New Jersey Devils v Philadelphia Flyers

This past Friday, the Philadelphia Flyers beat the New Jersey Devils for the first time in four tries in 2013. Prior to that 2-1 shootout win they actually hadn’t left a game against the Devils with two points in their previous seven tries. Not a great stat when you’re division “rivals.”

The Flyers got to overtime courtesy a Max Talbot goal (from Simon Gagne and Matt Read), which came off a 3-on-2 rush with Ilya Kovalchuk back-checking. It was a bit of a defensive fustercluck.

From junior to college to pro at all levels, the 3-on-2 with a backchecker situation is a common practice drill, and an easily defendable rush as long as the forward and defenseman are on the same page, which is why you practice it so much. You’ll have three forwards with a puck in front of their own net about to go on a rush on two stationary d-men who are parked somewhere around the blueline. Then you have a backchecker on a knee that’ll leave (from a couple steps behind) when the offensive line does.

There’s a pretty basic, universal way to deal with this: if the backchecker can catch the puck carrier early (by say, the center red), he can go nuts. If he can’t, then he’s to take the wide, puck-less player. That way the two d-men can deal with the puck carrier and the guy who will likely drive the mid-lane, leaving the guy who’s most likely to be the high forward on the rush triangle (who is therefore most likely to slow down) to be dealt with by the backchecker.

Let’s watch how smoothly the Devils demonstrate this.

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Talbot has the puck and is breaking up the gut. He’ll almost certainly – like, 95% of the time here – be moving the puck wide by the time he hits the blue line. Still, as I mentioned above, Kovlachuk is free to see if he can catch him, and at the very least provide a little back pressure.

He gives it his all..

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…but it just isn’t gonna happen:

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So now it’s time for Kovalchuk to release the puck carrier and make his mind up about who he’s going to cover. He knows he’s to take a wide guy, but with the puck yet unmoved, which one is his? Usually by now a forward with the puck in the center lane would’ve gotten rid of it wide.

Between that, and the fact that Kovalchuk is clearly already hedged to Read’s side of the ice, and you can see how things could be about to get complicated – he’s going to choose the close winger, who also is going to get the puck, but he’s not going to be back in time to properly defend him so the D is going to have to help, and….let’s just watch it unfold.

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Talbot goes to Read, and you can see what I’m talking about. Now the guy that Kovalchuk has chosen is also the puck carrier, which isn’t great when the backchecker isn’t close enough to catch him. Greene’s job was going to be one of two things: defend Read if he became the puck carrier, or defend Talbot, the mid-lane drive guy, if Gagne became the puck carrier.

In his mind, he has some issues here now: okay, I got the wide puck carrier Read (thinks about sliding toward him)… crap, Kovy didn’t take the long route to grab the wide forward who isn’t the puck carrier, maybe I should release Read to him…yeah that’s what I’ll do, I’ll take the mid-lane drive guy and trust that Kovy can catch him…

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And then…oh no what the hell is Adam Larsson about to do? Why is he looking at the puck? Why isn’t he shifting to defend Gagne?

I mean, he must – MUST know that Simon Gagne is over there. MUST. I mean it. Look at this earlier screenshot (below). Gagne is essentially blocking his vision:

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That was slide numero uno.

Anyway, let’s get back to where we were:

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He can see that his partner Greene has released Read to Kovalchuk, so now he…takes the mid-lane, already covered guy?

The only excuse I can possibly think to make for him is that he genuinely – somehow – doesn’t know that Simon Gagne is out wide. And in looking back at all the screenshots so far, it’s not impossible. If we allow that he misses him in the first screenshot I showed you, he doesn’t so much as shoulder check once the rest of the way.

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Read moves it to Gagne, and boy-oh-boy do Greene and Larsson have Max Talbot covered. COVERED.

Now’s the part of the breakdown where we insert this:

Larsson sees the puck head cross-ice, and figures he should check to see if there’s something worth checking out over there.

And sure enough…

THERE IS.

He gets his eyes locked in on the puck, and goes into scramble mode. The problem is, look at the other defenders’ eyes. They’re already going into “help defense” mode (when things break down so completely you scrap all thoughts beyond “Okay, somebody really needs to stop THAT guy and quick”), and ALL of their eyes get tractor beam’d onto the puck.

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It’s one thing to misread plays. It’s another entirely to misread plays then play slipped-on-a-banana peel D to go with it, which you’re about to see.

Somehow we get from the above picture to the one below, where I assume Larsson is thinking about going over to front the (presumed) eventual shot of Gagne, and Greene is semi-tangled with Talbot, and Kovalchuk is like “Oh neat, I’m going to have a great angle of this clean look. Front row seats!” Not that it ended up mattering, but he’s let Read go entirely at this point. That stuff never matters until it does, y’know?

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(Quick tangent:

This upcoming screen shot in this series is one of my favourite ones from a Systems Analyst post, though it’s still clearly behind this one below…

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…and this one:

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…and this one

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Ohhh, hockey is fun.)

It’s not quite in the class of those previous few, but still, the futility below is impressive.

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Larsson cleans out Hedberg who is also being cleaned out by Greene, and somehow we’re in a situation where there are four adult males in white jerseys trying to stop three opponents in orange from scoring, and not a single one of the four is covering anyone. Kovalchuk is making a half-last-ditch effort to get a stick on Gagne, but as you can see, the puck has already been released.

Maybe this is a better image, I can’t decide:

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Which ever one you like best…this one, she is over. The puck is in. Talbot has deposited it, and that’s where our Devils defenders ended up. Like, where is Ilya Kovalchuk right now? …Just cruising around, I ‘spose.

Consider, if you will, Adam Larsson’s contributions on that goal: the only thing he ever makes contact with his own goalie (save for a brief jersey brush with Talbot). THANKS FOR YOUR HELP, ADAM.

That really didn’t need to be so complex, and actually, If Larsson just makes a decent read, it probably isn’t. But one breakdown can lead to two, and two can lead to whatever that was.

Anyway, to watch it all sped up again, just click the sideways triangle on the image below. The pictures will start to move, and you’ll hear related sound.