The undefeated Chicago Blackhawks took on the undefeated St. Louis Blues (both 2-0) last night, in a contest everyone figured to be close and exciting. It didn’t disappoint, with the Blackhawks coming out on top 3-2.  What nobody predicted, was a clean Blackhawks 3-on-0 – if you’re unfamiliar with the lingo, that is three offensive players against zero skaters, just a goalie – to open the scoring in the first period.

In an ESPN recap, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville had this to say:

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a 3-on-0 in our league.”


It’s pretty obvious where the breakdown was, but whatever, it’s worth a look at how on earth something like this happens at the NHL level.

Let’s dive in!

It starts off a broken play, as you might expect with a 3-on-0. The Blues are still trying to come out and clear the zone, the Blackhawks are clumsily changing lines, and a few players on the Blues can see what’s starting to unfold: they have a few Hawks caught, and can capitalize.

Stewart comes up to clear the zone as the puck slides across the blueline:

I couldn’t figure out who the guy in the middle was (and don’t bother letting us know, he’s irrelevant to the breakdown), as you can tell. But, he does the right thing – he sees Chris Stewart about to pick up the puck, and does exactly what his coach would want him too: attack one d-man by going 2-on-1 with him, creating by driving the middle lane. That makes the whole set-up a 3-on-2, with Cole out wide, and the Blues are laughing.

“But wait!” think two Blues who are currently out of the picture, simultaneously. “If a 3-on-2 is good, what if I jumped up here and made this a FOUR-on-two? Then we could maybe get one of them goal thingys.”

We’ll get back to them.

For now, Stewart has two options with his attacking linemate – dish him the puck under the d-man’s stick (which could create a 2-on-1 with Cole, Leddy out of the picture), or go lower risk and chip it past Leddy, and let his liney skate onto it.

Ooh, those other Blues are starting to creep up too, so there could be a really good chance here for the Blues. So what’s it gonna be?

It’s gonna be the high risk option, apparently. And as happens with “risks,” they don’t always pan out. That’s actually the definition of the word, I think.

The “OH SHIT” is more of a general observation from every single Blues player on the ice, because Stewart didn’t get the pass through. Look at the front lean on the back players. They are attacking. And, the blueline is a huge place to turn the puck over. A huge, maddening, often benching-worthy place. Because if everyone is pressing up this way, and the Blackhawks are about to get a touch, a few people in white are thinking ”If we’re here…and the pucks there…WHERE IS… OHHHHHBOY” at once right now.

Brakes. Brakes! BRAAAKES!

So there’s 1-2-3-4-5 Blues, and…only 1…2 Blackhawks. And as you can see above, the puck is about to leave the screen…


Now, let’s look at the offense from here out. On a 3-on-0 you can very easily end up in a “too many cooks spoils the broth” situation, because there’s a lot of pressure to get everyone a touch. You really want to get to the bench and have done something Harlem Globetrotter-y, because you have all day, and if you eff this up, you’re gonna get laughed at. You can’t exactly alley-oop a guy off a backboard in hockey, but you still want to do something cool.

Because of that, I cannot believe how this plays out. Cannot. Believe it.

Kane does the right thing and moves the puck early. Gotta make the goalie move, lose track of where he is in the net, if only by inches.

Sharp then moves it back to Kane, as they move in on net at a pretty good clip.

(Random thought: the ideal 3-on-1 is: wide-guy-with-puck up to high-guy back to wide-guy across to far-guy. It just is. The Oilers allllmmmost made it count against the Canes in the Cup Final. About 15 seconds in you can see the majority of the play. Back to the action.)

Kane gets it back, and Bolland has slid in behind Sharp to take the one-touch pass from Kane and tap it in, as the Blues keeper (Brian Elliot) has slid over too far to correct back (more on Elliot at the bottom.)

But wait!

Kane calls his own number.

Awww, poor Bolly.  Still, they made it count.

It was a broken play that led to this, but broken plays are exactly when you need to exercise caution, not take risks. A bad turnover at the blueline by a guy taking the high risk option, combined with pressing D, combined with sheer luck (the Blackhawks change) led to three talented players having half a zone to themselves in alone on Brian Elliot. If that were a practice drill, the tender would be pissed because it’s such an unrealistic situation.

The simple takeaways then, as I mentioned:

* Smart decisions at the bluelines.

* Make sure if you’re going to get aggressive, somebody is back.

* Make goalies practice 3-on-0′s, they love it.

(Note: this season I’m teaming up with Justin Goldman (@TheGoalieGuild) on Systems Analyst posts. He’ll be reviewing the performance of the goaltender on the chosen play, given that my goaltending experience consists of “BET HE WANTS THAT ONE BACK, HAHAHA.” We’re looking forward to having him. Here’s what he has to say this week.)

Goalie Analyst Justin Goldman, your thoughts?

Yeahhh…no chance whatsoever on this play for poor Brian Elliott. I actually thought he displayed pretty good patience and overall depth on this 3-on-0. He recognized the situation with plenty of time to obtain optimal depth, so give him credit for not over-challenging, which at least gave him a chance to bail out his teammates.

All three attackers had tons of time, space, and options, so patience was of utmost importance for Elliott, and I thought he did his best to stay up on his skates as long as possible. Ells is well-positioned when Sharp receives the puck right at the bottom of the hash marks, and he has good eye attachment on the puck as Sharp dishes it back to Kane. Bolland is a legit decoy (drop-pass option), and at least Elliott has the active hands to try and poke check Kane as he pushes to his right. He just barely missed the puck, and that’s the end of that defensive disaster.