Miles Wood is a very fast skater in a straight line. If there is a puck to pursue and/or he has a lot of space ahead of him, he can just fly into it. Wood also does not fear potential contact or goaltenders, so he will burst ahead whatever the cost. This usually means Wood can go off on a breakaway every few games or so. Wood getting a one-on-one with the goaltender is not uncommon. What has been uncommon is Wood actually scoring on a breakaway. But it did happen recently. This fairly rare event did happen on January 14, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey against the Boston Bruins.
Adding to the rarity is what the goal represented. First, the goal tied up the game against Boston at that point in regulation. It was not a consolation goal or just a throw-in during a rout; it tied up a game that New Jersey was otherwise struggling to perform well in. It helped them get a point that night. Second, Wood’s goal was the first goal of the 2020-21 New Jersey Devils season. Of all the ways to open up the scoring for your team’s season, putting home a one-on-one against Tuukka Rask, one of the better goaltenders in the world, is a very memorable way to do so. In order to add to that memory, I will continue the All About the Jersey tradition. This post is a breakdown of Miles Wood’s breakaway goal. As with most goals, what happened up until Wood even skated with the puck played a role in its creation.
The Game Situation
- It was 5-on-5 hockey.
- The score was 0-1 in favor of Boston before the goal.
- The goal was scored 18:00 into the first period, or with two minutes left in the first.
- The goal was initially unassisted but the scorer awarded Jack Hughes a primary assist before the end of the game.
- The New Jersey Devils on the ice: #29 Mackenzie Blackwood, #24 Ty Smith, #7 Matt Tennyson, #14 Nathan Bastian, #86 Jack Hughes, #44 Miles Wood (Bastian was replaced by #21 Kyle Palmieri by the time Wood scored)
- The Boston Bruins on the ice: #40 Tuukka Rask, #86 Kevan Miller, #55 Jeremy Lauzon, #74 Jake DeBrusk, #14 Chris Wagner, #52 Sean Kuraly
- If you want a recap of the game as a whole, then please check out my recap here. This post is just about Wood’s goal in the game.
The Video of the Goal
The NHL.com video of the goal itself is oddly blurry at the start. Fortunately, the Game Recap video is clearer and shows the entire play prior to the goal. The video used for this breakdown will be starting at 1:51 in the video with the goal taking place at 2:03. I also took a screen capture of one of the reverse angle replays of Wood’s goal.
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.
The play that ended in Wood’s one-on-one goal began in New Jersey’s end of the rink. The New Jersey Devils are in the middle of a change in forwards as Nathan Bastian, Miles Wood, and Jack Hughes are on the ice with Ty Smith and Matt Tennyson supporting them. They are defending against Chris Wagner, Jake DeBrusk, and Sean Kuraly with Jeremy Lauzon and Kevan Miller at the blueline.
As you can see, the Bruins were in the middle of an attack. Smith is engaged with DeBrusk as they head to the net. Kuraly is coming out of the right (Blackwood’s right) corner. Wagner, in support, has the puck. Seeing Hughes ahead of him, possibly sensing Wood coming at him, and knowing two of his teammates are down low, he will fire the puck in to the corner and hope his teammates get it. This is not a bad decision as Kuraly and DeBrusk could get it. And if not, then he has support on the opposite side in Miller - who is just off-camera but on the blueline like Lauzon is here.
Wagner rimmed the puck around the boards. There is no favorable bounce off of it, the puck is going to travel along the yellow backing. Unfortunately, Kuraly took himself out of the corner and ended up with him in the bottom of the right circle - and far away from the puck. DeBrusk gets freed up from Smith to try to snag it. But he will be too late to do so. Matt Tennyson, currently covering nobody in this picture, is about to go around the net to try to retrieve it too. He will not get it either.
The best option on this screen capture to get this puck is Nathan Bastian. He is going to head towards the left boards (the far side) to meet up with the puck.
Now, remember what I wrote about Kevan Miller?
