miller_goal-2

It’s really easy to sit in front of the computer and make fun of a play that happened at NHL pace and be a jerk while pointing out who messed up where.

…No seriously, it’s really easy, and I enjoy it.

But things do happen fast so people naturally make mistakes, meaning there’s usually no reason for me to belittle them. That doesn’t mean I don’t, but it’s usually a bit unfair. Today…today I think a little belittling is okay.

The Ottawa Senators gave up three even-strength goals to the Detroit Red Wings (as well as an empty-netter to Daniel Alfredsson in his return), and each one of those three can be traced back to the exact same issue: line changes. Yes, in an NHL game. Multiple times.

Poor changes can make a coach go squirrely, because there’s not a damn thing they can do about them when they’re on the fly aside from letting everyone know who’s up next and trusting the guys to get on and off in responsible fashion.

[A quick overview on what's supposed to happen for those who aren't familiar with being on the bench: Coaches call lines by the center's name. So, "Bozie, you're up" means Tyler Bozak and his two wingers are going next. Then for clarity, each of those guys will shout-out who they're changing for - "I got Kadri" or whatever. If the coach is shuffling the lines, he'll get more specific. "Bozie, you're up, Smitty, take the left side." The left winger who's normally on the line then knows he's sitting this one out - when coaches aren't clear enough here, you end up with Too Many Men penalties. The players calling their change out should be a safety valve in case someone missed something.

You're only supposed to change when the play is headed in the right direction - towards the o-zone - with the puck hopefully getting deep, whether by someone skating it or dumping it in. A good change can mean a simple dump, followed by a quick exchange at the bench and the next line getting in on the forecheck. You only change headed back into your d-zone if you're so tired you're going to be of no use to your team even if you get there (sometimes you're so far behind the play you'll call for a lacrosse-style change to gain ground). But if you can even function halfway-decently, they'd rather you take a long shift and help in the d-zone than leave your team without a skater for 10 seconds while the guy you're supposed to be covering is having a free-for-all. (At least in a full-time 5-on-4 situation the team knows they're down a guy and can react accordingly. When some defenders think they have numbers back and don't, players get awfully open awfully quick.)]

Anyway, those are the basics. Let’s take a look at how poor line changes cost Ottawa two points in a game they played fairly decently otherwise.

***

The change on the first goal was just gross right off the top, but they almost got away with it. Until they didn’t.

The first screenshot is following an incomplete pass by the Ottawa Senators that ends up, as you see above, with Red Wings’ d-man Kyle Quincey having solid possession of the puck in the neutral zone. Two Senators still think it’s okay to change here, because they’ve been huffing paint, we’ll assume. They likely just had a lonnng shift in the d-zone (shiftchart.com backs that up) and got a little scared at the thought of heading back into the d-zone for a two minute shift.

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Still, those guys are killing their teammates here (and even handing a couple guys undeserved minuses, for those of you who need more justification about the shortcomings of plus-minus as a stat.)

The Red Wings run a standard (but well-executed) neutral zone regroup. Zetterberg mirrors the puck which is swung from Quincey to Kindl, while Alfredsson gets himself on the far side of the red line. Franzen also swings across the neutral zone, and they’re now perfectly set up to support a Kindl-to-Alfredsson pass, which happens. Alfie can either tip the puck to kill the icing while getting it deep in the Sens zone, or push it across to Franzen/Zetterberg who are coming from low. Low support makes everything so, so easy.

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Had Alfie been able to push this to the middle it would be an odd-man rush because of the Senators’ terrible decision to change, but fortunately, Patrick Weircoch does the right thing and steps up on Alfredsson, stopping either easy play from happening. In this case in a neutral zone forecheck, seeing Wiercioch step up would mean that the far-side winger would sag back to ensure there’s two guys back. There’s zero far-side winger as things currently sit, unfortunately.

What does happen, is Greening sees that Wiercioch has created a broken play that causes the puck to kick back to the Detroit half of the neutral zone, and both him, and the fresh player on the ice get puck hungry. MacArthur is just getting on the ice, and is also looking at the puck (not that it would matter given how far back he is anyway).

The pass is made from Kindl to Franzen (whose momentum has carried him to the open ice), and an odd-man rush that becomes a goal happens because the Sens never got back in their defensive formation after the bad change.

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Here it is at full speed. Nice change, fellas.

***

On to the second goal…

Karlsson tried to fire the puck up to a teammate, but it goes through everyone and ends up cleanly on Jonathan Ericsson’s stick (also a trend in these clips so far: a Sens neutral zone turnover). Clarke MacArthur sees that, and knows he’s not going to have time to change. To help out the guys hoping on, he’s going to fill the far lane. The Wings are about to set up your standard neutral zone regroup again, off a change of their own.

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Ericsson runs it over to Kronwall, who takes a stride or two up-ice and lets his guys get set (coaches love that – start moving up the ice at the very least, no matter what your decision/options are). The three forwards swing, and Turris is so late getting off (while the Wings have possession, which is impressively bad) that MacArthur is the only player in position to properly defend the regroup. However, because you rely on everyone else being in position too, he’s rendered as useless as an ashtray on a motorbike.

There’s enough room ahead of Spezza to trap MacArthur, and the Wings are off on a 3-on-2.

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From there, it’s just a matter of making a skill play. That’s a huge part of hockey – there’s no guarantees, you just try to create odd-man situations and get some good looks and hopefully you’ve got the talent to put a few home. When the other team provides you with free shots like this, you feel like providing them with free shots after the game.

Anyway, Spezza doesn’t have the time to make it an even-man situation as you can see below, and because Andersson drove the net in the middle lane as he should, Cowen is caught in no-man’s land. Things are helped by Erik Karlsson’s flailing attempt at defense on Tatar’s nice move.

