I’ve heard a lot of talk about the Zach Parise-to-Travis Zajac goal today, and for the most part, Michael Del Zotto has been assigned the lion’s share of the blame. He did get flat roasted at the blueline, after all.

But the more I watch it, the more I attribute the goal to the terrific, disciplined neutral zone forecheck of the Devils (with two men up, no less!). Yes, you can beat any forecheck, and Del Zotto could have been better, but that he sat for half the game (apparently as a result) made the goal worth far more for New Jersey than just a point on the board. I’d say too much, if I were a New York Ranger.

Here’s the goal, then I’ll break down what I’m talking about with screenshots.

As you can see here in the opening frame, Michael Del Zotto has the puck on the near-side. Travis Zajac is pressuring it (he was just over center a moment ago), and Zach Parise is coming over to take the center lane in his place. It’s a simple rotation, but well executed.

Artem Anisimov is doing the right thing as a winger, getting back to the boards to provide Del Zotto an option. He should probably be either closer to Del Zotto (to allow himself gap from the d-man), or farther up (to allow Del Zotto room to skate it), but overall, he’s not in a bad spot.

Del Zotto tries to move the puck up to him so he can either tip it in or make a play, but the Devils’ neutral zone defense is spot on – Danius Zubrus steps up and causes a turnover. Maybe Del Zotto should have seen that Anisimov wasn’t going to have time and done something else with the puck, but these days it’s common to fire it to a forward under pressure so the guy can just get a piece of it and get it deep.

I’ve said this a number of times today, but the Devils forecheck is relentless. While Zubrus is stealing the puck, Travis Zajac could easily…easily just go for a little fly-by. It wouldn’t even be a fly-by, it’d just be a turn to face the play. But, he carries on and takes the strides he’s allowed to finish his check on Del Zotto. Here’s a terrible screenshot to prove it:

Zach Parise is in such great position – he’s where a coach would draw the “X” on the board to demonstrate perfection.

So Zubrus pinches up and gets the puck, while Zajac is just circling back from his hit on Del Zotto, seeing that his team has recovered possession. Del Zotto is just coming up from the Rangers zone too.

Here’s why this is such a tough play for Del Zotto: Parise has supported the puck, and Zubrus has managed to get it up to him before taking a check from Big Brian Boyle.

What is Del Zotto supposed to do here? Well, he’s been taught to get up to the blue, pivot to the middle, get a tight gap and play the attacker with his outside shoulder lined up to his inside. But how? Parise has a head of steam and the puck, and Del Zotto is essentially flat-footed. His other option would be to immediately start back-pedaling and risk giving a creative guy like Parise a huge gap to work with inside the zone (which it turns out may have been the right choice, but not one many d-men will make).

Or…or he could get aggressive, pinch, and hope to nip this thing in the bud right here and now. If he misses, well…the Rangers are screwed.

He misses.

I’ve frozen it at this screen for a reason – I feel like everyone missed the nifty move Parise made with the puck here. You see where Parise’s stick is, on the backhand, without the puck? Well, he pulled the chip move on Del Zotto. The chip move is when you’re bringing the puck across mid-stickhandle from forehand-to-backhand. As a defender, you see where the puck is moving towards, and you do your best to try to poke it loose. You extend your stick in the process.

With the chip, you push the puck forward (with your backhand) before you get all the way across, right when you know the d-man is going for the poke check, putting it under his triangle (or in some cases, through his legs). It’s like a spot-pass to yourself. Parise shifts with his body, makes Del Zotto miss with the chip move, and now we’re here.

So now the situation is pretty clear. 2-on-1, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac versus Dan Girardi and Henrik Lundqvist.

At first, Girardi takes away the easy pass.

Parise’s entry into the zone had him way out wide, so he has to start coming in tighter if they hope to have an effective 2-on-1.

Knowing this, Girardi commits early. The perfect slide would be timed with the forwards’ speed and off the net (preferably puck-side post). I thought he committed to this way too early (he made the first move, something talented players can deal with), and I don’t think the slide was very good. He only gets his stick in the lane, not his body.

So, Parise makes the pass to Zajac, who’s faded off and opened-up.

Here’s the thing: it’s a nice pass, sure – he saucered it over Girardi’s stick – but it’s so, so slow. It allowed Lundqvist so much time to get over, I thought “There’s no way this is going in.” I’m sure goalies will crucify me for this, but I think he should’ve made this save.

But anway, Zajac gets ALL of it, and (I’m pretty sure) it beats Lundqvist armpit hole. I’m “pretty sure,” because I don’t believe that Lundqvist couldn’t go post-to-post in that time. Watch it again at the bottom of the post in real time.

Put it on the board…..yes.

The hustle from Parise to get to Zajac after the goal was downright adorable.

Del Zotto has taken the blame for the goal, but he was in a tough situation due to a perfect neutral zone defense and up against some awfully skilled players.

Comments (6)

  1. The worst part to me is how sluggish Del Zotto looked trying to get back in the play. It looks like he even coasted at one point and wasn’t lifting his feet off the ice. Maybe that’s what burned Torts the most – his lack of effort getting back. He has to play that body at the blue line though, he can’t give Parise a free ride by.

  2. I really, really like these System Analyst posts.

    I take lots of free Backhand Shelf content without giving anything in return. Here’s a link to some super condensed, tiny baby bunny cuteness: http://dailybunny.org/post/22974916169/bunny-found-super-mushroom

    OK, so It’s not money or beer, but it’s more than I offered yesterday.

    Thanks and enjoy.

  3. good stuff, as usual. But there’s one thing no one is mentioning – the reason for the NZ turnover is because of an awful pass by Del Zotto. Its hard to see from the camera angle, but he passes the puck *right* to Zubrus. You can see Anisimov moving back towards the boards and because the pass is a few feet more toward center, Anisimov has to reach his stick forward, away from his body, to try and control or tip it. Yes, Zubrus is doing a good thing by getting up toward Anisimov, but Del Zotto’s pass is closer to Zubrus, than Anisimov. So that completely freezes Anisimov, gives Zubrus a hear start since he is already skating towards center ice, and makes the other NYR forwards pivot from O to D, already behind the Devils forwards.

    An awful pass, under no real pressure, and it goes down hill from there.

    And yes, I agree – Lundqvist could have gotten there. It does go under his arm, because he reaches his right arm out (I guess trying to predict a shot to the high short side corner?

  4. I think you’ll be safe from any potential goalie hate… Rather than taking the horizontal angle across the goal line, Lundqvist tries to re-establish a more aggressive position and ends up about two or three feet off the goal line. Not only is he traveling farther than the six feet post to post, there is little backward momentum to use to his advantage as he starts almost on his glove-side post. This means his movement across is all on his initial push – which isn’t good enough – and he has to have a second push to get out to Zajac. Essentially, he arrives late to where he wants to be and has to reach to fill space, which opens holes for the puck to find.

    Also, having caught another angle of the replay, it doesn’t seem like he is square to Zajac. Either push isn’t accompanied by any rotation of the chest to adjust to the new angle. The centre of Lundqvist’s body is still square a few feet to his left of Zajac (towards the centre ice dot), rather than to Zajac’s stick until after the shot. This means that there is more room to put the puck around Lundqvist. Couple that with his reach and the second push, and you have the hole between the blocker and the body to put the puck.

  5. One more thing…watch where Parise goes to following his pass. He jumps over Girardi to get to the scoring area. Any rebound near the crease would have been a goal. They teach ‘em right at UND!

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