Pic from WashingtonTimes.com

 

Marian Gaborik’s overtime winner last night was by no means a bad goal, and I don’t just mean on the offensive side of the puck. Sometimes “hockey happens” – you do things the right way, and still get the wrong results. That’s a part of our game. As I’ve emphasized a number of times lately, milliseconds and inches can equal goals.

I’m not going to give the OT winner the full Systems Analyst treatment, but I’ve included a handful of screenshots to illustrate my point.

***

Here’s the goal, scored by Marian Gaborik in the sixth period, 114:41 after the puck dropped to start the game:

 

To start things off, the puck has just swung from east-to-west behind the net (which causes coverage confusion to begin with), and defenseman Dan Girardi has pinched down to keep the puck in on the right side.

John Carlson is in front, with coverage on Marian Gaborik. Jay Beagle, the center, is headed down to play low.

Everyone can see where Girardi is going with this puck – back behind the net. He really only has one decent option.

Brad Richards sees where his teammate is going with it too, so he lurks behind the net and waits for it.

Look at Carlson’s head – he sees Girardi putting it back behind the net, and has three options:

A) Cut the puck off, end the Rangers possession, break out of the zone.

B) Recognize that Richards is going to get the puck, go back around the left side of the net (as you’ll see in the next frame, Carlson is on the opposite side of the net when it’s decision time), meaning that’d be a long route), leave Gaborik for Beagle, his center.

C) Stay with Gaborik, which would leave Richards with the puck, and a lot of time and space to walk to the net while Beagle scrambles to recover.

I think he makes the right decision to try to pick this puck off on the rim (of course, I look wrong because they score, but you can only play percentages).

Carlson’s decision wasn’t that of a d-man chasing a player behind the net, it’s a guy trying to intercept a pass. Anyway, the puck goes behind the net:

I can’t emphasize how close Carlson was to getting this puck, he may have even touched it. Alas, he doesn’t stop it.

Beagle was headed down low as he should – you like to leave a d-man in front, ideally, but things can’t always be perfect. To his credit, he reads the switch with Carlson in a quarter-second. He knows Gaborik is now his guy immediately, as you can tell below.

So you see where he is above, now look – the puck is past Carlson’s stick en route to Richards, and Beagle is sharply correcting.

If this isn’t a bang-bang play, Beagle has him tied up in under a second.

The other thing to note in the shot above is Troy Brouwer. He was the weak-side wing when Girardi shot the puck behind the net. Now he’s becoming the strong side wing, but he doesn’t drift up to his point as wingers usually will - he recognizes (look at both Beagle and Brouwer, hunting Gaborik) that the guy in front could be open for a half-second, and comes down low to provide help. Great D.

This is the problem with playing great players though: Richards moves it immediately before Carlson can get to him,and Gaborik is smart enough to know to get rid of it ASAP.

Just look how close Beagle and Brouwer are to getting a stick in Gaborik’s way here, and the puck’s not even there yet.

It happens so fast Holtby doesn’t have time to get all the way down, and isn’t able to close up. It clips his stick on the way through to his five-hole.

The puck is already in the net in the frame above. Gaborik’s arms are on the way up.

***

Hockey just happens sometimes.

The NHL’s talent level has evolved to the point where offensive players have to, and can do, just about everything one-touch. They need milliseconds to make dangerous plays. I spent minutes trying to freeze the video with the puck as close to Gaborik’s stick as possible, but not off it yet - no matter how painstakingly small a distance I moved the mouse to the next frame, it was already off his stick.

I always had a problem with coaches who yell at their team when they’re losing and praised their guys when they’re winning, regardless of what’s happening on the ice. Sometimes you do the right things in a loss, and vice versa – that’s what you should be paying attention to.

For all the times I’ve highlighting the Capitals defensive lapses this, I can’t find any major gaffe on this play. It’s why I think team’s need offensive ”difference-makers,” incidentally (like Alexander Radulov, hint-hint, Nashville) – sometimes when you badly need a goal, they can pull off the nanosecond bang-bang bury and push you past your opponent. The Capitals have those guys; the Rangers’ just got to them first.

Sometimes hockey just happens, and you have to move on. Flush it, as they say – sometimes hockey happens.