The New Jersey Devils started off the 2022-23 season with a dud of a 2-5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Devils, who have been undercut by bad goaltending, bad defensive coverage, and lackluster coaching, lost that game primarily due to bad goaltending, bad defensive coverage, and even a Lindy Ruff special (two quick goals allowed). There were some positives in the defeat. Rookie winger Alexander Holtz scored his first NHL goal. What’s more impressive is that it was a power play goal - a surprise given otherwise the Recchi-esque performance on the man advantage. What’s even more impressive than that is that it was the first goal scored by the New Jersey Devils this season. As is tradition, let us breakdown what happened on the play.
The Game Situation
- It was 5-on-4 hockey; the Devils had a power play. Morgan Frost was serving a minor penalty for holding.
- The score was 0-0.
- The goal was scored 8:01 into the first period, or with 11:59 left in the first period.
- The goal was scored by Alexander Holtz with assists given to Jesper Bratt and Dawson Mercer
- The New Jersey Devils on the ice: #29 Mackenzie Blackwood, #10 Alexander Holtz, #28 Damon Severson, #44 Miles Wood, #63 Jesper Bratt, #91 Dawson Mercer
- The Chicago Blackhawks on the ice: #79 Carter Hart, #9 Ivan Provorov, #44 Nicolas Deslauriers, #58 Tanner Laczynski, #61 Justin Braun
- Matt recapped the game as a whole if you want a refresher as to how it all went down. This post is just focusing on Alexander Holtz’s first 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: in the Devils own zone with Dougie Hamilton handling the puck as the Devils change units. The video from NHL.com clears up 4 seconds in and that is about when the play really starts. The video is linked to avoid the auto-play nature of the video.
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. Due to a poor decision by the broadcast to focus on Ondrej Palat’s face during the breakout, I’ll be jumping back and forth between replay angles as needed to show the whole play.
The video and the play begins with a change in units. Dougie Hamilton has the puck in his own end, watching his teammates change. As Nicolas Deslauriers gets a little closer to keep the puck holder honest, Hamilton will make a back pass to a teammate. Yes, this play begins with one of those back passes in the Devils’ end during a power play. While this is transpiring, Alexander Holtz is going to move up in the zone, Jesper Bratt is going to curl back deeper, and Dawson Mercer is going to head to the other corner. Miles Wood is going to head to the neutral zone, but he is not really involved here.
The back pass is successful. Hamilton can now come off. Damon Severson will replace him. As Deslauriers turns back around, the breakout play will now begin. Bratt is going to head up ice, but he is already facing towards Mercer’s path. Just as Mercer picks up speed towards the blueline, he is going to get a pass from Bratt. Meanwhile, Holtz is going to head up ice by the bench side of the rink and Wood is going to hang out in the semi-circle by the penalty boxes. The other three Philadelphia penalty killers - Tanner Laczynski, Ivan Provorov, and Justin Braun - are past the red line and waiting to see what the Devils do here.
Due to the aforementioned focus on Palat’s face on the bench, the replay angles show what happens after Mercer gets the puck.
Mercer collects the puck before the blueline and carries the puck into the neutral zone with speed. As these are still pictures, it must be noted that Mercer, Bratt, and an off-screen Holtz are skating ahead as this is happening. They are not slowing down or looking to stop. The only still Devil in the neutral zone is Wood.
You can see how the Flyers are reacting to Mercer entering the neutral zone. Laczynski and Provorov dropped back behind the redline and are focusing their attention him. Deslauriers, done with his turn back into the neutral zone, is looking right to Mercer and will head towards him. Braun, who also dropped back, is deeper to respect the movements of Bratt and Holtz. That is one Flyer for two Devils. This will become a problem very soon. Especially as Bratt has a free lane to skate ahead as Deslauriers is past him and unaware of #63. Not that there was much Deslauriers can legally do.
