Koivu goal

It takes a lot of earned trust to be given shifts late in hockey games, but there’s a real kicker with getting it – at some point you have to be given the opportunity to acquire it. You can’t apprentice forever, so eventually the scalpel has to be handed to the young surgeon so he can do it himself, if you’ll allow me to grossly overstate the importance of trying to whack a piece of black rubber into some twine.

Last night Mark Schiefele was on the ice with a little over three minutes to go for a defensive zone faceoff in a tie game on the road, playing between Evander Kane and Michael Frolik. I’m not exactly sure why there was a d-zone draw, but I’m assuming it was after an icing, and not that they voluntarily let one of the league’s two worst faceoff men take a draw at this time in the game.

A quick add-on to that – here’s the bottom of the last page of face-off statistics. Those last four categories are wins, losses, total draws, and win percentage:

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 12.06.01 PM

Either way, this was a Scalpel Moment for Mark Scheifele, who’s struggled for an offensive forward averaging 15:03 per game. (He’s currently sitting at one goal and four assists for five points. He’s shooting 3.2%, but I find it hard to believe the type of shots he’s generating are all that great. He’s just doesn’t seem to be able to get to scoring areas yet. BUT, all this is unrelated, so let’s get back to his little gaffe.)

Anyway, one of his early Scalpel Moments didn’t go well, as you’ll see. To the screenshot machine!

First, here’s the goal in real time. You already know he’s doofed up, but there’s a few teaching points I’d like to highlight along the way, specifically about roles off d-zone face-offs.

It all starts Scheifele taking the draw against Mikko Koivu, a man 25 pounds heavier and 10 years his senior. (If you’re interested in why the age thing matters: there’s a distinct face-off learning curve for young centers. Check out this great post by Tyler Dellow who highlights that while looking at Sam Gagner’s face-off futility.) 

Let’s start with the first picture, then talk roles a bit:

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Evander Kane is the left winger (middle of the ice on the inside), so his job is to get out to the board-side d-man as quick as possible, and get in his shooting lane (it’s also to help his centerman win the draw if there’s a tie-up and the puck stays around the dot). Michael Frolik is the right winger, so his job depends on where the puck goes – if it’s to the board-side d-man he can stay sagged in the slot, if it’s to his d-man in the middle he can attack from within that man’s shooting lane.

The Wild are running a set play here. Probably 50% of the time (totally official number) offenses are just hoping for a win from their center, a shot, and they’ll go from there. During the other half the centerman will put his guys on alert as they approach the draw, “hey, crabsack enterprise.” Or “milquetoast cannonball” or “Truckasaurus with vertigo” – whatever they’ve decided to name their plays. If they’re mature, they may have gone with numbers or letters or colors or something (I bet Michel Therrien insists they’re named properly. Anyone who would kill the triple low five has the fun factor of beige).

Anyway, the center makes the call.

Koivu has Coyle set up directly behind him, but given his stick-swipe motion, he appears to be trying to draw it back to the middle. Coyle’s probably set it up there to make it look like that’s where they’re trying to win the draw to (tricky!), and he’s in a good spot to help on a tied draw (by the way, in cases like this where it looks like he may be the shooter, that becomes Evander Kane’s first checkpoint on the way out to the point).

So yeah, the draw goes back:

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First, note Parise’s excellent route. He’s one of those guys who does everything right. His job would normally be to run a slight pick on Kane – just a little bump to grab the eventual shooter time – but in this case, they’re running a play and want to get him to the front of the net as quick as possible. A lazier man would note that he’s already in front of the net, but if there’s a tied draw Parise wants to help his team get possession, so he heads to the pile first, and makes Kane take the long route around him before going there. Great first step.

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Okay, so the puck’s now on Ryan Suter’s stick at the point. Frolik is dashing out there as he should. Ellerby’s about to engage Parise as he should. Kane is heading to his point as he should. But two things. One is that centers lock on centers off d-zone lost draws, meaning Scheifele’s job is to stay with Koivu even beyond the initial battle for the puck. The second is that Coyle is Clitsome’s guy. By lining Coyle up where they did, they put the Jets defenseman in a tough spot. If Coyle’s more to the middle of the ice you’d like to see Clitsome line up more in front of the net to get in his shooting lane (which would sort of be chaos for Ondrej Pavelec). But where he is there, Clitsome can’t get to Coyle, so he does what all board-side d-men do in the d-zone – he goes underneath the pile (so as not to get picked by it), and will try to pick him up on the other side.

Only…Coyle’s not going to be there, because they’re running a play that takes him out to the far wall.

