"Can't believe Subban didn't have that first one." - A moron

As much as I, like other Canadians, want to forget yesterday’s thorough butt-fumble of a World Junior hockey game against the Americans, I was goaded into doing this by a couple curious minds: an analysis of Jake McCabe’s first goal, in which, at one point, the Canadians were in the above defensive “formation.” Five of the six on-ice Canadians are packed into a lane slightly wider than the net (and as you’ll see farther down, they get tighter), along with three Americans, putting eight of the 12 humans on the ice in an area about seven feet wide. Actually, if we feel like drawing those lanes down 200 feet, nine of the twelve were in there. Presumably, this was not the game plan before the puck dropped.

Let’s take it from the top. This is a bit of a long one because I have to mention what starts the US breakout down at the other end of the ice, and because, y’know, the whole thing is a mess. Boone Jenner, this is not your finest shift.

First, take a look at it for yourself, if you dare.

It all starts down at the far end. Boone Jenner, one of Canada’s most physical players, has a beat on the puck in the offensive zone (this is mid-video, during the replay about :35 seconds in). He’s on it.

This, to me, is a 50/50 puck. The problem, at least for Jenner, is that he’s probably going to get a touch on it first, which means he’s the guy who has to take the hit. Or, he could completely pull-up, forfeit the puck, and let US defenseman Mike Reilly grab solid possession and make a play. If he takes the hit there, at the very least there’s a puck battle and his linemate Phillip Danault can come in and help dig it out.

He doesn’t.

He pulls up. I know, it looks like he’s heading off to change, but I assure you, he’s not. You’ll see him again in a bit.

I’m about to get into the rush that leads to the goal as best I can, but there’s something worth noting before I do: sometimes defensive situations are tough to read, and when multiple people make the wrong read on the same play (or if they fall, or whatever), you can end up in a seemingly perpetual cycle of “cover for that guy, now you cover for my guy” and you end up trying to patch the Hoover Dam with bubblegum. The technical term for that development in hockey is “a clusterfuck,” and that’s what we had here: snowflake errors turned into an avalanche.

We start with the Americans breaking in, and the Canadians having numbers (as in, they had enough players back to cover the number of guys coming on the rush). Because of a quick camera switch in the video and the random routes of the players, I’ll label most of the pics so we can follow who’s headed where. I’m sorry to have to use every name on the ice, but seriously, you need all the ingredients to put together this soup sandwich of a play.

Barber has just picked up the wrap around the boards and brought it up the ice. He hits Galchenyuk in the middle with a pass (nice center support), who immediately one-touches it to his linemate Kuraly on the wall nearest us (gets the puck wide on the entry with a nice, short pass). Scott Harrington has Kuraly in his sights, however, and is about to put the body on him just inside the blueline as he should. The American forward is able to get the puck past Harrington, and it slides down towards the half-wall while he gets pinched off. Galchenyuk supports his winger (if you haven’t noticed, I like that kid on this goal), and he heads in to pick up the loose puck.

So far things are okay for Team Canada. Danault and Ritchie are not quite on their usual sides, because when you’re the high forward in the offensive end (as Danault was) you come back and take the wide lane, which in this case happened to be on the right wing. Now that they’re in-zone, they have the option to either stay on their current sides, or revert to normal. They’re close enough now to not bother communicating “stay” and risk getting tangled. So Danault comes across, and figures he may as way try and dig out the puck (not that that’s necessarily the right decision), while Kuraly has won the physical battle with Harrington, who’s now on the ice. Galchenyuk has gained possession, and “escaped” up-ice with the puck.

Here’s where things badly derail. Harrington has lost position on Kuraly after going down while his opponent stayed up. Danault could see this and cover for him, but most wingers (like me) tend to leave the job of “bailing out a fallen d-man” to our centers, because center is sooo hard, you guys. So he’s coming in for a half-ass swipe at the puck, then he’s just gonna chill on his proper wing and (he thinks) sorta watch his d-man. Basically, he’s about to skate past Kuraly to cover no one, while the puck isn’t there.

Kuraly then opens up, and Galchenyuk sees him and tries to get him the puck in the opening, only…. WAIT. WHO’S THAT?

Mike Reilly, the US d-man who started the play jumped into the rush, and (wrongly) carried on even as the rush stopped and it turned into a zone possession situation. He takes a niiice looong loop around the zone, then heads up towards his position, which creates the perfect storm. Galchenyuk’s pass to Kuraly is suddenly on his twig, Harrington is still recovering, and three Canadian are damn near the left wall while he’s in the middle with the puck.

Let’s back up a sec. Here’s Reilly’s route:

It’s tough because… whose guy is that? Is Danault supposed to stay with him from when he was back in the wide lane (but Reilly is the left d-man, so…)? The rush felt over, so Danault likely thought it was time to switch into d-zone cover mode. Reilly’s long loop through through the zone caused a confusion in coverage because…isn’t he supposed to be doing something safer, like standing on the blueline? He’s lost in the shuffle.

