Traditions tell us who you are and one tradition I seek to maintain is a breakdown of the first goal of the New Jersey Devils season. Some were a sign of things to come. Some, well, were a little more auspicious. Tonight, the first goal of the season for the New Jersey Devils was a simple one. Jack Hughes - The Big Deal - scored a goal off a goalie’s helmet. A headshot, if you will. Again.
Jack Hughes has done this before. If you want an example of Hughes’ skill, then this is a good one as any. He is able to handle the puck, recognize the goalie’s position such that he can put one in off the helmet, and execute with the right timing and angle to actually do it. No, he does not do it all of the time. He does it enough that I can say that Ville Husso of the Detroit Red Wings is the latest victim. I can also say that Jack Hughes can absolutely do it again. First, let us break down this play.
The Game Situation
- It was a 5-on-4 situation; the Devils had a power play. David Perron was in the box for slashing Nico Hischier.
- The score was 0-1 in favor of the visitors.
- The goal was scored 6:21 into the second period, or with 13:39 left in the first period.
- The goal was scored by Jack Hughes with a single assist given to Ondrej Palat.
- The New Jersey Devils on the ice: #41 Vitek Vanecek, #43 Luke Hughes, #63 Jesper Bratt, #18 Ondrej Palat, #73 Tyler Toffoli, #86 Jack Hughes
- The Detroit Red Wings on the ice: #35 Ville Husso, #18 Andrew Copp, #37 J.T. Compher, #53 Moritz Seider, #97 Jake Walman
- Chris recapped the 4-3 win over Detroit if you want to know how the game went as a whole. This post is just focusing on the goal.
The Video of the Goal
Say what you want about Sportsnet, but they have been very good with uploading goal videos from NHL games. Therefore, I am using this video they uploaded to their Youtube page. This is because this goal carried a bit of controversy if you are a fan of the Red Wings and/or Dylan Larkin.
All screen captures in this breakdown are from this video. Text, shapes, and poorly drawn arrows and lines are from me using Microsoft Paint.
We begin with Detroit clearing the puck into the neutral zone. This came after Palat’s attempted pass was blocked out by Dylan Larkin. Michael Rasmussen just banked it away.
At a glance, it appears Luke Hughes and Ondrej Palat are battling with Dylan Larkin in chasing this puck down. However, Luke Hughes has begun to peel off and let Palat deal with Larkin by himself. Not ideal if, you know, Larkin won the puck because then he would be free to go right to Vanecek shorthanded. But it does keep Luke from getting too physical and getting assessed a penalty. Plus, if Palat does win the puck, then Luke becomes an option to go forward.
Here is an important point in this play. Three things of note here. One, the cleared puck by Rasmussen will take a soft bounce off the boards. This means the puck is not going to go where Palat and Larkin are heading to. Two, Larkin has inside position on Palat so he has an advantage. Unless Larkin overskates the puck due to point #1 (spoiler: he does). Three, Palat is going to take a risk and do something unwise due to point #2 assuming point #1 is not happening.
Palat brought his stick over and just whacked Larkin’s stick. Because they both overskated the puck due to the shallow bounce, Larkin held his stick with one hand and trailed it behind him. That made it even easier for Palat to lumberjack it out of his hands. Intentional or not, that happened. The referee, just out of frame on the right, had full sight of this and amazingly did not make a call. Maybe the ref needed to see the stick broken to do so; but generally, players are not allow to just knock a stick out of someone’s hands by force. Then again, Larkin (and Seider) have exaggerated more than just a bit out there this evening. The man fell down easily against the apparent strength and might of Jesper Bratt of all players. It is possible the referee felt Larkin tried to make a penalty happen and just did not want to give it as Larkin was trying too hard.
Personally, I think Palat got away with one. The broadcaster spoke to how Larkin gave the ref an earful about the no-call. After all, now Palat had a free chance at the puck, Luke Hughes was ready for a pass, and the Devils - already up a man - could rush up ice. This is a bad situation for Detroit. It was about to get worse. Related to that, do you see a stick blade on the far left?
It is our goal scorer, Jack Hughes. He came back, following his brother Luke. Larkin is now down and way out of the play. Palat retrived the puck, Luke moved in to make sure he would not get in the way, and Jack Hughes is ready to fly. Palat will be smart and did not pass it to Jack Hughes right onto his stick at the first glance. He is going to make the pass after he completes his turn into the space I circled. This will allow Jack Hughes to collect the pass and dart forward. Which is especially good because the Red Wings were making a change (Rasmussen definitely came off) while Larkin and Palat were chasing the puck. This meant there was a lot of space on the side opposite of the bench. Jack Hughes would work this space for eventual greatness.
Jack Hughes had so much space that the zone entry was easy. Credit to Tyler Toffoli and Jesper Bratt for waiting at the line to stay onside. That could have killed the whole play. Instead, they were patient and stepped forward at the right time. It was effectively a 3-on-2 upon the entry as J.T. Compher hustled off the bench to catch-up. All three Detroit skaters have eyes on Hughes. I do want to note that even when Compher catches up, the Devils did have an advantage. Hughes could have held up and survey his options. Toffoli was heading down the middle. Bratt was heading toward the far circle. Palat was catching up and could have become a trailing option. With Larkin only getting to the bench at this point for Copp to come on, the Devils had a man advantage in motion on this man advantage.
Of course, Jack Hughes would take another option: himself.
