I have not done a lot of goal breakdowns for the 2021-22 New Jersey Devils season. Part of that is because the team is Bad. Part of that is that while there have been a lot of great goals scored, the timing or the context often did not warrant a closer look. Today is different. The Devils’ season has been effectively over for months, but on April 9, 2022, a fantastic goal was scored for the Devils to win a game. Nico Hischier broke a 1-1 tie late in the third period against the Dallas Stars. As you can see from the headline photo of this post, he chipped the puck glove-side past a crouched Jake Oettinger. What you do not see from the photo was how it all happened. The effort from the captain itself was magisterial. The goal itself was also meaningful for a number of reasons:
- The goal was the game winner in Dallas, which ended up being a 3-1 final score.
- The win was the Devils’ first win since March 27, when the Devils beat Montreal 3-2 through a shootout. It ended a five game losing streak.
- The win was the Devils’ first win on the road since February 24, when the Devils trounced Pittsburgh, 6-1. It ended a nine game road losing streak.
- The goal was Hischier’s 20th of the season, tying his career high which was set in his rookie season.
- The goal was Hischier’s 54th point of the season, giving him a real chance at breaking the 60-point plateau by the end of the season.
- The goal was Hischier’s 200th point as a Devil. He is the seventh active player in the NHL with at least 200 points with the Devils and the second one on the current roster. (Jesper Bratt is three points away, so he’ll join him soon).
- That 200th point game in Hischier’s 292nd game, which means he has a point per game average of a bit over 0.68. This is the highest career point per game average on the current team and it ranks in the top 100 among active NHL players with a minimum of 100 games played.
- The assist given to Kevin Bahl on the goal is his first of the season in his seventh appearance. He has three assists in 14 games total in the NHL.
- The assist given to Fabian Zetterlund on the goal is his second of the game and season. It was his first ever two-point game in the NHL in his fifth ever NHL game.
The goal is also worth breaking down as it was an excellent example of how players off the puck can make an effort like Hischier’s possible. Hischier may have done 90% of the work on the puck, but others did their job and did it quite well. Without further ado, let us break down how Hischier did Dallas dirty yesterday.
The Game Situation
- It was 5-on-5 hockey.
- The score was 1-1.
- The goal was scored 18:49 into the third period period, or with 1:11 left in the period.
- The goal was scored by Nico Hischier. Assists were given to Kevin Bahl and Fabian Zetterlund.
- The New Jersey Devils on the ice: #50 Nico Daws, #88 Kevin Bahl, #28 Damon Severson, #17 Yegor Sharangovich, #13 Nico Hischier, and #49 Fabian Zetterlund.
- The Dallas Stars on the ice: #29 Jake Oettinger, #20 Ryan Suter, #4 Miro Heiskanen, #14 Jamie Benn, #91 Tyler Seguin, #92 Vladislav Namestnikov
- If you want a recap of the game as a whole, then please check out Matt’s recap of the win. This post is just focusing on Hischier’s goal.
The Video of the Goal
The NHL.com video of the goal picks up part of the way through the play as a whole. It is also blurry at the beginning. So I will be referring to the longer clip that made the rounds on Twitter as well as the NHL.com video clip. Thanks to @DevilsInsiders for the longer clip:
This is the link to the NHL.com video clip. It auto-plays, so be aware of that.
All screen captures in this breakdown are from the longer clip. I’ll point out where the NHL.com clip begins. All text, shapes, and poorly drawn arrows and lines are from me using Microsoft Paint.
Ahead of this whole breakdown, I want to go over a concept: a screen. Typically, in hockey, this means someone in the goaltender’s vision which is meant to hinder the goaltender from trying to make a save. This play shows off screens more like what you would see in a basketball game. You cannot “pick” players; it is a penalty to hit someone without the puck. You can get in someone’s way and force the defense to switch coverage or have to go around it, which creates space for whoever has the ball or puck. This concept is on full display in this play and makes Nico Hischier’s effort entirely possible.
We begin with the Devils gaining the zone. Fabian Zetterlund’s secondary assist is below, playing Hischier into Dallas’ zone. Either Miro Heiskanen just came on the ice for a shift or he was up ice, which is why Jamie Benn is behind the blueline.
Hischier is going to chase down the puck. Benn knows Hischier is his responsibility, but he has to shift his direction to take him. This gives Hischier an advantage as he just has to go straight ahead. The five Stars players know this. Since there’s no entry yet, there is no issue. Heiskanen is there but not really. Sharangovich is at the blueline waiting to go onside. So far, no big deal.
