Night one of the Stanley Cup Final did not disappoint, with neither team coming out for so much as a period of “feel the other team out” hockey, instead opting for mutual blitzkriegs that resulted in a dizzying pace. I stayed off the Twitter machine last night (well, comparatively speaking) and took notes on the game so I could hopefully give you a unique takeaway or two. So, without further ado, here are 10 takeaways from last night’s game.
1. Bruins lean on the in-zone escape
I’m not sure if they showed this on the NBC broadcast, but before the game CBC took viewers inside the dressing room for a chunk of both team’s pre-game speeches, which I thought was A) insanely cool and B) surprising. Nothing too crazy-informative was said or anything, but given the nature of the pre-game speech – little reminders of stuff you’ve covered in the past – I thought it was cool hearing Joel Quenneville remind his guys not to over-commit on the backcheck, because Boston likes to pull up and use the trailer off the rush. I watched for it, and boy, do they ever.
There was one play in particular (with about 12:30 on the clock in the second period, I believe) right before Horton took a penalty that Krejci had the puck down by the net and hit a trailer who was probably at center before he gave him a slow spot-pass at the blue for him to skate into. Keep an eye out for it, it’s a common safety valve of the B’s.
2. Chicago’s third line
The Blackhawks third line was naaasty good last night. If the Bruins want Zdeno Chara to maul Jonathan Toews and crew, it’s up to Chicago’s depth players to make some noise, and holy hell did they ever. There was a shift early in the game where Tory Krug and Adam McQuaid got straight punked by the line of Andrew Shaw, David Bolland and Brandon Saad (the latter moved around in the lineup a lot last night). But their energy was infectious from start to finish last night, so it wasn’t surprising to see them score the winner.
Andrew Shaw’s pass to Bolland on their goal in the third made me write the note “look up Shaw’s statistical history.” Great patience and vision on that play. And sure enough, he’s been an offensive contributor before, he’s not just a pest. 54 points in 66 OHL games in his last season there, the kid’s only 21.
Anyway, it was watching this line that made me think in the first period, “huh, I could definitely be wrong with my Boston pick here.”
3. Blackhawks passes to soft areas in the offensive zone
One thing I noticed early (and I wrote this note about 10 minutes into the game) was Chicago creating opportunities by finding the soft areas in Boston’s coverage, and making great passes. And to be clear, I don’t mean the usual soft areas, this was different. It’s something elite teams can do that the dregs can’t. Use vision and skill to pass to areas you don’t usually see players. It was pretty clear they’ve taken a long, hard look at how Boston defends and decided to make the conscious effort to avoid the normal “set” offensive spots.
Another thing I want to point out (quick tangent) is that the commentary, at least during the CBC broadcast, was heavily skewed by the scoreboard. Even when Chicago was down 2-1 and 3-1 they were controlling sizable swaths of the play doing this. Puck movement is a great way to dissect layers, if you’ve got the skill to do it.
4. The first Lucic goal
The most noticeable play on the game’s first goal is Niklas Hjalmarsson absolutely trying to decapitate David Krejci when he could’ve played the puck, missing, and the Bruins scoring. Not knowing the B’s were going to score I made one of of my roughly five out-loud sounds from last night when he went for that hit and missed. I think I said “Jesus,” which, apologies if that offends you. But yeah, he went for the homerun and missed and the B’s scored. I checked Twitter through my fingers and winced at the reactions.
In retrospect he obviously shouldn’t have done what he did (duh, his opponent scored), but here’s why that play happens: Hjalmarsson isn’t a moron who was trying to “out-tough the Bruins” or “play their game” or whatever. In pre-series meetings, David Krejci’s name was circled, highlighted, and underlined, the way Sidney Crosby’s was by Boston, Kopitar’s was by Chicago and ____’s was by ____ when he got shut down. It happens often to top players. What I mean is, Krejci gets the “every time you have a chance to put a lick on this guy, you don’t pass it up.” Fear is real, and if you don’t think getting crushed every time you’re near the puck will make you hesitant then please, save me Superman, I’m scared of serious damage to my person. There are reasons true talent can stop producing this time of year.
If Hjalmarsson sees Paille there, he doesn’t make that play. He was two or three shifts into game one and saw the circled guy. If having it backfire that bad were common, teams would just let opposing stars play like everyone else.
