This may shock you to learn, but I did not watch the Carolina Hurricanes/Winnipeg Jets game last night, as tempting as it was. But in watching the highlights, I came across a pretty interesting goal.

Watching this play may just help us better understand why Eric Staal sits where he does in plus/minus:

822 in the NHL.

As I implied earlier, I don’t watch a ton of ‘Canes games, but I’m working on a theory that Staal’s narcoleptic and takes periodic on-ice naps in the neutral zone. Let’s discuss it further.

The play starts with Jets’ captain Andrew Ladd with full possession of the puck in the ‘Canes zone delaying (which means he’s already been in there for at least a second) and the clock reads 6:22.

He’s being covered by Tim Gleason, while Tuomo Ruutu and Bryan Allen are also back, waiting to read the play. Kyle Wellwood is entering the offensive zone from the far side:

Antropov does a nice job supporting the puck in the next screenshot, coming over to Ladd to provide an out for him. Since Ladd is up by the blueline in the “this is where you don’t mess around with the puck” area and Gleason is on him, he’s happy to get it a little deeper to his teammate.

Tuomu Ruutu reads the chip, and heads over to defend Antropov. Four Hurricanes are back in their zone now in good position, as they’ve been joined by the other forward Andreas Nodl.

(Apparently Ladd banks it off that lady’s head.)

After Antropov picks the puck up off the high cycle, you’ll notice that Tobias Enstrom does the same thing for him that he did for Ladd – he supports the puck.

However, because Antropov and Ruutu are so tight to the boards, there’s a clear lane to give Enstrom the puck:

Okay, so there’s still no Eric Staal in the picture, which is pretty incredible. There’s nary a spot on the ice he could have been at and not been back yet (even from the bench), save for maybe trapped under the ice like a Canadian loonie at the Olympics.

But here’s where we switch our focus: Andreas Nodl’s job, as the weak-side forward in the slot is two-fold – one, if the defenseman in front of him gets the puck, he is to defend him. Second, if there’s is a breakdown, he’s to collapse low. Like so many forwards do, he’s happy to be “in his position,” and is mentally turned off – Tobias Enstrom is a defenseman, and there are already three other (covered) forwards in the d-zone. That’s his guy.

He’s now put Bryan Allen in a tough situation – does he go out and front Enstrom?

You can’t exactly allow a guy a clear look, so he kind of has to. Plus, if he goes out on Enstrom, Nodl will help him out low on the breakdown, right? If only he weren’t so high – the weak forward needs to be lower in the d-zone. He needs to help Allen out.

Hey where’s Eric Staal?

Still no Staal….

Still no…

Aha! And only nine seconds later. Obviously the goal is not directly his fault, just…what the hell? Nine seconds to find the d-zone?

Nodl broke (way) late, and Enstrom made just a terrific pass to thread the needle between Allen’s wickets. And that was all she wrote.

It is possible that somebody made a bad change, and Staal got his skate stuck in the door or something. I have no idea. That’s just a crazy long time for there to be no centerman in the zone.

Comments (14)

  1. In the pic under the line “Hey where’s Eric Staal?” you mislabeled Nödl as “Ruutu”. Ruutu’s off screen there.

  2. Before Ladd gained possession and entered the offensive zone, Brandon Sutter was crushed by a beautiful check from Antropov (I believe) between the circles in Jet’s zone. Sutter stayed down for a few moments and didn’t make it to the bench before Ladd was entering the zone, and that’s when Staal come over the boards.

    Earlier in the year, he’d be deep in the offensive zone and be slow on the backcheck for most of his minuses. Now he’s either victim of bad/late changes or he’s the first forward back. He’s defensive game has improved this year, but especially with Muller behind the bench. Too bad he’s dug himself too deep a hole to get out of this season.

    October: -13
    November: -5 (-18 overall)
    December: -4 (-22 overall)
    January: -1 (-23 overall)*

    *Thus far in the month.

    Has he had is fair share of lazy shifts? He bet your ass he does, but I will she his defensive game has turned around. The big October number is a product of Paul Maurice. In the past three seasons, there has been one Cane in the bottom five in +/-, including Rod Brind’Amour twice (and he’s won the Selke twice just two or three years prior).

    • This is exactly right. I was at the game and saw the hit. Sutter tried to work the refs a bit too after being hit which may have delayed his return to the bench.

    • According to the stat sheet, Staal had only been on the ice for 2 seconds before Wellwood scored, so this explanation holds up.

  3. I really like those system analysis. Thanks.

    I think you have misidentify one player in the sixth screenshot. Isn’t it Nodl instead of Ruutu, near the top of left faceoff circle?

  4. These analysts are the best. The WSJ just ran a feature on a breakout play the rangers had been using to spring Gaborik for a breakaway off a defensive zone draw.

    It’s great being able to see and show that hockey isn’t just chaos on ice, but that there actually are specific plays that are designed and reasons for players movement in certain areas of the ice.

  5. Out of curiosity, where is the 5th Jet? The entire play looks like a 4on4 situation. Not that Eric Staal shouldn’t have gotten back, but this all looks like Nodl’s fault.

  6. That guy plays on my rec team! You know the one; the guy who stands by the redline waiting on the long breakout pass regardless of how many minutes that the puck has been in his defensive zone.

    • And despite being a minus-3 every game, he scores two beautiful breakaway goals and everyone on the team thinks he’s just the best. Yup, I know the guy.

  7. It would be nice if Patrick Clarke were right. I spent two years in NC just flabbergasted that Staal got all this hero worship when he was such a lazy player. If he actually did turn it around he’d be a player on the rise…plus I bet he’d get more props from his brothers.

  8. You could also have shown the Tavares game-winner from Saturday…. Tavares makes a burst to the front of the net and Staal doesn’t mark him until he’s past him and taking the pass from Parenteau. By the time he’s thinking “uhoh” and trying to jab Tavs’ stick, he’s shooting and then bulling past Gleason to slap in the rebound.

    Of course, the real reason I’m talking about this is to hide my dismay at seeing four Islanders in the bottom ten of the plus/minus chart above. Streit is particularly gobsmacking. He’s definitely much better than that – he was one of the few plus guys the Isles had in their woeful 2009-2010 season. They’re just a terrible team at level right now.

  9. These breakdowns are awesome! Just stumbled onto them today. However, I don’t agree Allen “kind of has to” challenge Enstrom there. Not if it means leaving an opponent (Wellwood) all by himself in front of your goalie. Stay with Wellwood and leave Enstrom for Nodl (if he can get over there in time). Worst case scenario (if Nodl cannot get over there in time), it’s a 2 on 1 down low, and the d-man always is supposed to take away the pass…

  10. Haha, this is great. If you want to see something even more baffling, check out the first goal (Franzen) from the Preds@Wings game (Feb. 17th). Sergei Kostitsyn (#74) gives Eric Staal a run for his money… he’s on the ice, but not involved in the play for 13 (yes – THIRTEEN) seconds. It’s pretty unbelievable.

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