Miller entered the picture and the play with a pinch-in effort. He came down the boards with pace to try to get to this puck before Bastian can. The good news for the Devils is that Bastian saw Miller heading deeper into the zone. He sized him up hoping to seal him off with well-timed check. The intent is not just to make contact with Miller, but to try to prevent Miller from getting the puck.
As Miller pinched in, Kuraly recognized his teammate’s action and is now heading to the left point where Miller started on this play. When a defenseman pinches in, it is common for a forward to drop back to cover that space. Hughes and Wood are looking at what is transpiring too - and ignoring Wagner - heading towards that direction. If Bastian seals off Miller, then that will be the next battle for the puck.
Bastian did a great job timing his hit on Miller. He checked him just as the puck was coming through. That made it a legal hit. This picture shows the follow through of the hit and why I think it is a great sealing effort. After the check, Bastian uses his body to keep Miller deeper in the zone and to allow the puck to keep rolling. Bastian sealed off Miller and, as a result, the puck continued to roll along the boards. In this picture, it is rolling to a vacant point.
This is where Kuraly begins to hustle. He knows his defenseman was caught up in the zone and will not recover. Rather than hoping Lauzon shifts all the way over, Kuraly is going to make a beeline towards the puck to recover possession and then try to keep the offense going. Hughes and Wood both see how Bastian sealed off Miller and how Kuraly is going to push towards the puck. Hughes is closer to Kuraly, so he would be the one to chase Kuraly and is therefore paying closer attention to the forward. Wood is tracking what is going on. Wagner is all free by himself - which could be dangerous if he would get the puck (spoiler: he will not).
Kuraly took the puck along the sideboards. He is in a bit of a difficult spot in this picture. Since he retrieved the puck while heading towards the blueline, the puck is on his forehand facing the blueline. He cannot see anything happening behind him. He also can sense Hughes is approaching to apply back pressure. That is beneficial for the Devils in multiple ways. One, Kuraly cannot simply turn and do something right away. Two, with Kuraly facing away from the goal, Hughes can try to pressure him to take the puck out of the zone and end Boston’s attack. Three, Kuraly can try to move the puck but with Hughes on him, he risks losing the puck. As Lauzon is in the middle of the blueline, coughing up the puck here could give the Devils a breakaway if he loses it away from Lauzon. There is no one other than Tuukka Rask behind the Bruins in this situation. This all means that Hughes is doing the right thing by getting on Kuraly’s case. Wood is tracking the situation while also (unintentionally?) about to get into a potential passing lane to Lauzon.
I circled Lauzon because he is currently wide open. Kuraly actually has a passing lane to feed his other defenseman. Wood is not quite in the way and his stick is off the ice. Hughes is not quite on Kuraly at this moment. Given what happened, Kuraly is going to wish he made a pass to Lauzon the moment he touched the puck instead of when he actually tried to do that.
Kuraly is trying to protect the puck and use his frame to get around the pressure applied by Hughes. Kuraly is not a small player. He is officially listed at 6’2” and 217 pounds. Given the positioning of the players in this picture, it seems like Kuraly will be able to curl around Hughes to keep the puck away from the young forward, keep the puck onside, and get it off to Lauzon. Which is still his only option. Kuraly cannot see his other teammates, much less get the puck towards any of them.
However, that would be his big mistake. Hughes is trying to get inside of Kuraly and stretched out his stick to make a potential pass harder. Wood is now aware of this option. He is still drifting just outside of the lane, but this picture shows he can be in reach of a pass. His stick is now down, almost to bait Kuraly into making a pass to Lauzon so he can try to pick it off. Wood will not need to do that, thanks to Jack Hughes.
After Hughes stretched out his stick, he made sure to bring it inside Kuraly’s stance and block off Kuraly’s stick. As Kuraly had to sweep the puck around on the ice to make the pass, stopping his stick from following through could knock the puck loose. This is what happened as Hughes went for a stick lift. As Hughes is doing that, he is trying to get his body on Kuraly to disrupt his body’s motion. This is where adding 14 extra pounds of muscle in the offseason can come into play. Again, Kuraly is not a small man by any means. But Hughes is gaining inside position on him and a more jacked Hughes can keep Kuraly from just overpowering him to complete the pass.