Throughout this whole process, Boone Jenner has been coming back into the zone (well after Reilly), in his mind to play center, but things are a mess by now – and he makes them worse.

When you come back into your own zone as a forward line, it’s supposed to be that F1 (the first guy back) plays low (usually the job of the center) and F2 and F3 play the wing roles until the center can switch with whoever was F1. Ritchie has assumed the low F role, grabbing onto Barber, who’s headed to the front of the net – a smart move, given that both d-men are caught out on the wall. Seeing that, Jenner should then take Ritchie’s role as the right winger, which would put him right in the slot – as in, exactly where this play is headed. He doesn’t (I have no idea what he thought he was doing), and now we’re stuck here.

Hamilton applied some light pressure to Galchenyuk, who now has him beaten off the wall. Harrington has stepped on marbles. Jenner has marbles between his ears. Danault is just sort of cruising around. And Ritchie’s like “Fuck it, no prob guys, I got this. I’ll just cover all your humans,” so he comes out to challenge Reilly, forcing him to leave Barber.

AND THEN. And then the panic strikes: when you lose your guy, when you lose your position, the best thing to do is collapse to the net and figure it out. You can always skate out from there, but at least get to the dangerous area, find a guy and get his stick up. So…they all do. And not just to “the house,” no no. They collapse to the crease.

Reilly gets the pass through to Barber…

And Subban make a stop on his attempted backhand, and the puck gets kicked out to the side of the net. I’m not going to clip the next shitshow of a second or so, because it’s just a mess of out-of-position humans heading to the crease trying to figure out who to cover and a few American forwards trying to jam in a rebound. But because they all went to the same area, everyone manages to simultaneously pick everyone else from covering anyone.

Let’s pick it up at this mind-boggling screenshot:

At this point, Barber has solid possession of the puck behind the net, Malcolm Subban is trying to get back into position, Hamilton and Danault are covering Galchenyuk, who is on the ice, Jenner is an extra from The Walking Dead or possibly a CPU character in an old video game that’s gotten stuck, Harrington is too lost in the shuffle to get to Kuraly, and Ritchie is behind sucked out wide, because he finally has a guy to cover – Reilly – and he damn well intends to do it. Still, he’s got to stop and start, and stay tight. This is no time for swinging. I want to say he was the only one who wasn’t a mess, but he’s pretty loopy during this sequence.


Seriously, go back and look if you don’t believe me: McCabe is in zero of the previous 12 pictures of this breakdown. He was just like “Kay guys, you’re all gettin’ a little crazy here, I’m just gonna hang out and not get mesmerized by the puck for half a shift while the rest of you go bonkers.

The clusterfuck immediately moves to DEFCON 1 as McCabe grabs solid possession, because OMG a guy is going to shoot the puck, so everybody tries to get in the lane. And as we saw earlier: boy, did they ever get in that god damned lane.

I chose “Comic” Sans for a reason in that picture, and let the record show that those quotation marks are meant to be bunny-ear air-quotes.

When I watched this the first few times, the part that makes me the most mental, even though I sort of get what he might have been thinking, is how hard Dougie Hamilton tries to wedge himself into the lane even further. This isn’t exactly a soccer wall Team Canada went with here…more of a Russian doll formation or something. Hamilton actually pivoted to make himself thinner. For all Subban knows, the puck could be in the US end right now.

And, we all know how it played out from there. McCabe pulled the puck into himself just enough to change the angle a half-foot…

…and he snipes it low glove-side.

And that’s all she wrote. An error-avalanche that achieved the title of Ugliest Canadian Moment during that game despite the other very-worthy contenders.

If there’s any takeaway from watching this goal and reading this breakdown, let it be this: don’t try to analyze goals where everybody messes up. I’ve only got five fingers to point, and I think I used every one of ‘em.

Comments (17)

  1. So Don Cherry can take Canadian credit for training the Americans to play as well as they did, but ignores the fact that the Canadian Juniors also trained a significant portion of Team Canada?

  2. Haha, well done. Almost spat out my coffee at “CPU character from old video game” and the HUMANS label.

  3. Great piece. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  4. The wrestling entrance music for McCabe had me going.

    I love these.

    And yes, that goal was THEE definition of a complete defensive break down. See a fair amount of this in rec league. “Wait where am I supposed to be?” “He has the puck, all 4 of us should chase him!” “Oh crap, he’s shooting. I know, I’ll screen the goalie as I make a bad angle attempt to block the shot.”

  5. It’s the minorest quibble ever, but DEFCON 1. DEFCON 5 is “cool dudes, no worries man, let’s have pizza.” DEFCON 1 is “get laid, cause it’s all about to go pear-shaped.”

    • I know the expression, but had to google what *I* was writing. I was like…is this a Star Trek reference? Will fix.

  6. Puck-watching as a result of a lack of communications. Plain and simple.

    No one calls their assignment and they all try to become mind-readers in what becomes a Chinese fire-drill.

