option that Vatanen is about to take in this still image. Smith was turning back, but he was effectively out of the play at this point. Karlsson skated backwards to account for Johansson, who kept moving up ice. Nate Schmidt, Vegas’ defenseman on the ice, just entered the Devils’ zone but will have to head back at this point.
With Johansson’s and Hischier’s movement combined with Vatanen standing still with the puck, I believe this is an actual play the Devils have put together and practice. It worked - kind of. Vatanen attempted to hit Hischier in stride. A pass right to Hischier should allow the young star to break ahead and possibly get behind Schmidt.
Nope. Hischier had to stretch out to get the puck. He was only able to get a piece of it. He could not haul it in. Fortunately for Hischier, Vatanen, and New Jersey, the puck kept going forward and went to a place where Hischier could get it. In a way, Hischier had to stretch for it. Otherwise, the puck would have missed him entirely and went down the end of the rink for a potential icing. In another way, Hischier could have lost control here and left the puck in a position for Schmidt to pounce on and catch the Devils with all three Knights against Vatanen and Keith Kinkaid. The good news was that Hischier would get possession in a little bit. Still, this was the first of four fortunate events on this play.
Let’s move to the broadcast feed from the side view:
Hischier collects the puck just past the red line. That was good. What was not good was that Schmidt was able get back far enough to prepare to defend Hischier. Schmidt was in a good spot. He maintained a close enough gap to be within range of the puck without being so close that Hischier could go by him.
Meanwhile, Karlsson turned and was then gliding back down the center of the ice. Johansson was also heading forward, but he also slowed up to see what was happening. Both players were watching what was taking place across the rink in case they had to quickly turn around.
Hischier tried to beat Schmidt one-on-one. He tried to knock the puck through Schmidt’s legs and hoped to get past him with a burst of speed. That failed as the puck hit off Schmidt’s skate. The fortunate thing for Hischier and the Devils was that the puck, Schmidt, and Hischier were all going in the same direction.
Karlsson kept going down the middle of the ice with his eyes glued onto the puck. Johansson already turned towards the middle of the ice and is taking it slower in case he needed to quickly turn in case Schmidt collects the puck and decides to move it up to Smith.
The puck was loose at this point and Schmidt went to knock the puck away. I think he was trying to get it towards Smith, who was still way back in the neutral zone. Alternatively, he could have just tried to knock it away and hope either Karlsson or Smith would pick up the puck in space. In any case, Schmidt tried to get the puck away from Hischier. Since he was traveling backwards, Hischier was still going forward, and the puck moved back, the play ended up in Vegas’ zone.
Hischier wisely stretched his legs out such that he would remain on-side. This was a crucial move by Hischier. The goal was under review from the Situation Room in Toronto for a potential offside call that was missed. Hischier kept his left skate on the ice and dragged it behind to avoid being ahead of the puck. This was a big reason why it was ruled as a good goal after overtime had ended.
Since I wrote Schmidt tried, you can assume he failed. Because the second and most fortunate of the four fortunate events on this play took place.
I am not certain whether the puck hit off Hischier or Schmidt hit the puck oddly or the puck was on edge or all three of those things happened. The puck did end up on edge and rolled towards the center of the zone instead of over and past the blue line.
This would put the puck in a no man’s land for Vegas. The puck is behind Karlsson, who has to (and will) turn around in a few feet from where he is in this image. Schmidt obviously could not get to it. Only one man can: Marcus Johansson. He knew it and because he already turned toward the middle of the zone and saw the whole thing, he would take advantage.
By the way, the official play by play log counted this as a giveaway for Schmidt. I think that is not really fair to Schmidt. I do not think he intended to mis-hit the puck and/or hit Hischier with it. It certainly was not his intent to put the puck where it ended up going.
Johansson collected the puck while in stride. Look at his skates here. They are pointed forward and as he turned to collect the puck, he was able to get past Karlsson. Karlsson was still in a turn at this point. His stick was out-stretched, but Johansson could - and did - easily dodge it. All Karlsson did here was have Johansson flow down to Johansson’s left towards the circle.
Schmidt saw this and reacted rather well. He looked stationary in this image, but he would quickly target Johansson and engage him. I think this was the right decision. Karlsson was beat and the puck carrier could get into a one-on-one with Marc-Andre Fleury if he did not do so. Karlsson can worry about Hischier - who also saw this and will react accordingly.
First, Johansson went to the circle on his left. Schmidt made up a lot of ground to engage him. This was good by the defenseman. Unfortunately for him, Johansson will make him look stupid in a bit. While Schmidt was getting in range of the puck on Johansson’s stick, Johansson saw two things.
First, Hischier was wide open on the right side. Hischier saw Johansson take the puck, turned, and headed forward. Karlsson had to turn a second time after Johansson went past him. That allowed Hischier to get a step on the forward.
Second, he saw that Schmidt’s legs are open. Look at that circle. There is space and Johansson was going to use it. That was how Johansson could get the puck over to Hischier. It was a very bold decision. Schmidt’s stick was on the ice, which could have denied the pass entirely. It could have force a turnover that could have easily led to an odd man rush. The pass also needed to be precise. There needed to be enough velocity on the puck to get it through the legs and to Hischier in stride but without hitting a skate or missing where Hischier was going. This would be the third of four fortunate events on the play.
They say fortune favors the bold. I do not know who they are, but they were right in this situation. Johansson’s passing decision was correct and the pass itself was excellent. Hischer collected the puck on his backhand and in stride. Fleury moved to his left to account for the pass. However, he would have to be bold himself in a second. Karlsson was heading back but he was not yet in range to do anything to Hischier.