Mercer picks his head up and recognizes the Flyers in front of him. And perhaps Deslauriers coming at him from a different angle. This means the Flyers are not covering Bratt, Holtz, or Wood. While Wood is open here, he was not skating ahead with the same pace as Bratt or a farther away teammate in Holtz. A pass to Wood could allow Laczynski to catch him and force him into a board battle or even a dump-in. It is not the preferred play. Getting the puck to the other Devils would be. Mercer sees a small lane between Deslauriers’ stick - who knows there could be a pass to the middle - and Provorov, who is not putting his stick out as far as possible. Because of that lane and the Flyers’ coverage, Bratt is likely open. Which is correct.
Mercer’s pass is caught by Bratt in stride. This is very good for the Devils and very bad for the Flyers. Three of the four penalty killers committed to Mercer and he does not have the puck. They all see Bratt get the puck and carry the puck in over the blueline. While there will be an attempt, mostly by Provorov, to get back into the play, it will not be enough. With the puck caught by Bratt, Braun decides to boldly go towards Bratt. He is essentially in a 2-on-1. Remember: Holtz was coming down the side of the rink by the benches. Holtz is off-screen but he is very much in this play. Braun is in a tough spot. If he stick-checks Bratt to knock the puck away or put it behind the blueline or even slow Bratt down, then there is a chance the Flyers can deny this potential attack. Given that this is a NJ Devils Goal Breakdown, you know this will not work.
Bratt demonstrates patience on this play. He makes the pass over to Holtz just as Braun stretches out with his stick. This does two things. One, it keeps the attack alive as Bratt got the puck away from Braun. Two, it takes Braun out of the play because he now has to regain his body’s position, turn around and then catch up to whatever is happening. What that will be is that Holtz will get this puck and have loads of space to skate into as well as have a clear shooting lane at Carter Hart.
After this pass, Mercer and Bratt are not done. Both will continue skating ahead towards the net. Mercer will head to the left post and Bratt will go down the middle. This will occupy some of the attention of the Flyers penalty killers. This will not go so well as both Bratt and Mercer can get steps ahead of both. Provorov is going to hustle to the other side of his zone, deciding that he will at least try to get close to Holtz.
Again, look at home much space Holtz has. He had enough to skate ahead a bit, pull the puck back, and lift his leg for the intent of firing one hard wrist shot at the net. No Flyer is in his way. No Flyer is going to be in his way. Although Provorov is hoping Holtz delays just a little bit longer to let him at least have a chance of getting in his way. Again, that will not happen. This is essentially a one-on-one between Holtz and Carter Hart. Hart is in a good position for what is about to happen.
Holtz taking a shot is the right decision here. Not just because he is committed to it, but he has support for any potential rebounds. Mercer is going to get ahead of Laczynski as he heads to the left post; the far post from Holtz’s perspective. Provorov is not paying attention to Bratt, and both Braun and Deslauriers are behind him. Both Devils forwards are heading to the net. Even if Hart makes a stop, it better be one he can freeze or re-direct to the right corner. Otherwise, Mercer and/or Bratt could put home the second chance.
There will be no second chance though. This is the aftermath of Holtz’s shot. It appears that Provorov got there in time, but no. He did not. Holtz aimed the shot at the left post, or the far post from his perspective. He sought to fire the puck by Hart’s left side. While this screenshot is not perfect, it does show that Holtz succeeded. The puck got between Hart’s left arm and his body before he could squeeze it to deny the shot. The puck is not on the ground so Hart’s left pad is not a factor here. The shot needed to be stopped by his body or his glove and the shot beat both. When Holtz was a prospect, two of his main traits was his hard wrist shot and quick release. Both were on full display here.
The end result was what many scouts, amateur and professional, felt about Holtz’s shot. It could lead to scoring a lot of goals in the NHL one day. Last night in Philadelphia, the first goal of potentially many was made. The shot got by Hart’s left and fell right inside the left post. And even if the puck did not go directly in, Mercer was in a good position to tap it in. He did not - the goal was by Holtz. First of his career and first goal - a power play goal at that! - of the Devils’ 2022-23 season. It was great. Until the next shift. But you probably knew that.