5. Is Bickell playing?
Oh, there he is, I guess he must be. (Not his best showing, is the point. Got better as the game went on, but was nowhere to be seen for quite awhile.)
6. Patrick Kane was Crosby-ing
Patrick Kane repeatedly grabbed the puck and got his wheels going through the neutral zone only to turn the puck over, or take a harmless shot from long distance. Boston is unafraid of you through the neutral zone, they swarm you. It’s Venus Fly Trap defense, a dead zone for offense. He needs to better use his linemates, try to delay once inside the blueline, and if the back-pressure is too much, concede that getting the puck deep with chips and support isn’t a wasted rush.
7. Boston over-sagging
Seems funny to be writing about “late-game” as the third period, giving that the game still had a full game to go, but here we are. Yesterday I wrote about how Boston defends in layers, basically explaining that it’s a “saggier” system so that players have more help defense in the case of emergencies. But by the time Boston went up 3-1, they were sagging to the point of losing shape. Dave Lozo has often said that nobody is worse in the few minutes after scoring a goal than the Bruins, and right after the Patrice Bergeron goal they started to implode in on themselves like a dying star. Chicago suddenly found themselves at a shooting gallery where the gunman was given all the time and space he needs to pull the trigger. Like most shooting galleries, I assume.
8. Rask finally looked flappable
After giving up two goals to the Penguins in four games, he gave up four to the Blackhawks in Game 1. Well, not so much “he,” but the Bruins did. I would fault him for roughly zero goals last night, in fact, he was so good this very easily could’ve been a three period loss for the Bruins. BUT, there were times late in the game when the Chicago barrage had him kicking out containable rebounds, scrambling, and looking like a goalie facing a great offensive team, as opposed to usual “unfeeling brick wall” style.
(By the way, Crawford was great too, but he did get sizable chunks of Lucic’s and Bergeron’s goals, which he could’ve conceivably stopped. Only reason I won’t say “should’ve” stopped is because I see people solely blaming him for Lucic’s second, when Kane losses a battle and Hjalmarsson makes a crap pinch.)
9. Tyler Seguin needs new sticks
This won’t be a popular opinion cause the kid is a sniper with an absolute cannon at times, buuuut…
Once upon a time I had sticks I liked that I could bomb it with, but something about the lie (it had a weird heel or something) meant I muffed some opportunities where even a mediocre effort would’ve been good enough. That thing was all or nothing. This is Seguin to me right now – maybe he gets off the occasional rocket, but goddammit kid, you’re getting eight quality chances a night, at some point rolling pucks off your heel into the goalie’s stick isn’t good enough.
I believe in Tyler Seguin, and think he’s going to break out in a big way next year. Maybe this series, who knows. But he seems to find a way to blow open chances with weak shots right now.
For the record, my other theory is that he thinks he has less time than he does (confidence thing maybe) so puts his hands together at the top of the stick and bats at the thing instead of leaning on it and bearing down. Whatever it is, you can’t blow that many chances without testing the goalie.
10. Rescue Dog-avins
Kaspars Daugavins had an opportunity off a Tyler Seguin pass last night all alone in front of Cory Crawford (not long before the game ended) that prompted a lot of people to give him crap for not scoring. He took a pass on his forehand moving across the net, knew Crawford would be going for broke over-extending himself to make a desperation save, went across the crease and went to tuck in a backhand when a sprawling Johnny Oduya gets just enough stick in the way to hinder the easy goal.
I’ve seen it said that he passed up “an easy redirect,” or that he should’ve simply shot it on his forehand, or a number of other things that weren’t a deke to the backhand. In retrospect, sure, he should’ve done Not That. But man, this is one of those cases where I want you to talk to offensive players – not the grinder turned analyst, not the goalie – but offensive actual hockey players about what Daugavins did. It’s a pretty common idea – goalie over-committing, show some patience and poise, slide it in on the other side. One-timing an off-hand forehand shot off that pass would’ve been so, SO hard to place accurately, let alone get mustard on. It goes off your toe into the corner half the time, 95/100 for amateurs. He could’ve taken the pass, swiveled his body and shot, but that takes some time, and hey, why not just take it across the crease and slide it in?
Oh. Oh I see.
Gotta feel for the guy there. It wasn’t a terrible play.