Hischier collected the puck on his backhand. Fleury went over to his left and already went down. With Hischier’s backhand not facing the goal, a backhand shot would not be a good option in general - much less with the goalie covering the bottom corner. Hischier had to go for a cross-over move. Hischier wanted to go to his forehand for more control and to hopefully get around Fleury. Fleury has the experience to recognize the cross-over coming at him. Notice his right arm in this case, he will use it. He also Karlsson coming in for support. This was a tight window for Hischier. This was why the goal was so impressive.
Fleury boldly lunged out with his right arm to deny the cross-over. That is his arm, his stick, and his blocker. Impressively, Fleury was a bit late. The puck got just under his arm. It became free. While it was not quite on Hischier’s forehand, he was in position to do so. You can see the red circle. You can where the goal is possible.
The problem was that Karlsson did catch up and he was able to get his stick to check Hischier’s stick. He was going to tie it up. He was going to obstruct Hischier as much as possible to deny that goal. You can see in this still image, the hook was about to begin. What this did was delay Hischier from slamming the puck into the net at this moment. The battle was on.
Let’s switch to an overhead view to better appreciate what Hischier had to deal with.
Hischier was not only tied up by Karlsson, who was exerting as much strength as possible. He also had to deal with Fleury. Fleury may have been beaten in the last picture, but he did not give up on the play. He swung to his right in the hopes of knocking the puck away somehow, someway. If it meant fouling Hischier, then so be it.
This is the fourth fortunate event occurs. I do not think anyone would begrudge Hischier if the puck did get knocked away or if he did not get a shot off. This was a very difficult situation! The goalie could tie up the attacker and/or get the puck away with a last-ditch effort. The defending play almost totally tied up the attacker. This goal not being realized was possible - and perhaps even likely.
But Hischier, despite giving up size and being a younger player, showed an incredible amount of determination and bravery on this play. He knew that the cross-over was needed but it would put him in a tough spot. I would like to think he knew he would get pressure from behind and Karlsson has given him a lot. Hischier has never been shy about getting into those “dirty areas” where attackers take plenty of pain and obstruction. He has been rewarded in the past for doing so. He was rewarded again. Look at the sticks. Hischier’s stick blade was still facing at the goal and with the puck in front of it. The shaft of Fleury’s stick would not deter Hischier. Karlsson’s tie up on Hischier’s stick shaft would not deter Hischier. Hischier only needed to power through.
And I do mean need. The drama was real here. The Devils came back from three goals down twice in the game to tie it up. The Devils have been bad in overtimes up until this night of the season. Hischier has a great opportunity to score and complete this comeback, end OT in a positive way, and get the Devils a badly-needed win. Hischier needed to power through here.
He did it. Hischier was hauled down but he got the shot off. Fleury’s sweep did not work. Karlsson did what he could but he could not deny the shot. Hischier won the battle.
Hischier won the game.
Whenever I do one of these kinds of posts, I tend to marvel at how much had to go right that could have and sometimes normally does go wrong. I noted four fortunate events on this play. In order:
- Hischier stretching out to retrieve Vatanen’s breakout pass that was not collected but still could be collected by Hischier up ice.
- Schmidt not punishing Hischier’s failed move to beat him by not clearing the puck and that the puck stayed on-side.
- Johansson sending a pass through Schmidt’s legs.
- Hischier powering through Karlsson’s stick check and Fleury’s right arm lunge and sweep to score.
Plenty went right for this goal. This does not mean the goal or the play was totally lucky and this goal was not earned. The breakout play was ultimately successful, even if the pass was not on target. I do not think any of the Vegas players did anything really wrong. Schmidt kept his position and did his best; it is not really his fault Johansson put one between his legs for a great pass. Karlsson turning twice hurt his cause, but he didget back to defend Hischier at a crucial moment without taking a penalty. Smith was doing his job as a forechecker. Fleury read the cross-over move, went for a lunge, and just did not get it. Overall, I think the Devils just out-performed Vegas here rather than this goal being the punishment for a significant mistake.
Two Devils looked really good in this breakdown. The first was Marcus Johansson. He was excellent on this goal. He ran the breakout play well, which allowed Vatanen to choose Hischier as an option. He put himself in a great position to pick up the puck when it did get loose. He smartly went past Karlsson without hestitation. That drew Schmidt over and he made a bold and superb pass to Hischier. Out of all of the skaters, Johansson did not make a mistake or get caught in the wrong position on this play at all.
The second was Nico Hischier. Of course it was Nico Hischier who impressed. He made the most out of the breakout pass going awry and powered through the pressure to score the team’s only overtime goal so far this season. Again, it was by no means an easy goal for him and Karlsson and Fleury did their very best to stop him. Hischier just made it happen. On this play and in this breakdown, Hischier reminded me a lot of Zach Parise , another not-so-big forward that kept going hard into difficult areas on the ice and kept up to make a play. He fully earned this goal and deserves all of the accolades. It was not an entirely perfect play for #13, but it is the kind of play that fans should point to as to why Hischier is a future star for the New Jersey Devils.
Now that I broke down the Devils’ first overtime goal of the 2018-19 season, I want to know what you took away from this post. What did you learn from this breakdown? What can the Devils, as a whole, learn from this play? What can the Devils do to be more effective in overtime and possibly win a few more of these? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this breakdown of Nico Hischier’s overtime goal, the team’s first overtime goal of the season, in the comments. Thank you for reading.