Hischier wins the puck for the zone entry. Hischier is under pressure from Benn, but he has the inside position on the winger and so can protect the puck from Benn. Since Hischier gained the zone, it allows Sharangovich, Damon Severson, and Zetterlund to enter the zone. Zetterlund went forward and is heading to the right (Jake Oettinger’s right) dot. Sharangovich is heading to the left circle. Severson is where he should be. The other four Stars are all focused on Benn and Hischier. Not ideal but if Benn can win the puck or Hischier loses it or goes into a spot where can be contained, then no big deal.
Hischier pivots, shifts his body, and changes direction right on Benn. Physics forces Benn to be facing forward as Hischier goes backward. If Hischier is quick enough - and he is - he will create a quick pocket of space from Benn. Now, this is where things get interesting. Look at Zetterlund. He made sure to get ahead of Heiskanen and now has inside position on the big defender. This will help Hischier gain more space. With Zetterlund in his way, Heiskanen is not in a position to help. Which he really is not anyway since he is by the hashmarks and Hischier’s at the outside edge of the circle.
The other Stars, well, I have no issue with where Vladislav Namestnikov and Tyler Seguin are. While they are unaware of Severson or Sharangovich, their positions will make passes back to the point or across the zone more difficult. Ryan Suter, the veteran defenseman, is in the slot. That is where he should be but he really should have his head on a swivel and look around since he is not actually in the play. This will prevent him from making a big mistake later on in this breakdown.
Hischier now has space from the turn. Zetterlund did not just get inside of Heiskanen but he actually skates in front of Benn, who had to turnaround in response to Hischier’s turn. This is an excellent moving screen by the beefy winger. Even if he was not so strong, Benn just cannot phase through him. This gives Hischier some more time to evaluate the situation in the zone. By the way, Heiskanen is locked in on Zetterlund and will follow him from here on out through the rest of this whole play.
The problem at this moment in time is that there is no really good option for Hischier. There is a narrow passing lane to Severson, but unless it is perfectly along that seam, it could lead to a zone exit or a turnover to Namestnikov. Not to mention that it would not put Severson in a great spot with Namestnikov bearing down on him unless he makes a quick pass to an open Sharangovich. Speaking of Sharangovich, he is only open with a narrow passing lane. Splitting Namestnikov and Suter is possible, but again, a risky proposition. Bahl is not exactly at the blueline here so a pass back is not really an option; and Seguin would just bear down on the rookie defenseman immediately. In other words, Hischier is going to keep it moving himself.
Hischier heads back into the corner. Even if he loses the puck, the position would not hurt the Devils. Dallas would not be in a position for a quick counter-attack. Of course, Hischier does not want to lose the puck. Benn recovers his position and goes back to chasing Hischier. Fortunately for the captain, there is no one else in the way. Zetterlund continued into the corner and is battling with Heiskanen, who is watching the play.
The Stars skaters are still locked onto Hischier and Benn. Suter is where he should be, Seguin stays high up in the zone in case the puck goes back to the right point, and Namestnikov moved closer to the circle, presumably to cut off any outlet passes from the corner. Not that he would know that there was no option for an outlet pass from the corner. Sharangovich sees the coverage converge closer to the corner. With no clear passing lane to the dot, Sharangovich decides to take advantage of this and head towards the top of the right circle. This is going to help a lot in a few seconds.
Hischier went into the corner and then decided to do it again to Benn. Another quick turn to shift directions. Physics again forces Benn to become at least a step behind and has to turn himself - while Hischier’s already turned. The captain can now find more space to keep working over the Stars. Who are all still looking at the Swiss machine.
Meanwhile, Heiskanen contacted Zetterlund. This is the one time he breaks away from the winger, who will continue around the net. Heiskanen knows his area is in the lower right part of the zone, so he will not leave it. Do not worry, Zetterlund will return. Sharangovich is still breaking towards to the top of the right circle. He is going behind an unwitting Namestnikov and Seguin.
Hischier is now fully turned out of the corner and is heading into the space in the circle. He is several steps from Benn, who is just now turned and able to try to engage with the puck-carrier. Sharangovich starts slowing down because he knows that he is almost where he needs to be to help Hischier. This could be a time for a pass to the Belarussian, but with his stick off the ice, it is not a good time. Severson is open and a pass to him would not be a bad idea - but Hischier has a better one in mind as he sees 17 coming across.
