A number of the Systems Analyst posts I’ve done have featured glaring defensive errors, the type that make the fan in the nosebleeds go “oh man, bench that guy.”
But sometimes mistakes aren’t as noticeable, and that’s often the case on the penalty kill. Anyone with a pair of skates can stand around in a box, keep their stick on the ice and interrupt a few passes, but it’s quite another thing to be aware of your surroundings, know who you’re supposed to be defending, and take care of your job effectively.
Last night Dustin Brown scored a powerplay goal against the Leafs with around five minutes to go in the second period. Here’s what went wrong for the Toronto:
As you can see below, the Leafs are doing their most favouritest thing in the world while Drew Doughty has puck possession at the point, “fronting the shot.” This infuriates a few Leafs fans I’ve talked to (as you can see, Gardiner is in front of Simon Gagne in front of the net, worrying about the puck rather than the player), but you don’t want to get tied up in front as a PKer who may have to rotate.
Whether you like what they’re doing or not, they’re doing it well in this frame.
Doughty moves the puck over to Anze Kopitar on the wall, and we have our first Joey Crabb not-technically-an-error-but-we-expect-better moment.
In his position, his job is to flush that puck down the wall, with priority 1A being to make sure the puck doesn’t get back to the quarterback up top. What that means is, he has to take an angle where Kopitar physically has to pass it through him. Crabb doesn’t come up high enough first before applying pressure, so the pass is made back to Doughty with relative ease.
Kopitar tries to pull Crabb as far out of position as possible by waiting until the last possible second to move the puck.
The pass mayyyy have left the zone (making the play offside), but that’s not what’s important. Guys have jobs to do, and you play between the whistles.
Below you’ll see that Bozak did a great job of staying in Doughty’s shooting lane, and Crabb made a smart play, reading that his partner would have to come all the way across the ice (with Doughty bobbling the puck), so he fades back to the slot, completing the switch.
You can see in the screenshot that Crabb shoulder checks to see where Brown is. The Kings captain is (wisely) just out of his view, so Crabb doesn’t know he’s starting to cheat down.
But this is the problem – he has to know that. You don’t just pick an area of the ice where you “should be” and stand there. You’re defending a player that’s likely to be around that spot. He needs to make some physical contact with that guy and be ready to tie up his stick.
After the puck gets moved down low to Simon Gagne (who peeled off to give Kopitar a low option) Gardiner has to keep an eye on Stoll if he comes down the backside, meaning they’re trusting Crabb to have the slot locked up.
As you can see here, Gagne is about to have the puck, Brown is starting to creep, and Crabb is still super-interested in Kopitar for some reason.
That’s all it takes to give up a scoring opportunity from a dangerous area. Crabb is a step-behind and Gardiner is caught in no-man’s land (he probably could’ve noticed by now that Stoll isn’t anywhere near the backdoor. He keeps backing up deeper and deeper like he thinks there’s a guy there). With the puck clearly about to be moved low, I’m not sure where Crabb’s head was on this one.
Then it just comes down to the Kings making a skill play, and skill is something Simon Gagne has. Dustin Brown finds the soft pocket, and makes the Leafs pay.
Awareness separates “guys who get to play on the PK” and “PK specialists.” Joey Crabb is not the latter.