The Lessons to Learn
First and foremost, this was a soft goal allowed by Hart. He was in a position to stop it and the puck beat him. Credit to Hart for not letting the goal get to him as he went on to have a very strong performance in net. He was a key reason why the Flyers ultimately won the game as he denied many Devils shots and their few high-danger chances among said shots. Still, this was a bad goal to allow.
Second, this was a power play success for the Devils. As much as I have lamented the Devils’ breakouts on their power plays and their power play in general, this goal represented how the breakout should work for New Jersey. The back pass by Hamilton just took time, but it was needed for him to get off the ice and deny Deslauriers from really forechecking the Devils. Once Bratt got the pass, Mercer, Holtz, Wood, and Bratt knew what the play was and they ran it well. Wood occupied a “safety valve” in the neutral zone. Bratt made an early pass to Mercer to have him lead the rush into the neutral zone. Holtz and Bratt made themselves options as they headed forward after Mercer received the puck. No one had to turn or try to beat a defender one-on-one. No one in motion had to deviate from their plan. The passes were where they needed to be: Bratt to Mercer, Mercer back to Bratt, and Bratt to Holtz right after gaining the zone. The Devils read the Flyers’ neutral zone defense and exposed it to create a 2-on-1 situation. Bratt’s pass to Holtz basically left the play up to Holtz to finish - which he did. I cannot stress enough how important those passes by Mercer and Bratt before Holtz got the puck. Both Mercer and Bratt earned their assists.
It was a very simple breakout. It did not lead to any set up of the 1-3-1 formation or any build up play with the man advantage. It was a rush up ice that paid off. Given the amount of speed and passing talent on the team, this may be something the Devils try to do more. Especially if the other team is prone to swarming on one player to leave others open during a shorthanded situation.
Third, again, this is what one has been hoping to see from Holtz. He was drafted seventh overall by the Devils in 2020 due in large part to his exceptional shot. He showed that as it beat Hart. However, Holtz did more than just rifle a puck to the far post. He also demonstrated good off the puck movement to get into a wide open space for a shot. He headed up the zone during the breakout, he remained on-side, and he kept himself open as an option for Bratt as he gained the zone. A crucial decision given that’s how Holtz had as much time and space to work with. Provorov was not likely to get to the right side of the zone in time to contest a shot - and he did not. Holtz could, and did, put himself in a dangerous location to shoot from. He committed to the shot, but he waited until he got to the right dot - a good location to shoot from - to fire. When he did fire it, he absolutely got all of it. The quick release was faster than Hart’s reaction. He is not likely to get this much space for shots in the future, but if you wanted to understand why Holtz was touted as a prospect, then this play shows that.
Fourth, for the Flyers penalty killers, this is why swarming a puck carrier during the breakout is a risky play. Sure, if you force a turnover or force them to delay or make them deviate from their play, then good job. The power play is denied an opportunity to attack. But when it fails, it leaves others wide open. Had even Provorov just hung back and let the forwards converge on Mercer, then he could have helped Braun out and make it a 2-on-2 situation from the zone entry instead of a 2-on-1. Neutral zone defending is hardly highlight reel worthy and it is something I’m still learning myself. This play shows how bad things can get if that is not done correctly. Did this doom the Flyers? Of course not. But for a brief moment, one hoped that it would have. If only to make Holtz’s first NHL goal even more special than it already is.
That is the goal breakdown of the first New Jersey Devils goal of the 2022-23 season. You have now read what I saw in the play that led to Alexander Holtz’s goal. Now I want to know what you think about it. What did you learn from this breakdown? How impressive were Mercern and Bratt on this play? What about Holtz’s shot? And how about the breakout just leading to a rush play than a traditional 1-3-1 set-up? 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.