As for the Stars, Seguin is still positioned where he should be. Namestnikov surely sees Sharangovich now, but his head remains on Hischier. Benn is trying to catch up to Hischier. Heiskanen is now protecting the right side of the crease - unaware that Zetterlund is coming across from the other end of the net. This is the moment where I start going “Ryan? What are you doing, Ryan?” as the defenseman is going to start leaving the slot.
Sharangovich is now stopped where he is and spreads his legs to make himself seem larger. Hischier now has the attention of four Stars all converging on him. It looks like they are closer than they actually are given the camera angle. But Benn is behind Hischier and cannot legally do anything to Hischier here. Namestnikov is in the high slot and is only starting to move closer to #13. Suter is now in the circle to...help somehow? I really do not know what he is doing here. Seguin is also fairly far away to do anything but at least his position makes a pass to the right point not an option. Heiskanen can only focus on Zetterlund, who is now in his way again. This is going to continue for the rest of this post.
Hischier correctly reads this situation. He has to continue skating quickly to ensure no Star catches him and, most importantly, go around Sharangovich the right way. The red arrow shows his path - which is the right one. There is much more space for Hischier go through. It will cause Seguin to skate into Sharangovich - the screen - and make the space by the right and center points accessible for the captain.
This is now the second successful screen on this play, and I love this. It is legal, it keeps Seguin from helping out on the play, and it also shows how not-close Namestnikov was to help. Great effort, #92. Hischier curls around the screen, sees and enters the space in front of him, and recognizes as a passing option in Kevin Bahl. Severson is accessible but with the puck on Hischier’s forehand and the captain continuing in his direction, a backhand pass would be a bit risky.
Now, we must consider the other Stars. Zetterlund is now floating about just dragging Heiskanen to where he goes. He is taken care of. Benn now has to decide how to adjust since Hischier is way away from him and the screen forced a switch in coverage. Seguin now has to take Hischier. What will Benn do? Weirdly, Suter is now this high up in the zone where he was not needed and did not contribute anything. He should be dropping back in case any Devil makes a move towards the net. What will Suter do?
This is about where the NHL.com clip actually begins. If you just watched that video, then you would not have seen the zone entry, Hischier work over Benn, Zetterlund and I love a good screen
Seguin does recognize the switch and picks up Hischier. Of course, thanks to the screen, he is already playing catch up to Hischier. Hischier turned to make a pass, Seguin had the reach to try to disrupt it - only for his stick to be up in the air as the pass was made. It was an effort but sticks in the air do not stop passes kept on the ice. Hischier knew Seguin picked him up so he needed to make a pass to Bahl. He played him deeper along the wall and Bahl’s long reach makes it easy to receive the pass.
While this is happening, Benn decides to go around Sharangovich the long way. Not exactly the best approach but he was in motion and he could not just run through the winger. As Benn makes the turn, he sees Bahl getting the pass. That is now his man. Suter, um, decides to lock onto Sharangovich. By the top of the circle. Really. That is what he chose. This will turn out to be a big mistake. Namestnikov is just kind of there by the center point.
Bahl now has the puck and is skating down the boards. Lindy Ruff has always encouraged defensemen to get involved. This is what that can look like. Bahl is not fast, but he knows to keep it moving for a little bit. As he does this, Benn literally gestures to Seguin about the coverage. I want to believe it means (or that Benn even said this) that Bahl is Benn’s man. Seguin should still focus on Hischier. But Seguin is closer to the defenseman along the wall. His stick placement is to keep Bahl from passing it out (to the no one that is open, but that aside). Basically, Bahl has drawn both Seguin and Benn. Benn knows that is not needed. This will snowball into a problem in a few seconds.
Speaking of problems, Suter decides to throw a hit on Sharangovich. Not only was that not needed, Suter is now way, way, way out of position. No one is on Oettinger’s left! No one! I’m not even a Stars fan and I am mad at Suter here. Why are you doing this, you are too smart and experienced for this! Namsetnikov is still high up in the zone and not in a position to do anything. Heiskanen is still focused on Zetterlund, who is now drifting back to that left corner. No Devil is there but that is a lot of space for the taking. And it will be taken in less than ten seconds. Thanks to the man who is now behind Bahl - Nico Hischier.
