The tendency in hockey – especially youth and rec hockey – is to go-go-go-go and keep going because all anyone ever does is laud hard work and how it results in success.
If you’ve ever been to one of those “Legends of Hockey” games where some ex-NHLers take on the local police or firefighters, it doesn’t take long to notice: the 50 and 60 year old ex-NHLers who don’t feel like skating win because they’re excellent at passing the puck, have better vision, and are patient.
We saw a nice taste of that from the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, as poise and patience resulted in Clarke MacArthur scoring the game’s only goal.
Let’s take it from the top:
Back in the Leafs’ zone in the latter half of the game and under some pressure, captain Dion Phaneuf does the smart thing: he fires it high and hard off the glass into the neutral zone, relieving the pressure and allowing his team the chance to deal with it out there.
It also allows David Steckel to head to the bench for a line change, and help the Leafs get some fresh legs out there.
Grabovski corrals the chip, and uses body position to protect the puck.
Meanwhile, Neal and Kunitz backcheck hard towards their own zone, and numbers look good for them. Meanwhile, Steckel continues on for his change.
Look at the puck support from Kulemin – it’s just fantastic. Comes across to the strong side, and stays low, giving Grabovski an out with the puck.
With Letang pinching up and providing puck pressure (before Grabovski has the chance to gain the red and dump it, which is exactly what Letang is supposed to do), Brooks Orpik (not pictured) has slid over to cover for him, and the first forward back, James Neal, will cover Orpik’s spot. It’s a nice rotation by the Pens, assuming Neal gets on his horse (he does).
Kulemin gets the puck, and looks over to find his team in the middle of a change, so he’s solo. There’s nobody to pass it to, and no reason to dump it deep and forfeit possession (being that there isn’t anyone to forecheck). You can see Grabovski at the bottom of the picture, and it’s my favourite part of the sequence: he turns, puts his head down and skates hard, heading to support Kulemin just as Kulemin supported him.
Clarke MacArthur is just completing the Leafs line change, hopping out when Steckel gets to the bench.
Next, Kulemin does what you just about never see a rec player do – a delay. He curls towards the boards and protects the puck, and buys time for his linemates to catch up.
Now, Letang is a “forward” here. His position has been looked after by Neal, so his job is provide puck pressure when he gets back in the zone. Being a d-man, he’s sort of hesitant, seemingly unfamiliar with that role.
…Which leaves a soft spot. Notice James Neal’s head – just puck staring the whole time, like a forward playing D would do.
In contrast, Kulemin’s head is terrific in those pictures. Always up, looking, assessing.
Kunitz’s job as the second guy back in the zone on a rush like this, would be to find the second forward coming into the zone. He lets Grabovski fly past him, and between he and Neal, they seem to have zero clue another Leafs player has come off the bench. Both of them are puck staring, and Kunitz hasn’t attempted so much as one shoulder check.
Next, Neal is isolated on a 2-on-1 as a flat-footed forward, since Orpik and Letang both took Kulemin. MacArthur loads up for a one-timer…
…but the pass is too far in front of him. He extends a skate and corrals it, and it kicks forward a bit.
At this point, it’s just about him and Brent Johnson.
Because the puck got pushed forward off his skate, he’s not able to get solid possession until he’s fairly deep, and it’s on his backhand. He could fire that low percentage shot – and he sells that he’s going to – but knows that he has just enough time.
The “I’m gonna shoot” lean-in:
And the world’s best Grabovski celebration. I think he could’ve dunked over Kendrick Perkins with that vert.
And that’s all she wrote. Phaneuf was patient by not forcing a pass. Grabovski was patient in the neutral zone by taking the simple option. Kulemin was patient with the delay. And MacArthur was patient against Johnson.