Hughes went forward and drew his defender, Moritz Seider. This was a one-on-one situation. This was the moment were the one-on-one was apparent. This was not apparent in the screenshot, but Seider’s goal was simple at this moment. Keep Jack Hughes to the outside. Guide him around the outside of the dot, keep him near the boards, and just be in his way. It is a common play for a defender to force the attacker to go around the zone instead of cutting in or making a pass into or across the zone. Getting the puck carrier into the corner or behind the goal line would be at least a little win as it forces them away from an attacking situation for even just a moment. Seider just had to do it to one of the best players in the game today.
Honestly, he was not doing a bad job. and Seider would keep with Hughes to avoid him getting past him to cut toward the net and deny him a pass to the middle. Even if Jack Hughes did attempt that pass, it would be difficult. Jake Walman had the middle covered and Toffoli would have had to deal with Compher as back support. Bratt was too far away and Palat was outside of the zone, although he would enter it momentarily. No matter. Jack Hughes committed to this situation and he would see it through.
Meanwhile, Ville Husso - the victim on this play - was starting to get ready to move back.
At this moment, it appeared Seider had succeeded. He maintained a good enough gap that denied Jack Hughes from cutting inside. Seider maintained enough speed so that Hughes could not go far enough ahead to cut him off. With the stretched out stick, Hughes could not really attempt a pass to a teammate. Given where his teammates were, Hughes would need a third-person perspective to even know where they were. Hughes was forced to head to the goal line. All Seider had to do was follow it in and Husso get in position at the right post to avoid any embarrassing near-post shots getting through. It looked like a Detroit success for the moment on this penalty kill.
About Husso, though, uh. Well. I have to ask: Why is he starting to crouch? Is he going to go into a reverse vertical horizontal (RVH) stance? Would that fully cover the post? You know the answer but humor me for this breakdown.
Ville Husso is indeed in a RVH stance. He is against his right post and not fully covering it. For most players in the NHL, this would be fine. Jack Hughes is not most players in the NHL. Hughes may have only briefly looked at Husso. I would like to think he saw this happening and figured, “I know what I must do. And I will make it look easy.”
Poor Moritz Seider. He actually succeeded at what he needed to do. He forced the puck carrier to the goalline. He kept Jack Hughes to the outside. He denied him a passing option, which was also helped by Walman being somewhat engaged with Toffoli. Most NHL players would rim the puck around the boards, carry it behind the net, or even attempt a cut back to reverse course. Jack Hughes is not most players in the NHL. He has the skills, the mindset, and the audacity to shoot. Yes, shoot.
Jack Hughes. From the Stop & Shop on-ice ad behind the goal line. A wrister directly off Ville Husso’s dome and into the net. The Rock erupted in jubilation. Power play goal, tie game, and the first of the 2023-24 season. You love to see it. In closing: BOOM HEADSHOT.
The Lessons to Learn
Ville Husso was otherwise having a really good night in the net. After a sluggish (to put it nicely) first period by the Devils, Husso was forced to work more often in the second period. The Devils attacked more, they were more fluid with the puck, and their movement off the puck allowed them to keep resetting and firing away as Detroit decided to leave their effective forecheck from the first period in the locker room. Husso was making good saves. But this PPG by Hughes is all on him. He committed to a RVH stance that would have worked for the vast majority of players he goes up against. He did it against one of the few who can punish it. Had Husso stood up or even straightened up his back - he is 6’3”, he is not small - he could have shrunk the window for Hughes to put one in off his helmet. He did not. And so he became the latest victim of The Big Deal’s headshots. Goalies around the league need to be careful if/when they drop into RVH at a post when they play New Jersey.
Mortiz Seider should be lauded for this play even if it was a PPG for the Devils. He did the right thing! Jack Hughes wanted a one-on-one and Seider played it well. No, he did not engage in a battle for the puck. But his decision to keep the puck carrier to the outside and make it difficult to move the puck inside the zone was correct. His execution was correct. Jack Hughes had no real option once he got into his one-on-one and he was forced to the goalline. Seider even maintained his stick and gap control up until the goal-scoring shot. The defender did the right thing even if a goal was scored by his man.
I think Dylan Larkin had an argument about the stick-chopping by Palat. Live, I thought he got away with one. And even on an individual play like this one by Jack Hughes, this was the genesis for that goal. It got the Devils the puck, Larkin was well behind everyone else in the play so the Red Wings were more shorthanded, and combined with the on-ice change in players, the Devils had a lot of space to go into. Jack Hughes could have made a pass at the blueline to spread the puck around because of that advantage in numbers. I am not so sympathetic for the no call given what else the refs did call in the game, but I understand the beef he may have with it.
The most important lesson to learn is that Jack Hughes is special. Most would probably groan if a player gained the zone, decided to take on one of the better young defensemen in the world one-on-one, and get forced to the outside for an incredibly low percentage shot or pass. Most would sigh that the player did not take on the defender or force a play earlier or hold up instead of taking a defender head-on. Most would roll their eyes, lamenting a wasted opportunity. Especially in a 0-1 game on a power play given the other personnel. Once again: it is different for Jack Hughes. He has done this kind of shot before for goals. He has the skills to do it, the confidence to go for it, and the knowledge not to do it all of the time. Jack Hughes is capable of doing amazing things like this and he did so on this play. Which, again, is not even the first time he has done this. This goal is one of many reasons why he is The Big Deal. And if you needed another from this very game, here you are.
That is the goal breakdown of the first New Jersey Devils goal of the 2023-24 season. You have now read what I saw on the play where Jack Hughes scored off Ville Husso’s head. Now I want to know what you think about it. What did you learn from this breakdown? How lucky was Palat for not getting a penalty? Is there any one else on the Devils who could have done what Jack Hughes did? Anyone in the NHL? What else could Detroit do other than wish Husso did not go into a RVH stance? When do you think it makes sense to attempt this kind of shot? 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.