I want to believe Bahl either saw Benn’s gesture, heard something, or picked up some other kind of tell that he should get the puck back to Hischier. Maybe the captain called for it? Whatever it was, Bahl does so at a great time. When he made the drop pass, Seguin was forced to turn around and realize that, yes, Benn was right and his man was Hischier - who is now going to get this puck. Not only getting the puck, but getting it in stride to skate forwards. Benn is still focused on Bahl along the wall. Suter is still focused on Sharangovich. Heiskanen is now battling with Zetterlund in the left corner along the goal line. It does not seem obvious, but Dallas is about to get cooked here by Chef Hischier.
Bahl continued being smart on the play by moving down into the corner. He sees Hischier charging towards the corner with Seguin now trying to cut him off. Spoiler: He is not going to do that. Benn is still directing but focused on Bahl. Knowing Hischier is heading his way, Bahl decides to make more space for Hischier to skate through. I do not know if Zetterlund saw it clearly, but he too also is heading out of the corner in case Hischier makes it all the way around the boards. This clears more space for Hischier to go through. Heiskanen is fully engaged with the swole Swede so he is going go with Zetterlund out of the corner as well.
Bahl not only presses himself against the corner boards to not get in the way of Hischier, he even contacts the ref in the process. Touching the man in stripes is not exactly the smartest, but it was not a check or anything. It ended up helping as it ensured neither the ref or Bahl could get in Hischier’s way. Which was vital as Hischier is now skating through a channel in the corner with the puck. Seguin is now pressuring, but he has to resort to stretching out to deny any potential outlet pass (which was not there, not that Seguin knew that) since he cannot foul Hischier (not with the ref right there!) or make a physical move with his stick or body. What’s more is that with Seguin’s position, Benn cannot help out at all. If he tried to step in, then it would have been more likely that he would take out Seguin than stop Hischier. Oddly, Benn is still here and focused on Bahl. He really should be disengaged. Let Seguin deal with Hischier, who already has the corner; drop back and try to help on the weakside. That is what Benn should have done. He did not do that.
As this is happening, Zetterlund and Heiskanen are now in front of the goal line - clearing up the end of the corner for Hischier (and Seguin) to skate through. The rookie still taking the defenseman with him. Speaking of defenseman being taken, Sharangovich moved to the point as support and Suter started to follow him. It is at this point where I want to think Suter realized he made a mistake. Now he is out of the play and the lower left quadrant of the zone is wide open for the taking. A space he should have filled instead of moving to above the right circle. Namestnikov could take this space and he is in the slot - but is seemingly uninterested in that. That is another problem that will show up real soon.
Seguin is doing his best but Hischier had a step or two on the Star and therefore kept ahead of him. Hischier is keeping the puck ahead of him such that he can still control and protect it from Seguin’s attempts to get a stick on it. It is not by much but it is enough for Hischier to keep going around the net.
Now you should see the problems I have with Suter, Namestnikov, and even Benn. Suter is in literally no position to help. As Heiskanen’s defensive partner, that area Hischier is heading to was his area. But the Stars were in man-to-man and the defenseman chose a man who has not been there since Hischier’s second pivot on Benn. Namestnikov could charge into the dot and make the situation more difficult for Hischier - who is committed to go into this area. He will not, though. Heiskanen is still locked onto Zetterlund. He could come over to help - especially if Benn disengaged from Bahl a second or two earlier and headed to the slot. Benn then could have picked up Zetterlund and Heiskanen could help . Nope. Benn is just now heading towards the slot.
By the way, I did not see this until I wrote this post - I caught it in the next photo - but look at Oettinger. He is already on the ice and in a butterfly stance. Why?
Fortunately for Oettinger, Hischier was not going for a wraparound. Hischier decided to take Seguin and the puck towards the lower hashmark in the left circle. Namestnikov makes a token effort to come over to help. It may have influenced Hischier to do what he does next at the hashmark than at the dot. It still is not much of anything from the Stars winger. Benn is still heading to the slot, while Zetterlund turns and heads towards the right post. Heiskanen gave the hulking Zetterlund a shove and it will not deter the winger - which will of course keep Heiskanen with him.