The result of this is the third possibility from Hughes pressuring Kuraly in the first place: Kuraly losing the puck. And it is not going to go anywhere near Lauzon.
Worse than that, the turnover forced by Hughes re-directed the puck to slowly move past the far neutral zone faceoff dot. This just about served up the puck on a silver platter for Wood. The moment the puck left the blueline, Wood knew it was time to blaze ahead.
Lauzon, who watched all of this, knows he has to hustle back. And he needs to hustle hard.
I apologize for the blurriness, but an important event happened in between the second marks in the video. Just as Wood took possession of the puck in his usual swift stride, Kuraly hauled down Hughes. The physical contact that started just before the blueline ended south of the Progressive ad in the neutral zone. The referee on the Ford on-ice ad saw Kuraly pull down the young forward after the turnover and his arm went up. This is important to know because if Wood did not score, then the Devils would still get a power play out of the whole effort started by Bastian sealing off Miller and Hughes forcing a turnover by Kuraly. OK, the Devils’ power play had (and still has) some functional issues but the point is that this play was going to yield something of at least potential value.
But the call will remain delayed. That referee is also in the process of changing directions to start skating backwards as both Wood and Lauzon are heading in the opposite direction.
Here is the breakaway in effect. I suppose some would argue that Wood is not fully clear of the defense. Lauzon did an admirable job to make up as much ground as he did. Just as Wood gains the zone, he is just at the blueline himself. Both skaters are heading towards the upper hashmarks. Wood just needs to stay fast to keep ahead of Lauzon. Lauzon, while not far away, has the harder task. In addition to keeping up with Wood, he needs to decide whether to foul Wood or get to a point where he can make a cleaner defensive play. And it will not be his own choice based on Wood’s speed.
By the way, it is about this time where Bastian came off the ice for Kyle Palmieri. Despite sealing off a pinching Miller to make this possible, Bastian will not even get a +1 for it. He can at least feel good that this post breaking down the goal recognized his work on the play.
Earlier in the game, Wood had a one-on-one with Rask that ended with Wood careening into Rask and taking a two-minute minor for goaltender interference. Wood decided to focus on shooting the puck well before getting near the crease. In face, just as he entered the high slot region, he is preparing to fire away.
Lauzon, on the other hand, is preparing to penalize Wood. Again, I give the defenseman credit for catching up to be within a stick’s and arm’s reach of Wood. But he knows this is a situation to take a penalty. I do not know if he knew his team was already going to be penalized. He could have saw the ref’s arm being up when he entered his own zone, but I think he was more concerned with Wood to catch that. Unless I am mistaken, two players taking separate penalties on the same play would yield a two-man advantage. Maybe the Devils’ power play would have done a lot more in a 5-on-3 than they did in a 5-on-4? We will not know because, well, this is a goal breakdown and we know the final result.
We also know that Rask really did nothing wrong here. He came out to cut off the angle. He is locked in on Wood. While Rask will drop back a bit, he is still going to be above the paint when the shot is fired. If Rask is giving up any holes in his stance then it would require something precise to beat him. In other words, Rask’s form was good here.
But Wood’s shot was just that much better. Rask was just torched by his right shoulder. By the time the experienced goaltender reacted, the puck was already in the net. Wood’s wrist shot went off the frame and into the net. I think it hit both the left (Wood’s left) and the cross bar before dropping in. Sometimes a great shot beats a goaltender. And Wood managed to do just as he reached the inside hashmarks. He was able to follow through completely; he did not hesitate or take anything off the shot. It was a banger of a shot.
Lauzon was the first to hug Wood for his goal. OK, he did so to try and stop Wood from scoring. Unfortunately, Lauzon was just a little late to hold Wood and wrap his stick around Wood’s midsection. That would be deserving of a penalty too. But neither this or Kuraly’s takedown of Hughes will count because Wood tied up the game on a fantastic shot.
