On this past Friday night, the New Jersey Devils prevailed over the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-3 in overtime. It was a night with issues, but also filled with highlights. It included Andreas Johnsson barging to the net to bang in a loose puck after a Dawson Mercer shot. A play that gave Johnsson his first goal in months as well as Mercer’s first point in the NHL. It included Jack Hughes evoking Chicago legend Denis Savard with a turnaround shot in the second period for his first of the season And Hughes’ game winning goal in OT attracted mainstream attention between his soul-stealing dekes for a sick-nasty score and his celebration. It was a pair of goals worthy of the moniker: The Big Deal.
However, these goals all came well after the first of the night for New Jersey. Dougie Hamilton was the biggest signing of the Summer for the Devils and perhaps among unrestricted free agents around league. It did not take long for him to make his mark in a Devils uniform. Dougie Hamilton scored his first goal as a Devil and the first goal of the season for the Devils 17 seconds into the game. Not only did it put the Devils up 1-0, but it also made history. It is the fastest goal to open a Devils season in franchise history. It is the fastest goal by a defenseman to open a season in NHL history. It is also the seventh-fastest goal to open a team’s season in NHL history. And it is the first goal of the season to be scored within 20 seconds since 1991. It’s a remarkable list, as per the NHL’s PR department.
As is tradition at All About the Jersey, the first goal of the season gets a break down of how it all happened. Through this breakdown, I will hope you also appreciate the work done by Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha that made the shot possible for Hamilton.
The Game Situation
- It was 5-on-5 hockey.
- The score was 0-0.
- The goal was scored 0:17 into the first period, or with 19:43 left in the first period.
- The goal was scored by Dougie Hamilton with an assist given to Pavel Zacha.
- The New Jersey Devils on the ice: #45 Jonathan Bernier, #33 Ryan Graves, #7 Dougie Hamilton, #37 Pavel Zacha, #13 Nico Hischier, #63 Jesper Bratt
- The Chicago Blackhawks on the ice: #32 Kevin Lankinen, #5 Connor Murphy, #6 Jake McCabe, #8 Dominik Kubalik, #19 Jonathan Toews, #23 Philipp Kurashev
- If you want a recap of the game as a whole, then please check out Jared’s recap of the win. This post is just focusing on Hamilton’s goal.
The Video of the Goal
The beginning of the play is a bit blurry, but the video does clearly show what happens. I will be mostly using the replay of the goal from the scoreboard camera as it more clearly shows where this all started: a neutral zone faceoff. The angle also better shows the movements on and off the puck that led to the goal being created. The angle starts at 20 seconds in the video, which is from NHL.com:
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.
We begin five seconds into the game with a neutral zone faceoff. The puck went into the benches, so the draw is taken in front of Chicago’s bench. Nico Hischier wins the draw from Jonathan Toews. However, the puck is sent to the bench side and that is where it begins.
Ryan Graves is in position and will get to this puck. Philipp Kurashev does get past Pavel Zacha to apply pressure to Graves. So all Graves can really do is chip it up ahead. This is good for Chicago as Toews will head towards the boards from the dot and Connor Murphy is in position to retrieve anything that may come his way.
Zacha did see Toews go towards the boards so he gave chase. He is applying pressure on the Chicago center, who intercepted Graves chip. Toews does see an open teammate in Kurashev in the neutral zone. Note that he is facing towards his own end. Toews will chip it off the boards back to Kurashev to keep the puck on Blackhawk sticks.
As Kurashev is facing his own end, he has to make a quick decision with all of the pressure around him. Hischier is likely in his view. Graves is applying back pressure. While Zacha has Toews covered, Kurashev does not hesitate. He fires the puck immediately back to Connor Murphy in his own zone. This may put New Jersey on side, but it is his only play to keep possession. Send it back to a teammate in space, who is facing in the right direction and can make a good decision to start another push forward. It is a good play.
And Connor Murphy continues the sequence with a simple pass to his partner, Jake McCabe. A routine D-to-D pass in their own end. Pavel Zacha is watching but that is all he can really do. So far, this play has gone fairly well for Chicago with no real problem. No drama or reason to concern. I did not even mention Dougie Hamilton yet. Or Jesper Bratt. Hey, where is Jesper Bratt?
There he is; he is making McCabe’s life a lot harder for a second. McCabe’s head was focused on receiving the pass from Murphy. So he did not realize that Bratt was going to burst over the blueline and get up in his business. This is the first part of the forecheck. The second part is where Bratt succeeds. Note that Murphy and Zacha are watching this. Also note that Zacha is closer to the action than Murphy and any other Blackhawk.
McCabe takes the stickcheck and the puck is in a position favorable to him. Instead of just batting it away, tries to turn to protect his position over the puck and then knocks it away. The good news for Chicago is that McCabe does protect his position. The bad news for Chicago is that with Bratt all over him, he just sends it across instead of out of the zone. The really bad news for Chicago is the puck is going to place where only Zacha can collect it. Bratt forced a turnover that almost looked like a pass right to Zacha when you see it in motion.
As you can now guess, it was the moment where things went south for Chicago on this play. Let us continue.