Now Seguin gets a taste of a quick shift in direction from Hischier. The captain took the puck to the hashmark, made a quick turn, and physics forces Seguin to fall behind. Seguin will make a quick turn himself, but Hischier will head to the goal line and then the net at the same time. Look at all of that space for Hischier. It may not look like it, but he has a clear lane to the net with no one there. No Suter to help Heiskanen, who is still battling with Zetterlund. No Namestnikov dropping deeper to help Seguin or Oettinger or Heiskanen. No Benn, who is just about to enter the slot. Hischier does not have any real options here short of a hopeful pass to Zetterlund. He does not need one other than himself here. It also helps the captain to see Oettinger already down on the ice.
Seguin does really well to try to catch up. His stick is outstretched, hoping Hischier will skate the puck or himself into it. It will not be enough as Hischier really does have a step on him. The puck is on his backhand here, but Hischier will quickly go forehand. Especially as he recognizes Oettinger’s stick. The goaltender has decided to go for a pokecheck. You are likely a Devils fan if you are reading this. you have seen many goaltenders go for pokechecks. They can work if the goalie commits to it and it is aggressive. Softly laying the stick flat on the ground is not it. Hischier sees this and is going to avoid it by changing hands.
As this happens, Zetterlund has now attracted Benn as well as Heiskanen. Zetterlund is trying to make himself open, but his real value is just occupying Heiskanen’s attention. And now he will add Benn’s attention. It will ensure that neither Heiskanen or Benn make a last-second intervention to stop Hischier’s charge to the net.
This is not super-clear, but this is the moment where Hischier beat the pokecheck. Look at his body. Seguin is applying pressure. Perhaps he should have penalized the captain, but he is trying to make this stick-check work. But it will not matter. Hischier has inside position on Seguin. Hischier controlled the puck both away from Seguin and around Oettinger’s stick. All that is left for Hischier to do is get a shot off. Again, Seguin could just grab or hook or slash or whack or do something illegal to stop that. Thanks to Zetterlund, Benn - who is now tying up Zetterlund’s stick or Heiskanen - who nearly hit Zetterlund in the head with his own stick - cannot dive in to stop what is about to happen. It is all up to Hischier.
And Hischier indeed gets that shot off. Zetterlund is double-teamed to no avail. Seguin, who really did try on this play, is beat. And the headline photo of this post shows exactly how Oettinger was beaten on this shot. The shot was more of a chip past the goaltender’s glove side. A shot made easier by Oettinger being already on the ground and crouched from his pokecheck. Even if Oettinger just stayed in a butterfly, then he would have had more of a chance on this shot. But he made himself smaller, which made it easier for Hischier.
Hischier scores. The puck was technically in the net at 1:12. He is about to run into Heiskanen. Seguin is about to be tripped by Oettinger. Hischier will celebrate with his teammates. Seguin will be on his stomach wondering what just happened.
The Lessons to Learn
First, I would like to criticize the Dallas Stars on this play. Once Hischier got around Sharangovich, things just fell apart. Namestnikov started to engage and then did not and just floated about. Ryan Suter, my goodness. Suter has been in this league way too long to do what he did. He picked up Sharangovich, followed him, and then stayed away from the action. He is Heiskanen’s partner on the play! He could have went up to Sharangovich, realized he was so far away from the net, and then got back before Hischier went around the net. His absence combined with Namestnikov’s decision to not drop back to help made the space entirely wide open for Hischier to come around the net. This is the kind of thing that makes coaches mad and it should make the Dallas staffers unhappy. This was a 5-on-5 situation and two Devils basically beat three Stars down low with two guys completely lost on the play. Sure, most will likely be unhappy with Benn and Seguin but at least they tried on the play. Seguin never gave up on it. He was just short of denying Hischier. But he needed help and the other Stars did not give it.
Second, from watching this clip over and over, I am surprised that the Stars were dead-set on man-to-man coverage. On the entry? Sure. Jamie Benn did his best by Nico Hischier, who worked his way from him. After the pass to Bahl, Tyler Seguin was told to pick up Hischier by Benn - I think - and while he was a step behind and got worked over, he honestly put in a full effort. So why did Benn stick with Bahl until Hischier and Seguin were going around the net? At least Benn went to the slot and tied up Zetterlund, who got in front of Heiskanen and just annoyed him on the whole play to ensure he would not get involved. I cannot help but think a more zonal approach would have killed this play earlier. Anyone at the left (Oettinger’s left) post would have been in a perfect position to deny Hischier from getting a shot off. Or even in the circle where Hischier pivoted and shifted direction on Seguin. Even an overload on Bahl - an aggressive one, not whatever Seguin was doing - could have ended the play early. Man-to-man could have worked here if everyone takes the right man. With Suter taking Sharangovich, Benn focusing on Bahl for a bit too long, and Namestnikov taking Nobody, the Devils took advantage and kept it as Hischier stayed just ahead of Seguin.