Now, if Wood scored at this point in the play, how did he end up on his back on the ice in the headline photo? Again, Lauzon’s grab was the culprit. This is the aftermath of the goal:
As both Wood and Lauzon were skating forward at the time of the goal/holding penalty, both were heading towards Rask. Lauzon let go and shifted his body left to go around Rask - who is reacting to the puck going past his right in this picture. Wood was agile enough to dodge Rask - but he ran out of space before crashing into the post. Wood took a tumble after that and ended up celebrating with his eyes facing the Prudential Center rafters. It was still a sweet, sweet goal that mattered a lot at the time of the game.
The Lessons to Learn
There are five takeaways I have from this breakdown. Please leave a comment if you learned something else from this breakdown other than these points.
First, off the puck movement is important to make opportunities even happen. This whole play does not happen without Hughes, Bastian, and Wood recognizing what was going on and moving accordingly in their own zone. Because Bastian saw the rim-around and two players miss it, he knew where the puck would go and be in a position to seal off Miller. Because Hughes and Wood saw Kuraly head to the point to cover for Miller and picked up the puck, they were in a position to do what they did. Being able to read a situation is critical in this game.
Second, being able to quickly react to a situation is also critical. What if Bastian decided to just go after the puck instead of sealing off Miller? Maybe he forces a board battle and wins it. Maybe he gets to the puck and shields it from Miller - but has few options for an outlet pass. Maybe he misses and Miller continues the attack. Bastian absolutely did the right thing by sealing off Miller with a hit. Hughes physically pressuring Bastian the way he did was also absolutely correct. The only risks on Hughes was getting overpowered or taking a penalty. The added beef on Hughes helped prevent the former from happening and Kuraly ended up taking a penalty instead. The rewards of forcing Boston out of the zone (happened) and creating a chance (also happened) were much greater and Hughes made that happen. That was much better than if he tried to defend him more passively. And Wood was absolutely correct to not overthink what he had in front of him: take the puck, go off, and fire a shot before getting even near the crease. Done, done, and done.
Third, Boston’s mistakes on this play were really not that heinous. Miller’s pinch was denied by Bastian. That does not necessarily mean that pinching in at that point was a bad idea or that Miller should never make pinch-ins. Kuraly correctly covered his teammate’s spot. His error of forcing a pass to Lauzon was more about being too late to do so instead of the idea. Thinking he could get around Hughes’ pressure was not a bad idea, although I think Kuraly realized that Hughes is not the slight young man he was in 2019-20. Even though that created a one-on-one for Wood, Lauzon did an admirable job getting back to even foul Wood and Rask is, well Rask. The goaltender showed he is quite good job at his job as he stopped multiple breakaways in overtime that night. After all of this, Boston almost got out of this with only a penalty (two penalties?) to kill - which they did well that night. But Wood’s shot was just so much better than what any Bruin could have expected. That can punish a team for even making not-so-big mistakes.
Fourth, an assist may be credited without an intentional movement of the puck towards the goalscorer. Hughes was credited with a lone assist on the play. I guess he got a touch of the puck away from Kuraly? I did not easily see it. But I can understand the idea. Hughes’ denial of Kuraly’s pass made the puck go free and into an excellent position for Wood to take it and go. Without Hughes bodying up Kuraly, there is no breakaway, much less a goal to breakdown. So I get it. If you have a more traditional and/or rigid idea of what an assist should be counted for, then I can understand why you may disagree.
Fifth, breakaway goals by Miles Wood are indeed possible. They were always possible, I know, but sometimes you need to see it to believe it or be reminded of it. This one was a joy to watch live and a joy to watch again and again for this post. I hope the next one comes within this season.
That is the goal breakdown of the first New Jersey Devils goal of the 2021 season. You have now read what I saw in the play that led to Miles Wood’s breakaway goal. Now I want to know what you think about it. What did you learn from this breakdown? How impressive was Bastian’s hit on Miller? And Jack(ed) Hughes forcing the turnover on Kuraly? Were you surprised to see Lauzon almost catch Wood? Could Wood shoot a shot like the one that torched Rask again? 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.