Zacha collected the puck, turned to go towards the circle, and got past the McCabe-Bratt combo to do so. Philipp Kurashev is backchecking well and is now pursuing Zacha. Murphy has shifted over to the circle to be there in case Zacha decides to cut inside for a shot. McCabe, for some reason, is going to head across - perhaps to help out on a weak side? It is not a good situation for Chicago, but it is not dire yet.
This is where Zacha and Bratt do something brilliant. After taking a touch, Zacha is going to curl and look for an offensive option. After the turnover, he thinks his teammates will fly in on the attack to deal with an out-of-sorts Chicago defense. He will be right. Bratt is going to move up and essentially set a screen for Zacha from Kurashev. This will make it easier for Zacha to protect the puck and look for a passing option from the side wall. This will pay off big time in a few seconds.
Last and not least, Dougie Hamilton is at the bottom of this photo and he is heading towards the middle of the offensive zone. Hamilton now joins the breakdown itself.
The screen set by Bratt worked perfectly. Kurashev is effectively sealed off from doing anything. And, even better, Dominik Kubalik decided for some reason to not stick with Dougie Hamilton, who was charging into the zone. Between that and McCabe’s nothing above the circle, there is a huge passing lane for Zacha. Hischier went down the middle of the zone a moment earlier, drawing some attention from Murphy in the slot. Hamilton is now coming down the same area and he is wide open. Zacha will attempt to hit Hamilton with a pass in stride. And he will succeed. It is a wonderful thing.
It was not a perfect thing, though. Hamilton’s first touch of the pass got away from him a bit. Thankfully, the puck never got too far ahead of him to get to where any Blackhawk could challenge for it. If anything, it set himself up for a better shot. Rather than ripping one from the high slot, he is entering the slot and with full control. McCabe will go down in a desperation attempt for a block with his stick. Murphy and Hischier are creating chaos for Kevin Lankinen, who is trying to see around for what would be the first shot attempt he would face. Spoiler: he will not stop it.
This is where Hamilton shot the puck. Look at the goaltender, Lankinen, for a moment. Look at his stance. He dropped his left shoulder in his stance. This opened up the top corner for Hamilton to shoot at. While Murphy and Hischier are ahead of him, I would like to think Hamilton saw that and knew where he could beat the goalie. He unloaded his wrist shot to go high past a goalie likely to go low. By the way, had Hamilton hesitated, McCabe or Murphy may have succeeded for the blocks they tried to get. Thankfully, Hamilton did not hesitate.
Hamilton was right and his execution was on point. Just 12 seconds after that neutral zone faceoff and 17 seconds into the game, the Devils were up 1-0 and the Rock fell in love with Dougie Hamilton.
The Lessons to Learn
The goal was credited to Hamilton with an assist from Zacha. The shot from Hamilton and the pass from Zacha was legit. Especially from Zacha, who had the presence of mind to curl around and look for an option instead of trying to do something himself or send the puck into the corner or attempt a reverse around the boards. That much was obvious. However, I wish Jesper Bratt got a clean touch of the puck somewhere because he deserved something tangible from this play beyond the confines of this breakdown. His forecheck on McCabe turned what should have been a no-drama situation for Chicago into an early deficit in their second game of the season. His screen that effectively kept Kurashev from challenging Zacha when he had the puck made Zacha’s pass possible. Off the puck movement is often ignored but when you look closely at how a goal for (or against) is created, you realize how much it does matter. To a lesser extent, Hischier driving down the middle ahead of Hamilton helped make the space for #7 to do his thing.
The largest lesson to be taken away from this play can come from #6 Jake McCabe on Chicago. He turned his head and attention towards Murphy for that D-to-D pass, not knowing that Bratt would be coming right at him. Instead of just bailing on the play and even risking an icing for it, he decided to make a play himself. While he protected the puck from Bratt, the pressure by Bratt forced a really bad turnover in his own zone. A play McCabe absolutely did not need to make. After that turnover, McCabe put himself in a position to not really doing anything. It appeared he was going to head over to the weakside to cover for Murphy. But he stopped and then made a lackluster attempt at trying to block Hamilton’s shot with his stick - which was too late anyway. If only he checked what was coming at him earlier. If only he dumped the puck away instead of coughing it up. If only he hustled harder in his own end after the turnover. The lesson: It does not take a lot or a long while in hockey for things go from good to bad. A little lack of attention led to a big turnover that yielded a massive goal that goes down in franchise and league history.
Lastly, Hamilton demonstrated that he can absolutely punish an opposing team for their errors. At the risk of reading too much into the replay, I really do think he saw Lankinen drop his shoulder right before his shot. I think Hamilton recognized that and that led to where shot the puck. That he was able to do that just after gaining the zone, getting a pass in stride from Zacha, and needing to take an extra touch to settle the puck before releasing his wrist shot is incredible. It speaks well of his offensive skillset. I am not saying Hamilton should now be expected to drop 20+ goals. I am saying that he can provide finishes for situations like this one if/when they do happen. That is exciting to know.
That is the goal breakdown of the first New Jersey Devils goal of the 2021-22 season. You have now read what I saw in the play that led to Dougie Hamilton’s goal. Now I want to know what you think about it. What did you learn from this breakdown? How impressive was Bratt on this play? What about Zacha? And how about that finish by Hamilton? 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.