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Nice execution, but that’s off a free odd-man rush thanks to a terrible change. It didn’t have to hapepn. Full speed once more, if ya like.

***

And finally, the third Red Wings goal. Yes, this also off a bad change by the Senators, because apparently they’re lazy bastards (or at least mentally lazy).

The play starts out after what was a fairly long shift in the Red Wings end. Darren Helm is carrying the puck into the offensive zone, and his linemates, seeing this, take the opportunity to change. Remember – you change when the puck is going the right way. The Ottawa Senators have both d-men back, and Chris Neil has puck pressure, so it’s a 1-on-3. Borowiecki signals to Neil to put pressure on the puck, which is just fine, though you’d like to see him force a play sooner being that Helm has no help.

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Helm is (sort of) being handed the line, so he’s going to take the space. And, knowing the situation, he’s going to buy team for the guys coming on to the ice so he can better see where to put the puck when he’s forced to get rid of it.

The Senators probably aren’t terribly wrong to change give the situation (you have to believe your guys are going to force Helm to unload the puck), but a coach would point out that the opposition has solid possession while heading into the d-zone, so…why are you getting off the ice, here, exactly?

There’s a reason you don’t get off in these situations, but there’s also the argument that Helm should be more aggressively pursued here. He’s all alone, but the D is still pretty inexplicably passive. He skates the puck into the zone and delays.

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It turns out that this delay, a common play for a guy alone in the zone trying to buy time, BLEW CHRIS NEIL’S (EDIT) Zack Smith’s MIND. That or he can’t do tight turns. Either or, it ain’t good.

I would also say to Joe Corvo that when the puck carrier is double-covered, it might be time to get your head on a swivel and see if anyone else is coming.

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That Helm got that much separation is hilarious, he doesn’t even need help now. He could probably walk this right out to the high slot if he wanted to.

Buuut, help is a-comin’, and I think Joe Corvo knows it right now. The Wings changed and that’s peachy. The Sens did and it’s not, because the puck was going the wrong way.

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And from there, the Wings simply need to make a play on a 2-on-1. Lehner commits to the shot and leaves the pass to his flat-footed defenseman, who’s mostly helpless to prevent this.

The pass goes across, and Miller’s got the time (and the poise) to take it casually off his boot (also eliminates the chance of it hopping his blade), and he pushes it home.

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And for the third time in 42 minutes of hockey, the Senators give up a goal because of a bad change.

*****

When you’ve got a team that’s changing that poorly, you’ve either got guys who aren’t focused, aren’t in shape, or don’t give a damn. You sure hope it’s the former.

There are a ton of times where you get away with a bad change, and you’re glad you got off the ice. It’s the really long shifts that burn your legs out by the end of a game, and avoiding one of those is great. But, it’s also not what you’re hired to do, and if you’re in good enough shape, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Even when you do get away with it though, it’s one of those things that coaches make mental note of. You’re a corner-cutter, and cut enough corners, and you’re going to cost your team.

I don’t know if this is a consistent problem with the Sens or not, but they were certainly a debacle last night. I’m guessing they’re discussing this issue in the dressing room today.

Comments (12)

  1. I think it is Zack Smith (#15), not Chris Neil , who has his mind blown and/or cannot make tight turns on skates.

  2. On the 1st goal, I actually feel like some of the responsibility lies on the first forward over the boards (can’t tell the number, Turris maybe?). He should be able to see that one Dman has committed, so that there’s no coverage, and so he swings to the attack, rather than getting back to help balance the D.

    Maybe just me? I was always an uber-defensive dman, Hal Gill without size, strength, or skill.

    • That’s why Justin said “the fresh player on the ice get puck hungry” — that first forward back on the ice starts to head back to cover D, and then makes an abrupt turn towards the puck (which makes no sense given that it’s 100 feet from him and there are 2 Red Wings closer to it than any Sens player is).

  3. Man, Borowiecki and Zack Smith (#15, not Neil) put together some seriously house-league defense on that last one. Smith with the back pressure and then goes for the big lazy loop when Helm stops up, and Borowiecki kind of getting hung out to dry as a result of Smith letting Helm go, but also not identifying Miller incoming.

    Actually having looked at it again, I *REALLY* don’t like Borowiecki calling Smith to take Helm in the first place. It almost looks like he’s scared of Helm’s speed and see’s Smith coming back hard anyway, and therefore avoids engaging Helm. If I’m the coach, I REALLY want my D-man on that side taking F1 coming over the blue line, especially when Helm is only hitting the blue line at half speed, and by himself. Force him to dump it while the Wings change, or make him take it deep by himself 1 on 3.

    Barf to all 3 goals. I’m no Sens fan, but I hope P-Mac went all angry walrus on their asses for these ones for their own sake.

  4. What happened to the Sens? Last year they were one of the best coached teams, seems like they’ve taken a 180.

    Helm should be pressured at the red line in hopes he’d ice it with a tired bunch, they gave him the top of the circles. Just awful.

  5. Man, the margin for error is so small at this level. The first two at full speed don’t look that dangerous, but when you back it up and explain it like this, you can see the domino effect of the earlier poor decisions. On the last one it’s even ugly at full speed.

  6. Thanks for the breakdown, very interesting and informative.

  7. Me in the morning checking Backhand Shelf:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgKiIAjtrR4

  8. Nothing better than an ECHLer telling NHLers how to do their job.

    Congrats Bourne.

    • Nothing better than pro taking time out to teach us noobs. Stop being so bitchy, even the Sens would probably agree that Justin’s got good points here.

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