Coyle pops over…

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…but because Frolik rushed out at Suter with such aggression, the Wild d-man doesn’t have time to wait for Coyle to get over and opened up for a one-timer, as was likely the plan. The puck comes quicker than hoped, and Coyle turns to start the o-zone possession (I don’t love him turning to the corner with it, but that’s just my offensive preference). Ellerby, seeing he’s closer than Clitsome to make a play on the now-puck carrier calls switch (or Clitsome did, whatever), and Clitsome picks up Parise.

So all-in-all, a nice face-off by the Wild was foiled by a winger hustling out to the point harder than I would’ve.

That easy switch executed by the Jets D has everything nicely in checkoh god where’s Scheifele looking, why’s he staring at the puck? Oh man he’s been doing that the whole time, hasn’t he?

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Why’s his knee bent like he’s skating towards the puck there’s only one Wild forward in there and it’s not like the puck has popped out for him to go get oh man this is going to be bad. If you scroll back up a couple pictures, you can see Scheifele’s been puck hungry the whole time.

I’m guessing what Scheifele is thinking is “D-zone down low, I’m a center, we would ideally like to leave a d-man in front, not me, I better head in there.” Maybe he’s sees Frolik, who’s still in his d-man’s shooting lane, out of the corner of his eye and thinks he’s taking Koivu? Maybe he thinks Parise is going to go into the corner and he wants to switch with Clitsome? I dunno, I’m trying to help him out here, guys. Seriously, a center locking on to his opposing center in d-zone coverage is pretty basic.

Coyle maintains possession, and Ellerby has good coverage on him on the paint. Parise is in the best spot if Coyle cycles it (he’s made himself nicely available as an option), while Koivu looks for that soft spot below the strong side winger. Coyle glances up to the danger zone before likely cycling it…

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…and all of six seconds after the puck dropped to start the clock with 3:20 remaining in the third period, the puck is about to hit the stick of Mikko Koivu, who’s found a soft spot that shouldn’t exist. Charlie Coyle demonstrated great vision on the play to find him there (that’s a really, really nice pass – Koivu could’ve even stopped this and skated in a bit).

As for Michael Frolik, he’s likely in perfect position. I don’t know how the Jets prefer their wingers to play, but a lot of teams now want that strong-side winger to make sure that there’s no lane beneath them (and above the D) for cycling players to walk out into, so they allow that pass to the point in favor of killing the more dangerous play.

Koivu gets all of it:

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Arrowed!

And in conclusion….

*Whacks Mark Scheifele on the nose with a rolled up newspaper*.

I love Displeased Frolik Face.

Koivu_goal2-13

Really, homie? Seriously? It’s game 22.

You can check it out again in real time below – Scheifele’s reaction shows he knows who’s on the hook for this one immediately.

Comments (7)

  1. I love these Systems Analyst posts. They’re the best!

  2. What I don’t understand, is with all these ex-NHL’ers on broadcast teams, why don’t any of them recognize why the goal was scored and provide instant analysis like this over the air? Instead of going “wow, Scheifele left his man and drifted off into the corner, resulting in Koivu being wide open”, we get “This is Mikko Koivu’s type of game, hard battles, requires a lot of grit, blah blah blah, a lot of the hard work done by Charlie Coyle, blah blah blah”.

    • I share your frustration with the really poor quality of analysis. Everything for the commentators is just a “hard-working play” or “pure skill putting that show where it needed to go.”

      I think the problem with announcing is one similar to reporting onpolitics. For reporters, it’s easy to talk about the “politics” of something (i.e. how it looks or seems) and to speculate about the impact, but it takes actual patience and knowledge to do real reporting on how policy works. Much the same, a hockey commentator can get by just saying, “what a pass,” and it’s more taxing to break down plays. Also, from a commentator’s point of view, what’s the benefit to singling out Scheifele for a bad play compared to the fact that you might need to interview him sometime soon? Better for them to blow smoke about the perfect pass and shot (not that they were actually bad), but unfortunately that’s less informative. It’s also possible that the announcers just don’t care to pay enough attention to really break plays down.

    • In some cases, they just didnt see everything in real time. I would imagine the commentators are mostly following the puck and the few guys directly involved so they can call the play. So it might be easy to miss the guy drifting off his coverage away from the play.

      Now certainly it would be fun to see some stuff like this during time outs or intermissions or whatever.

  3. Finally a systems analyst where I saw the play in question live and thought “damn, that guy really blew it there” and I was actually right. Woohoo!

  4. Crosslinked here from the Wild blog Hockeywilderness

    Just wanted to say I really enjoyed the article- informative, cerebral, but also a fun sense of humor.

    If this blog post were a person I would totally date it

  5. Another great post. I swear these make me feel better than hockey even though all I ever do is sit here and feel my ass grow.

    Goodjob.

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