    Tracking the play, from the second the puck enters the zone, one can see each Canadian player commit to….nothing. They are all waiting for a team-mate to do something, to get the ball rolling, so they (in turn) can assume a trickle-down assignment.

    The US continues, unmolested, and the Canadians become frozen in a reactive posture/mindset. They are conflicted between man and zone coverage – Instinct (“get that guy”!) and system (“don’t get caught out of position!”)

    In a DEFCON 5 panic (nice turn of phrase) they ALL (or at least 4 of the skaters) simultaneously collapse to cover two players – And generate “The Blob” in front of Subban.

    Unfortunately, they all remain noncommittal – Instead of muscling a Yank or two out of the way or charging the puck-carrier (individually) they freeze, and then all try to provide a passive (“hit me in the pads”, “no, hit ME in the pads”) block-attempt (what Cherry might call “making like a stork” on the shot.)

    All it would have taken would have been an “I got him!” and a bit of hustle from ONE SINGLE PLAYER for things to have (probably) evolved differently.

    The breakdown was indecisiveness compounded upon indecisiveness resulting in what can best be described as a 5-on-3 powerplay goal, at even-strength.

    Clusterfuck is right.

  7. This is so good. It’s so thorough. It’s amazing how little young hockey players understand about the nuance discussed here. Everything, matters—all three zones. There’s so much wrong. I’m guaranteed to use this line in the next film session with my guys, “don’t try to analyze goals where everybody messes up. I’ve only got five fingers to point, and I think I used every one of ‘em.”


  8. Thanks for the laugh this morning!

  9. As a former WHL goaltender and high level goalie coach, I feel the need to speak out about Subban and everyone’s rush to defend him. First off, this goal was definitely not his fault but if you watch the clips you’ll notice he makes no effort to try and see around the screen. No ducking, leaning, standing up, nothing, just sees a wall of bodies and says “well crap, I’m not going to see anything anyway so I’m just going to do the classic goalie hockey card pose and hope it hits me.” Now, even if he HAD tried to see around (or under or over) this screen he would have stood no chance because, as the writer so comically put, it was a wall of humans. However, a little bit of fight to see around the screen on the second goal might have resulted in a save instead of a goal. My view is that goal 2 was stoppable but he didn’t make the needed effort, on goal 3 he was ridiculously deep in his net (looking at the location of the shot it would have hit him in the shoulder if he was positioned appropriately) and on goal 4 he lost his angle and didn’t react to the shot (watch the replay, you’ll see he didn’t follow the puck off the stick as his movement was first down then out to the puck).

    What I saw when watching Subban, from camp highlights, through exhibition and even into the tourney, was a goalie with sheer athletisism but a lack of technical know-how and a guy low on confidence (why?). He butterflies, but isn’t a classic butterflier which is likely why a guy like Tugnutt (CAN goalie coach and former pure stand-up goalie) liked him so much that he was willing to gloss over a bad camp, mediocre exhibition and below average first 2 games. Unfortunately, pure athletic goalies are notoriously streaky and overly rely on their confidence and quickness. If you score a couple, or the goalie isn’t having a good reflex day, it is all over. Unfortunately, that’s what happened on Thursday.

    My 2 cents? The best goalie in camp, Patterson, should have been given an opportunity. I know it would have been hard for the brass to look past Subban’s play in the summer, but a true ‘tender evaluator would have been able to recognize that the Subban of December was not the same one they saw earlier. Just look at how comfortable Gibson looked in the US net with a year of WJC experience under his belt. That’s what we would have had even next year had the guy playing the best in December been given an opportunity this year.

    • Sure enough, I also did notice that Subban made no effort to see around the screen on the 1st goal. This kid is an elite athlete, there’s no excuse. Would Jonathan Quick just stand there like a mannequin? I don’t think so.

      I also noticed that his reaction time on the 4th goal was terrible – he started to move after the light was on.

      Obviously we don’t need to kick the kid while he’s down but let’s all be real here. Subban looked very uncomfortable during the Germany game and clearly should not have been in goal for the next game. I thought he was on a short leash after the prelims, but that wasn’t the case.

  10. Sweet! Was hoping you’d do one of these.

  11. Thanks Bourne, for finding the comedy in this mess. Nicely done.

  12. Bourne: Awesome work. There’s a lot of good comments on this post, so I don’t have much to add. Nevertheless, please keep up these system posts.

  13. The worst part of all of this is that Danault/Jenner/Ritchie was supposed to be the defensively responsible checking line for Canada and Harrington/Hamilton was Canada’s top pairing. These are the guys who are supposed to know better.

  14. Thanks as always for the awesome analysis. Clearly, this lockout is giving you too much free time, as you’re getting into details like comic sans font and air quotes. But you do use them well.

    From what I can tell, the clusterfuck is most scrod here around the 0:47 mark of the video, when one American beats 3 Canadians , and the puck ends up in the center.

    As you mention, there are numerous other issues – bailing on the initial take-a-hit-to-make-a-play, or around 0:57 when the canadains just crash their own crease while the merkin makes a play from behind the net, but to me, 0:47 makes it.

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