Playing center isn’t easy. You’re asked to cover every square inch of the ice surface. You’re asked to be a defenceman in the d-zone, and a forward in the o-zone. You take crucial face-offs.
Thankfully, there is one respite from the constant mental test: the d-zone face-off.
If the opposing team gets the puck (try to avoid that part from happening), your job is simple – stay with the other centerman.
There’s no “who’s got who” issue, it’s not messy and confusing, it’s just so basic – that guy, right there, the one you’re probably physically in contact with right now, that’s your guy.
On Monday night, Detroit beat the living snot out of Columbus. I could’ve broken down all seven of their goals, titled the post “The Red Wings are Good,” and moved on. But I was reminded just how “on your guy” “stay on your guy” truly requires on this Pavel Datsyuk goal.
Let’s take a look at it, then we’ll walk through it.
Geez. We should probably also try to figure out when Zetterberg knows he’s going to pass that. That was freaking incredible.
So here we are at the opening faceoff. Mark Letestu is lined up against Pavel Datsyuk. Todd Bertuzzi is in front of the net (defended by Brett Lebda), and Henrik Zetterberg is lined up on the wall (defended by Nikita Nikitin, which is a real name apparently).
The complication: there is one second left in the Red Wings powerplay. On a penalty-kill lost draw, the center actually goes out to the point – with one second left, he would’ve communicated with the guy in the box and said “up high is yours, I’ve got down low.” We’re giving him the benefit of the doubt on that one here, and assuming he didn’t just forget.
Regardless, this play happens between three Red Wings forwards, with three Blue Jackets are low – Letestu makes it clear he’s staying down low on Datsyuk, so there shouldn’t be a problem. (The puck drops as the announcer finishes a “Datsyuk best player in the League” sentence.)
So who’s got who is pretty clearly defined there.
The puck heads back to the Red Wings point, and Letestu is adamant about doing his job. I got this guy.
I’m going to say there was a serious lack of pre-faceoff communication by the Jackets here. The forward, Umberger, initially tried to go out and semi-block the shot with some hesitancy, seemingly unclear of his role. In a moment, you’ll see him bolt over to help Lebda on Bertuzzi. But worse, is that Nikitin, as you can see below, has booked over to the net-front instead of staying with his guy. That’s a PK move, and judging by the fact that Letestu is staying on Datsyuk (as you can see below), they’re just letting the guy come out of the box, and sticking with 5-on-5 coverage. He is apparently unaware, or forgot (never a good sign when you have to ask that question twice).
The rebound kicks out, and coverage, overall, is okay.
But wait, where’d Zetterberg go? Nikitin left him, and…. oh, there he is, up high.
Feel free to notice something alarming – for the first time, Letestu is puck-staring, and not attached to his very-talented check. Zetterberg has gotten lost (somehow, in a span of 2 seconds), and is coming down towards the goal. Umberger is rushing over to help Lebda, who has totally fine coverage on Bertuzzi after the rebound.
And sometimes…sometimes your opponent just makes nice plays, as Bert does here:
He slides the puck in between the defenders to a knifing Zetterberg (“knifing” copyright Doc Emrick), and here’s where the difference between poor defending teams and good defending teams sets in:
A little puck watching is fine. But panic isn’t. You have to trust your teammates. When Letestu sees Zetterberg with the puck in the slot, he has to acknowledge that’s Nikitin’s guy, find his own, and tighten up. But the tendency is always is to get magnetically pulled towards the black thing.
Zetterberg is about to take a backhand after the nifty Bertuzzi pass. Goaltender Allan York (thanks, Google) is ready to stop it. Nikitin is applying pressure. Letestu….has no idea where his guy is.
He’s not close enough to influence the play in any significant way, so he needs to plan for York making the save or Zetterberg passing. Either way, he needs to find his guy.
To his credit, he realizes this right when Zetterberg starts his spin-o-rama. “Oh shit, where’s my guy?”
You can see the “where is he?” shoulder check in the picture above by Letestu. The problem is, the puck is already on it’s way. And from there…
…Allan York goes “…Seriously? The Red Wings? And I get this D? Thanks.”
And just like that, you’re the guy in the screenshot attempting the butterfly position. I tried for like, 20 minutes to draw little goalie pads on him, but look at the arrow above – that’s where I’m at as an artist.
The points is, if you have a guy, have a guy. Don’t just take up space on the ice.
(Fun bonus fact – there’s another reason the above arrow sucks – it looks like he goes five-hole on Letestu in the picture.)