Third, Jake Oettinger, that is not how you pokecheck! I may not be an expert (this is the Internet, you don’t need to be one), but having seen many Devils goalies go for that, I can tell you that it is a move that needs full committment. It is not something where you lay your stick flat on the ice and do not go all in for it. Hischier demonstrated exactly why you should not. Since the pokecheck was not that long, he was able to go around it. Since Oettinger decided to go for the pokecheck - and he was already down in a butterfly before any possible shot was going to come - he made himself smaller and more vulnerable. It may not be clear in the clip given the traffic in front, but Oettinger made it easier for Hischier to score. Again, look at the headline photo. Hischier beat Oettinger glove-side while the goalie was crouched from the pokecheck attempt. You have to be dang sure about a pokecheck in that spot - and he did not it do with enough confidence or aggression. As a result, Hischier was able to finish his effort with a score and the Stars lost the game.
After the game, the Stars’ social media account quoted Rick Bowness as “That’s the most disappointing game we’ve had all year, by far.” I am not even a Stars fan or someone who cares if they keep the last playoff spot in the West. But plays like this leading to losses like that one are going to see them miss it entirely. Even if they do make it, efforts like this one that resulted in Hischier styling on them are going to make their playoff opponents absolutely want to play them. Colorado, for example, would love these kinds of situations playing out in Dallas’ end of the rink.
With that all out of the way, let me now praise the Devils. Three of them who barely had the puck on this play absolutely deserve it.
The first is Zetterlund. Zetterlund played Hischier in and continued to go down the wing. This allowed him to set a screen that allowed Hischier to break away from Benn and keep the play going. After said move, Zetterlund continued to the corner and drew Heiskanen’s attention. Zetterlund stayed low in the zone for the rest of the play, making sure not to get into Hischier’s way and keeping Heiskanen in one spot. He drew contact, he drew attention, and all the way to the end to keep the left side (Oettinger’s left) of the crease wide open. Whether he was told to do it or he read the situation, it was very smart work by the rookie winger. It was not easy, but he was not thrown off at all by the larger defenseman or even when Benn joined in at the end. He filled space to keep space open for Hischier. Well done, young man.
The second is Bahl. Like many Devils defensemen this season, he was aggressive in going deeper into the zone along the wall. Lindy Ruff wants the defensemen to activate and be involved and Bahl did that. What Bahl did differently was realize to move the puck back to Hischier before Seguin and Benn engaged him but not before recognizing the coverage. I want to believe Bahl heard or saw Benn point Seguin out, triggering the defender to drop the puck back. Bahl took a risk by continuing down the zone, which drew Benn down and then going into the corner boards - even moving the ref a bit. This allowed a clear lane for Hischier to go around the corner. Since Seguin switched onto Hischier and given Seguin’s position, Benn could not move in to get closer to Bahl or help Seguin on the turn. He could have ran into his own teammate. Bahl made that whole turn possible with his spacing. It was not a lot, but it was important.
The third is Sharangovich. One could argue he was wide open across the zone in the left circle and Hischier should have tried a seam pass to him after that second shift in direction. That would have been risky at best and (more likely) a turnover at worst. Once Sharangovich realized the pass was not there, he did not stick around. He decided to help his linemate out by skating across the zone and filling some space. Sharangovich set a fantastic screen that delayed Seguin from engaging with Hischier as the captain headed to the top of the zone. It drew the attention of Suter, Benn, and Namestnikov. Fortunately for the Devils, Suter stuck with Sharangovich - who skated to the point, drawing Suter way away from where he should have been. While the screen was his main purpose, taking the defenseman out of the play entirely was a brilliant stroke of luck. He did not get a point on this play, but he absolutely assisted on the play that led Hischier’s game winner.
Of course, the main man to praise is Nico Hischier himself. This is a play where I roll my eyes at the People Who Matter who whine about how Nico isn’t big enough and how he does not go to the “dirty areas” enough and how he does not produce enough and how the Devils are not getting to dirty areas or they are struggling in physical competition and so forth. Tell me you don’t watch Devils games without telling me. Hischier has always been a brave player who is stronger on the puck than his weight suggests and more than willing to go wherever he has to on the ice to make something happen. He is also skilled enough to maintain possession while protecting the puck. Most of all, he is smart enough to recognize the situation on the ice to make a play happen. On this play alone, Hischier did this:
- Chased down and collected a puck on a zone entry under pressure from Benn.
