Minnesota Wild v Phoenix Coyotes

Man-oh-man.

This is a post about defending rushes, identifying your check, and what qualifies as blown coverage (hint: this goal). Also, it’s about Ryan Suter. …Those things may or may not be related.

On Monday night, the Phoenix Coyotes beat the Minnesota Wild 2-1 with the game-winning goal coming halfway through the second period. That goal was scored by Martin Hanzal, and you can check it out below before we get into the breakdown. (The glaring error is pretty obvious, but we can still talk about the right way to defend rushes when you have numbers.)

So here we go.

Prior to the first screenshot, Dany Heatley dished the puck to Jonas Brodin, who fired a puck on net. Mikko Koivu and Zack Parise went hunting for screens, tips and rebounds, but Mike Smith calmly redirected the shot out to one of his defensemen, Zbynek Michalek. They both got a little too hungry on the offensive side, and got caught behind Michalek and Oliver Ekmann-Larsson (or Ekman-Awessom, if we’re being honest)…

21a

…and suddenly the Coyotes are on a 5-on-3 rush. Parise probably shouldn’t have taken this route, by the way:

parise skate

But anyway, that’s sort of irrelevant to the goal.

…Like I was saying, the Coyotes are on a 5-on-3 rush.

22a

First, some credit where it’s due: Zbynek Michalek makes a solid first pass out of the d-zone to Radim Vrbata. This is a basic gosh-darn skill here (trying to curb my swearing), but you hear coaches talk about it all the time – you need guys on the back end who can get the puck up to your forwards quickly and comfortably. (The Red Wings are struggling with that this year, so it looks like the forwards are struggling.) Forwards need the damn thing quick and flat so they have time to make good decisions.

Dany Heatley has turned and done the right thing and backchecked through the middle. That’s the first thing a forward should do as they assess the situation. The Coyotes d-men have jumped up into the rush, which is great too. The puck is out wide on the rush: also great. THAT SHOT ABOVE IS SOME GREAT HOCKEY RIGHT THERE KIDS (/thumbs up).

Now, more great hockey. Vrbata rags the puck across the line out wide, and Hanzal (not Gretel HAHAHAH) does the right thing with the mid-lane drive.

23b

All the defending team can do in this situation is play the 3-on-3, and hope the other two forwards are backchecking hard to take away the trailing D. If they Coyotes successfully use the high D, then you’ve got some decisions to make.

Now: when you’re defending a 3-on-3, you want the two d-men on the puck side, ideally. That means that the backchecking forward who was once “backchecking through the middle” makes the read and takes the wide, puck-less forward. It’s kind of like how you want to leave a defenseman in front of the net at all times in your own zone, so the center will go corner to corner. Even though the numbers would be the same regardless of who was in the corner, or in this case, in the middle, you want your defensemen in the biggest positions of defensive influence.

So, Suter is doing the right thing. He is coming across to take Hanzal through the gut, while Heatley latches on to Boedker out wide. Vrbata decides to delay inside the line and puts on the brakes…

24a

…then the poop hits the fan. Let’s have a look to see where we’re at:

25

Things have fallen apart, and quick.

Brodin doesn’t stay with Vrbata for reasons I can’t figure out, and frankly, he’s LUCKY, like, CAPS LOCK LUCKY that all Vrbata does is slap a puck at the unscreened net from a crap angle, instead of using the room he’s been given. Suter has stayed with Hanzal in the middle as he should (though apparently his partner didn’t trust him to). Heatley has returned “to an area” instead of staying with his man (Boedker), who is now quite open had Vbata wanted to move the puck. And, Ekman-Larsson still doesn’t have a defender, so again: Vrbata chucks it at the net which is a good thing for the Wild.

To Vrbata’s credit, he throws it low from out there, so there can at least be a rebound for Hanzal, who’s heading to the net.

So here’s the next couple seconds, broken down in a few frames:

26a

The shot is on the net, and all four visible Wild players on the ice are staring at the puck (still no Parise in the shot, by the way). That includes Ryan Suter, who at this point should probably have identified who his guy is. The first time I saw this goal I couldn’t fathom what his thought process could’ve been.

27a

And then…

28

HHOOOOOWWWWW???

Just, how?? How does this happen? Where is he going, who does he think he’s on, what is he even guessing may happen?

Sorry to overreact, I just can’t believe that 3-on-3 – remember the high D weren’t even used – ends up here:

28b

From there, it’s just a matter of Hanzal showing nice patience and good hands to put away the rebound, and laughing at Ryan Suter for trying to sneak in behind his goalie to make a kick save.

29

Game-winner.

