There may be no NHL games, but at least there’s some form of hockey back for us to analyze! It’s been awhile since we’ve got to do a Systems Analyst post.
Quick preface: after my senior season of college hockey, I joined the Alaska Aces of the ECHL to gain a little college experience. My first game was in Long Beach, in front of nearly 800 people (!), and it was “bring your dog to the rink day.” That really happened.
Anyway, I figured the ECHL wouldn’t be very good – NCAA D1 hockey is straight-up fast, so I figured I wouldn’t have any problem. The first time I got the puck in the neutral zone, I headed up the middle – not lollygagging by any means – and got caught from the back just like the guy in today’s video.
The thing is, the ECHL has a huge range of players – some excellent (about 500 players who spent time there went on to play in the NHL), some terrible (about five million haven’t), so you never know what you’re going to be dealing with every time you get the puck.
My point is that I feel like that’s what the KHL has become with the influx of talent that’s come across from the NHL. Zherdev may not be considered an “NHLer” at this point, but he certainly fine-tuned his craft over here, and pitting him up against whoever the hell that was defending him on this goal just didn’t seem fair.
Let’s get to the analysis of the goal. First, the video:
Damn, what a beauty. Not quite Matt Duchene against the Penguins, but a beauty nonetheless.
Denis Bodrov of Spartak (2nd round pick of the Flyers in 2006) picks up the puck behind the net and starts to wheel. He uses the net as a good defenseman should, cuts hard, and starts heading up ice. Zherdev is caught behind the net.
Bodrov has a few options, but he’s got his momentum up and has a stride on the guy chasing him, so hey, why not wheel it up ice?
Right about here, Zherdev gives him The Backcheckers Warning – a one-handed stick-to-pant slap that means “Hey dude, I’m seriously still pressuring you.” The idea is to make the guy with the puck rush a decision and force a play before he’d like to.
Incidentally, it’s also when Zherdev drops it into fifth gear, annoyed that Bodrov seems to think he can’t catch him if he wants to.
Bodrov then skates into some of Zherdev’s Atlant teammates and has to cut laterally (he doesn’t really – make a damn play with it already. He chooses to cut), and that allows Zherdev to catch him, and pull off the from-behind stick lift I wrote about the other day.
Annnnd he’s off.
Zhukov is on the backcheck, and the play develops…
Hey guys, have I written about gap control before? It’s at this point that Zherdev knows he’s about to have some fun. He has unlimited options.
That Spartak d-man is Jakub Nakladal, and he’s inside the circles and multiple stick-lengths away from a very talented player. Honestly, here’s where I’m going to get all pro-NHL-the-KHL-just-isn’t-as-good: have you ever seen an NHL d-man with a gap that bad?
To give him the benefit of the doubt, his partner turning that puck over in a heartbeat probably made it hard, but still, stay up with the play.
Here’s why I tweeted this the other night:
The Nik Zherdev goal: extremely talented hockey human scores goal that would never happen in NHL. Not a knock on him (just catching up here)
— Justin (@jtbourne) September 26, 2012
The reason obviously-talented players fall out of favour with coaches is because they “try stuff.” They try fancy, swing for the fences stuff that works 1% of the time. They fall in love with their talent, and they’d rather demonstrate it than do the higher percentage stuff that’s asked of him. All of that is to say, “most players would’ve happily taken a free shot from the slot here.”
Here, Zherdev is setting up this dangle already. This is not a “take what’s given,” this is a “check out what I can do” all-or-nothing moment.
Zhukov, the back-checker, has his legs stuck on the tracks. He could definitely make a play on Zherdev with a couple extra strides. And then, it happens. Head down, across the middle of the ice, Zherdev pulls it through his legs and picks it up on the other side of Nakladal, without getting touched.
The initial part of the move is to look shot, which you can see him doing a little bit of two pictures up, which has somehow already put ex-Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Mike Murphy on his knees.
I’ll give benefit of the doubt to Zherdev (as I did with Nakladal moments ago) here that he knows the goalie will be moving laterally and he could possibly slide one five hole on him, but part of me feels like this was him just putting it on the net and hoping to find a hole on an opened-up goalie. (Tenders, how do you feel about a shot going in from the hashmarks, five-hole, on the ice?)
I do want to point out: I tend to look for the defensive errors that lead to a goal, and I don’t want to take away from the obvious talent Zherdev displayed on this play. It was awfully nifty.
I’m just saying there’s a reason it didn’t quite pan out for the guy in the NHL. Trying something like that wouldn’t result in the pictures below against NHLers:
One more time at full speed for ya:
Systems Analyst: she’s back!