- Kept control with Benn briefly draped on him.
- Broke away from Benn.
- Shifted direction to get away from Benn to make space.
- Went toward the corner.
- Recognized a screen from Zetterlund and shifted direction again to make space.
- Recognized he had no clear passing lane and decided to skate out from the corner.
- Skated around Sharangovich setting a screen and curling around Seguin meeting Sharangovich.
- Passed it up the boards to Bahl and stayed behind him as an option.
- Got the pass and charged along the boards.
- Kept possession from Seguin stick-checks and reaches.
- Curled around the net and shifted direction again to get away from Seguin and head towards the goal line.
- Drove along the goal line, kept the puck away from Seguin and dodged a pokecheck from Oettinger.
- Chipped the puck past the goalie just before taking contact in front.
- Celebrated as he should after the contact while Seguin was flat on the ice.
Simply filthy by Hischier. Totally did Dallas dirty. It was so sick you could even call it “siiiiiiiiiick.” Styling, if you’re classier than that. All in the best ways, of course.
This is not what soft players or unskilled players or players lacking talent do. Sure, what Hischier did here may not be fully repeatable on a game to game basis. On other teams, the winger would help out if the defense is out of position or both defensemen would be deeper in the zone instead of chasing a winger from above a circle. But Hischier pretty much showed off all of what makes him a very good offensive player in this entire play. He works to get the puck, he works his tail off to keep it, he does not waste the possession on a hopeful pass or shot, he uses his teammates positioning to keep the play going, and he reads the situation incredibly well and adjusts to it. He is skilled enough with his skates and his hands to protect, control, curl, and shoot the puck while processing all of that. All of this happened in about 21 seconds. Against Dallas’ best forwards - Hischier worked over Benn and Seguin!! - and with their best defensemen on the ice (who was more interested in the swole Swede, Zetterlund). At near the end of regulation! In a tied game! All while doing several things that Hischier does to some degree on a regular basis for this team! A lesser player simply does not do what Hischier did. If this does not make you respect #13, then I do not know what I can do to convince you.
This play shows exactly why he is a top player on this team, he should be seen as such, and management should (are?) build around him as much as they should (will?) with Jack Hughes. The haters and losers who were dogging Hischier earlier this season are appropriately repenting right now. Those who still lament Hischier not being 6’4” and 220 pounds of pure muscle and not steamrolling people should also repent. Hischier ruled on this play and it should be highlighted not just for the play itself, but as a celebration of what Hischier brings to this team.
As one final bit of praise for Hischier, I want to emphasize that no one would have faulted him if the play went bad. Maybe Benn or Seguin got the puck away. Maybe Hischier got stuck in the corner. Maybe the shot was stopped or denied by the poke. At this point of the season, it does not matter much. The Devils stunk it up so much this season that this game was 1,000% more important for Dallas than the Devils. Yet, you would not have known that from what happened on this play. This goal shows off Hischier’s professionalism as much as his hockey skill and intelligence. Even knowing the result is not going to mean anything in three weeks did not matter. He knew he had the opportunity to make something happen. Despite the fatigue and bumps and so forth from playing a full game until that point, he made it work, his teammates helped make it work, and they were rewarded with a great highlight-reel worthy goal that won them the game. Other Devils may not have his talents or smarts on the ice, but Devils management should seek to find players and encourage their current ones to emulate Hischier’s work ethic and desire to succeed regardless of the bigger picture. Believe me, it will make the team more competitive. In this sense, he is a model. This goal is just the latest example of that.
That is the goal breakdown of a big goal for Hischier, Bahl, Zetterlund, and the Devils. You have now read what I saw in the play that led to Nico Hischier’s goal. Now I want to know what you think about it. What did you learn from this breakdown? How much did you appreciate the off the puck movement by Zetterlund, Bahl, and Sharangovich? What in the world was Ryan Suter and Vladislav Namestnikov thinking? Does this play convince or confirm that Hischier is a cornerstone player for the Devils? If not, what will it take? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this breakdown of Hischier styling on Dallas in the comments. Thanks to @DevilsInsiders for posting the longer clip of the play. Thank you for reading.