(Editor’s note: Yes, Systems Analyst is a Tuesday feature, but the holidays pushed it back to Wednesday this week. Hope you enjoy.)
It would’ve made for a long title, but “Systems Analyst: a baffling line change and poor pivot puts the Caps behind the Sabres 1-0 51 seconds into the game” was the real title I wanted to go with. The Sabres do so many things right and the Capitals do so many things wrong, that had it not resulted in a goal it would’ve been a crime.
Let’s talk line changes, transitioning, net drives, pivoting and more during a play that takes about seven seconds to unfold.
First, give it a watch.
Let’s take a look at our first frame:
As you can see there, Drew Stafford has solid possession of the puck. The puck was just in the Capitals zone, so he has some teammates that are hustling out to the blueline to stay onside, where they’ll immediately be ready to transition back on another rush.
Brooks Laich is tired, I guess?
I can’t explain his decision to change here - it’s 43 seconds into the game when this breakdown starts. 43 seconds is a full shift, yes, but it’s not like going a minute-plus is that rare, expecially when you consider that the puck is still in Caps territory, and the other team has it. There’s no way he should be changing here.
What’s even more incredible, is that after Drew Stafford moves this puck to Jordan Leopold on the wall (again, solid possession and attacking), this is the decision Jeff Halpern makes:
He says “Peace. Out.” That’s him peeling off his guy and calling for a change while Buffalo winds it up. At least Laich gave his guy hope of getting into the play. Identifying who to defend will be hard enough for that guy, but Halpern’s change won’t have to worry about it – he’ll never be relevant to this rush anyway. All five Sabres are ready to attack.
In the next screenshot, you can see Stafford start to drive through the middle, while Leopold gets the puck across the blue and keeps the play onside…but that’s not what I want you to look at.
Check out Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner, and the way he pivots:
(Let Leopold be represented by the “integrys” logo.)
A d-man facing a re-group needs to get up the ice fast and close the gap (maybe he could’ve forced the Sabres offside by making Leopold make a move), then pivot from outside to inside. Coaches want their d-men between the (face-off) dots. If you pivot from inside to outside as he does here, you end up here….
….allowing a three-lane highway down the center of the ice, out way too far wide. This plus the big gap leaves him helpless.
Leopold makes the smart, simple pass to the driving Stafford, and thanks to the poor decision to change by a few Washington Capitals, the Sabres have what’s essentially a 2-on-1, as Vanek wisely occupies his time with “picking” Alzner (Vanek had that ice first, so it isn’t an illegal play).
From there, it’s down to making the skill plays to cash in (and if you re-watch the video at the bottom, you’ll see that Dennis Wideman – who also just jumped on the ice - barely has time to get his stick blade-side-down before the Stafford pass, so that helps). Every team sees a few breakdowns a night, and the Sabres make this one count.
Nice pass from Stafford to captain Jason Pominville who’s wisely opened up for the one-t….
…and makes no mistake on the finish.
The Caps forwards never had a realistic chance to influence the play, so they’re left to wince, eat their minus, and go line-up at center for their first shift of the game.