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.