Last night I was watching the Los Angeles Kings’ top powerplay unit of Kopitar, Richards, Carter, Doughty and Muzzin threaten the Sharks net a couple times before ringing the puck off the post when a couple things stuck out to me. The Sharks’ penalty killing unit of Burish, Desjardins, Stuart and Hannan were often forced to make tough decisions, and that’s how the Kings got the opportunity that led to the very-near goal.
I wanted to break down the play and explain just what happens as I do in most Systems Analyst posts, but here’s the thing: to break it down as I usually would, I’d have to explain the role of all nine players in some depth, and that would take a couple chapters in a book.
SO. I guess what we’re left with is somewhat of an advanced post. You’ll likely need some basic positional knowledge to understand the points I’m making.
Here’s the play, and below we’ll look at the tough decisions penalty killers have to make.
The reason those are the two most common traits are because you constantly need to be stopping and starting without hesitation; looping allows for passing lanes, cheating gives way to odd-man situations. Your depth guys are generally guys who had to work their bags off to get to where they are, and therefore aren’t the type to cut corners, so it makes perfect sense to have them out on the penalty kill. Plus, ideally you’d like to keep your all-stars out of the line of one-timers, so hello Burish and Desjardins.
This is a 30 second clip. Let’s take it from the top to understand how it gets to where it does.
Mike Richards has the puck on the half-wall, which is exactly where the Kings want to run their PP from. Bear with me through some explanations:
Kopitar’s role is to get his skates on the goal line roughly in line with the face-off dot to offer Richards a passing option, or to be in front of the net to screen if Richards decides to distribute the puck up to Doughty. If the pass is a quick one to Carter, or Richards decides to keep and shoot, he’s sniffing out rebounds.
If the puck goes high to Doughty, Carter is the high screen who’ll eventually spin on the shot and look for the high, hard rebounds, while Kopitar and Richards both collapse and sniff out rebounds or try to regain possession.
Desjardins role is to force Richards back down the wall by taking away the pass to Doughty, but this is something coaches differ on – some want you to do it aggressively, some less so, and I’m not sure which San Jose prefers. From what I can tell though, he’d like to keep the puck low without over-committing too much.
Burish has a few jobs – to limit Carter from finding a soft spot and getting a clean shot off, to keep his stick in the cross-seam Richards-to-Muzzin lane, and to keep an eye on Muzzin sneaking back door.
The issue for Richards, is that everyone is sagging and he’d prefer to not take a low-threat shot from the wall, so he pushes into the seam to hopefully get either Hannan or Desjardins to over-commit to him, leaving high or low open.
Got all that? We good? Okay.
He threatens the seam, and as he does, Doughty starts to slide to the middle thinking Richards has committed.
He pulls up, but as he does, something happens. Doughty sliding over has left Muzzin in a situation where they’re about to be standing side-by-side, and oh-hey-look-at-that, with Burish keeping an eye on Carter, back door is wide open. He attacks.
Burish is partially responsible for that lane, but with Carter pulling him up and him trying to stay in Doughty’s shooting lane (tough coordinates to nail down), it’s a lot to take care of. Weak-side slot forward is a tough PK spot.
Anyway, Muzzin gets the pass, who attempts to get it back door to Kopitar, but Stuart does a great job to break that up (you don’t need that frame-by-framed, just trust me, it happened). He tries to clear the puck from his bum, but Doughty keeps it in.
This a full reset for both sides. The puck is at the point, Burish is back in Doughty’s shooting lane, Desjardins is still cool, and the D can resume their wonderful non-puck-fronting ways.
As you can see below, Richards wants to get the puck back on the right half-wall so the Kings can get set up again on the side they prefer (the right side allows a Richards-to-Doughty one-timer, Richards-to-Carter one-timer, and a Richards stick-in-the-middle shot, as well as a Kopitar-with-his-stick-above-the-goal-line shot).
Doughty, for some reason, decides against the obvious play, and gives it to Muzzin who’s now back up on the point. Carter has come to provide a wall option off the left side (frame below), but it’s really, really hilariously obvious to watch this mini-struggle, even though it’s only momentarily. Richards and Carter could flip over and overload the left side, but they say “no no, we’re not freestyling, bring it back over here.”
Muzzin hesitates, Burish reads it, and oh so nearly gets his stick on the D-to-D.
For reasons unbeknownst to me again, Doughty goes back to Muzzin, fighting the inevitable.
Here’s where the goal starts. Jeff Carter starts in motion, which makes things interesting. Burish is still clearly in Muzzin’s lane, Muzzin makes a weak decision and tries to get it through, and Burish blocks it, but like I said. Things are getting interesting.
The blocked shot doesn’t carom out of the zone, it just goes back to Muzzin. And with that, it’s on. Here’s where the goal starts.
Carter has been in motion (conceding the side flip), and was just about to be the high screen, while Kopitar and Richards were in front. When the puck goes back to Muzzin, all the Kings get moving.
The puck goes over to Doughty, which means yayyyy it’s time to get set-up on the proper side again.
Richards gets the puck low, and starts to skate it high, when Doughty makes a move that triggers a play for the Kings.
NOTE: That’s essentially how you call a play in hockey, because you don’t have the opportunity to take off your glove and let people know the drill. You have a handful of plays that start with a certain player doing a certain thing that is a break from their on-ice norms, and you think “okay, that’s what we’re trying next.”
So Doughty starts to head through the Sharks box, which might push back Desjardins, because he’s about to be covering nobody with Doughty not there. Covering nobody is bad. Desjardins could go with Doughty, but that leaves Richards skating into his spot with the puck, only the defender that was once there is now gone. Sweet.
Doughty doesn’t push very deep though, but he drags Desjardins in juuust enough so that he’s no longer inhibiting any Richards-to-D pass, yet Desjardins is still sort of watching Richards.
What THAT means, is that Burish is the guy in the right D shooting lane, only Doughty has ALREADY leveled off, opened up, and is drifting backwards.
What that means is UH OH. With Desjardins stretched out, Burish is going to front the apparent Muzzin shot, as is Stuart, as is Niemi, as is OH GOD DOUGHTY IS OPEN.
And, he’s cocked, loaded, and has found the clean look the Kings were trying to create.
And that’s one way you can create a powerplay goal from scratch. The Sharks penalty kill actually wasn’t all bad, the Kings just created the type of look you occasionally score on using player movement. And, as a powerplay, all you can do is create as many clean looks as possible and hope you bury. The Sharks would’ve needed a TON of communication in a short time to prevent that.
Doughty makes a great shot here, and it does everything but go in.
Big thanks to @cjzero for clipping the video used to highlight this play. I haven’t done many non-goals, let alone many powerplays (since they’re tough to find videos of), so it’s much appreciated.