30

Until full offensive zone possession is established by your opponent, you defend rushes man-on-man. You identify, and you don’t head to an area, you stay with your guy. Pretty much none of the Wild did that here, and that’s why the puck ended up in the back of their net.

Comments (17)

  1. You’ve got Parise and Koivu mixed up. Parise wear’s 11. Koivu 9.

  2. Good stuff as always.

    Touching on a hidden point in there – “you need guys on the back end who can get the puck up to your forwards quickly and comfortably”

    I’ve always wondered why more forwards, who while not good at scoring goals but good at moving pucks, don’t convert to D. Teams are always looking for D at every level and if you want to make some money at the game it would be a good way to do it… if you could convert.

    • I expected Suter to be a more defensive defenseman with good hands, but what I’ve seen from him is pure offense and poor defense. Brodin has been surprisingly excellent, especially calming down Suter in his end. Especially for a NINETEEN year old.

      Then again, Tom Gilbert looked awful last year coming from the Oilers and has been outstanding this year with the Wild, a completely different player. Wonder what a full training camp will do for Suter.

  3. Oliver Ekman-Awessom > Suter

  4. Good breakdown JB, but Koivu is 9, Parise is 11 (he was 9 last year with the Devils *sobs*)

  5. Suter’s early struggles with the Wild have been well documented. In his defense, he is logging a ton of minutes while probably still working on his conditioning. I know he has proven to be a decent defenseman previously, and he is still getting used to being paired with guys not named Weber. Suter has been better when paired with Brodin of late, but Holy Hannah his apparent lack of awareness in his own zone- the above goal is not the first or second time this has happened- has been a bit alarming so far.

    Side note- If over-paying for Suter is what it took to get Parise here, then so be it. Parise is the Real Deal Holyfield.

    • I’d look good if I were paired with Shea Weber. Suter’s been propped up – it’s just a matter of how much. Time will tell.

      • I don’t disagree that Suter’s been “propped up,” but that worked both ways. I’m pretty sure Weber benefitted from being flanked by Suter as well.

  6. dang it Justin!!!! those two guys that werent even in the play,..ugh… you got their numbers mixed up. how dare you over look two players that were inconsequential to the play because they were so low in the O-zone that they left their team with a 5 on 3. Shame on you. shame.on.you.

    p.s. ‘El Reboundo’ cracked me up. Some good topical humor since the game was in phoenix and our citizenship mostly speaks espanol..

  7. That Hanzal is So hot right now…. Now that’s funny

  8. Fine post, but you overlooked the second most glaring mistake on that play. No NHL goalie should ever give out the rebound Backstrom did on this play. If he makes an easier than routine stop, with no rebound, the entire terrible play is moot. Moot I tell you.

  9. So, I have 3 comments about this.

    1. I can’t say im all that impressed with the break in by the Coyotes. They rush in, with numbers, the D breaks down leaving guys wide open, and they take a shitty shot from out wide with no screen.

    2. Seems to me that if Suter had stayed on that guy down low like he seemed to be doing, none of this would have happened.

    3. The only thing I can think of that makes sense as to why Suter left his man down low was that, the guy defending Vrbata made the move to defend Hanzaal, so seeing this, Suter decided to whip around to defend whoever should have been driving down the slot. However, he then realizes theres nobody in the slot but Heatly and his D partner isn’t defending Hanzaal at all, he’s just backing REALLY far off Vrbata.

  10. Awesome. Love this.

  11. Great job (as usual) JB! Hope you watched the Phoenix Open and were thinking how easy Phil made it look after we slogged through the track last year.

    A few thoughts regarding the play to respond to some of the comments and some of the screen shots:

    1. Oliver Ekman-Awessom will be his new official nickname in anything that I ever write about him. As we’ve discussed many times, he is exactly that.

    2. As bad a play as Vrbata makes (regardless of outcome) in taking that shot needs a little context. I don’t know how long that unit had been on the ice, but the Coyotes had yet to record a shot in the 2nd period at the time of this rush despite putting 16 shots on net in the first. I think there may have been a bit of that playing into the idea of just getting something on net. The first goal of the game certainly was not a pretty one.

    3. What the heck happened to Boedker on the second to last screen shot? He cuts down the blue line and ???? crashes into either OEL or Vrbata? I can’t call up the video from work, but the image of him on all fours in the circle with nobody around him just had me cracking up.

    4. I’ve been lobbying for the Coyotes to run a Zoolander clip everytime Hanzal scores to no avail. I recall it happening exactly 1 time since his rookie season. Granted, I can’t remember the last time the team used a movie clip at all on the jumbotron, so there’s that…

  12. love that in the third screen shot of the analysis you spelled suter with a $ for the s.

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