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Breaking Down the First NHL Goal for Jack Hughes: The First of Many, Many More

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Let’s take a look at a huge highlight from Devils 2019-20 season hockey: our very own first overall pick’s first overall goal.

Arizona Coyotes v New Jersey Devils Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

With so many uncertain, unpleasant things taking over the public view at the moment, we at AAtJ thought we’d present everyone today with a nice, enjoyable topic we can all agree on: Jack Hughes scoring his first goal.

It was beautiful, it was practically poetic, and it was sorely needed by just about everyone, including us fans. Here’s a breakdown of what happened, why it happened, how it happened, and what that goal meant for the Devils and our first overall pick.

The Game:

We find the Devils in the closing half of the first period of a 0-0 game against the Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver had come out a bit stronger to start the game but the Devils began to turn things around and were becoming a bigger scoring threat when Vancouver’s Tyler Myers is called for a holding penalty against John Hayden. The Devils move onto the power play.

For Your Viewing Pleasure:

The Setup:

After winning a face-off down low in the offensive zone, the Devils set up their power play: Vatanen high, Hall to his left down the boards, Palmieri between the hash marks, Simmonds in front of the crease, and Jack Hughes in the high end of the half wall position.

The Play:

The top two penalty killers for Vancouver, Jay Beagle and Tim Schaller, have crossed up with each other as Schaller moves up to pressure Vatanen. Beagle drops back and left. Vatanen moves the puck over to Hall. Hall pushes forward down the left side of the ice. His head is up and he’s getting a nice clear view of where everyone is on the ice, while Vancouver’s penalty killers are blind to any movement behind them.

Beagle meets Hall at the top of the circle and forces him to make a move. Schaller— # 59 in the middle of the ice— provides a perfect demonstration of the theory that good things happen when good players are on the ice no matter what they do, e.g. why the Capitals powerplay is more effective when Ovechkin is on the ice, even if he doesn’t touch the puck. Good players like Hall draw the other teams attention, and out of position.

Jay Beagle has to step up on Hall here, which also pulls him out of the middle of the ice. Hall opts for a stutter step. Beagle bites and Hall is able to step around him.

Hall only needs one step to beat Beagle, because he’s not going to carry the puck around him. Beagle went for the poke check, Hall stepped around it and now has an open passing lane. The only obstacle between him and Jack Hughes is Schaller, who has failed to hold his position correctly. As Hall moved up the ice, so Hughes mimicked him, but Schaller has eyes only for Hall and isn’t paying attention, so he doesn’t move far enough up to really cut off the passing lane. The other symptom of his mesmerization is his stick.

Schaller needs to be preparing to intercept a pass here. Instead, he’s watching Hall, so he hasn’t brought his stick back into a ready position yet. At this point he should have his stick in two hands and be ready to move it, but its still casually resting in one, which makes his reaction to the next part much too slow to do anything about it.

Hall gets around Beagle then finds Hughes with a laser that Schaller is just a bit too unprepared and too out of position to get in the way of.

And here we have the “oh, crap” moment from all five Canucks. Everyone in a white jersey wants to know who was supposed to be covering this kid, and why does he have the puck. Hughes, clearly, has an unbelievably wide open space to shoot at, if only for a moment

Hughes deadens the pass without a second touch, one of the skills that makes him such a lethally quick shot. He picks his spot and begins the release all in less than one second. The Canucks have barely managed to adjust to the sudden puck movement. Demko hesitated for a moment here, which was interesting— typically goalies will begin the slide as soon as they see the pass, but Demko waited until he saw who had the puck before he moved. Maybe he was expecting Hall to take the shot, or figured it’d be passed right back to Hall, but for whatever reason Hall or something seems to have been in his head and that split-second hesitation leaves Hughes a ton of room to find the back of the net.

Hughes, to give the first overall pick his due, does not need a ton of room to place his shot. He absolutely roofs it with no chance for Demko to get to it. Edler seems to have noticed Demko’s positioning and makes a solid effort to save the day with a split that I’m sure left him sore the next morning, but Hughes’ shot was more than high enough to avoid Edler’s split. It also avoided Schaller’s stick as he made a last ditch effort to try and and get to the puck.

Additional Impacts Worth Mentioning

  • Palmieri and Simmonds do not touch the puck in this relatively quick sequence. In fact they barely move at all. However their presence in front of the net is a huge part of why this play is able to work. Having not just one but two players in the high danger area in front of the net forces the Canucks penalty killers to collapse their box and play almost man to man defense in the slot, leaving Beagle and Schaller alone to try and manage the three remaining Devils. They are also then available in the actual slot if Hughes’ shot were to create a rebound. If the puck were to move higher again, such as if it were passed back to Vatanen, one of them could move in front of Demko and become a screen.
  • Vatanen staying in his position up high rather than also driving in like a fifth forward does two things for this power play. For one, it gave Hall and Hughes a second option if they weren’t able to outmaneuver the defense. Two, it gave Schaller yet another responsibility. He can’t stick to Hughes like a remora since part of his responsibility is to also be able to cover a potential Vatanen pass or shot, so he’s too far away to notice Hughes moving down lower.

The Takeaway:

There’s a few main things that can be learned about Devils hockey and hockey in general from breaking down this play. For one thing, having someone other teams respect enough to follow like Schaller followed Hall, or as it happens with Ovechkin, is extremely helpful even if they don’t touch the puck. For another, a huge key to a successful power play is moving your feet and changing up your location within your position, not just playing tic tac toe and standing still. Likewise, an important part of successful penalty killing is playing your position relative to all of the players you’re supposed to be watching, not just one or two. A player or two taking up space and attention in front of the net can be worth their weight in gold.

Also worth a puck’s weight in gold is a young player’s first NHL goal. For a kid with expectations as high as those of Jack Hughes, waiting to score that first NHL goal yet had to be a monkey on his back the size of King Kong. The relief of not only scoring that first goal but also it being the game winning goal against his brother’s team in front of his entire family had to be a massive confidence boost for the rookie. He went on to pick up a goal and two assists the next game.

Your Take:

What do you think its the better play most of the time— hold your position and wait for your opponent to make a mistake, or step up and try to force them to? What part of this play do you think was the most important in creating this goal?

Your Story: What were you doing when Jack Hughes scored his first goal? What were your first thoughts about it?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below and thanks for reading!