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For a player to score a goal, someone on the other team has to make a mistake. Almost always. Hockey, like golf, is a game of mistakes, only in the ice version of the mistake sports, you have more of an opportunity to force your opponent to mess up…which is precisely the purpose of a good forecheck.

Last night the Columbus Blue Jackets opened the scoring against the Tampa Bay Lightning after a perfect offensive zone rotation caused a turnover, and they capitalized.

Today we’re focusing on the great forecheck and goal by the Blue Jackets, instead of the negative play by the defense. (Though I will be pointing that out too, cause y’know, why not.)

Let’s. Get. To it.

***

This goal by Ryan Johansen was his 17th on the year. He leads Columbus in points by five with 34 in 46 as a 21-year-old. Dude is a player.

The play starts with Columbus forward R.J. Umberger getting a touch on the puck and putting it behind the Lightning net. The only problem is, he puts a bit to much oomph on it, and it bypasses his linemates and wraps around to the far side, where Lightning player Ryan Malone is going to get his hands on it right around the far hashmarks.

Umberger’s touch was bad, but he’s in a good spot, and is trying to put it to a place where Foligno, also in a good spot, can get control. Ryan Johansen is, right from the beginning, in the perfect spot as F3. Middle of the ice, above the puck, reading the play.

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In the frame below Ryan Malone touches the puck, but James Wisniewski does a terrific job of pinching down on him so he doesn’t have time to get solid possession, make a play and break Tampa out. Johansen, ever the perfect F3, reads the pinch, and slides back behind Wisniewski to cover for him. That’s like, Italian-putting-hands-to-lips-and-making-kissing-motion-over-great-sauce-level good.

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Malone feels the back pressure, and gives it to an outlet, Matt Carle. I HATE that Malone uses the boards for this. If he puts it on Carle’s tape, Carle has more time, and I doubt he makes the fine-but-could-be-better play that he does.

So down to Carle…

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…which is fine, but the Blue Jackets are rotating like champs. Foligno has continued on puck pursuit, Johansen has backed up Wisniewski, and Umberger is coming over to be F3 the way Johansen was on the other side – middle of the ice, above the puck, etc.

Carle doesn’t make a bad play to further relieve pressure by putting it back to Sustr, but the real problems for Tampa start now. There’s no reason for BJ Crombeen to be that far towards Malone’s side (above frame). I get that he’s trying to provide Malone support, and might have been banking on a chip he’d have to skate into but still…he’s way over there.

Anyway, the puck goes back to Sustr…

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…but Umberger has made a great read and jumped the play. He takes the short route around the net, and Sustr has to get rid of it.

So (Don Cherry voice) ALL YOU KIDS OUT THERE? WHAT SHOULD SUSTR DO NOW?

In the absence of an easy available play here, I vote one of two things: eat it, or if you have a read on where your winger is, put it up the boards soft (where he’ll probably end up eating it). Sustr should know that the play was just on the other side of the ice so a firm rim is likely going to end up on the stick of the opposing defenseman. Mostly though…just eat it. This is all too common in the d-zone – a team gives the opposing D-man a puck because they assume wingers just lean on their respective boards and wait for rims. You gotta be smarter than that.

So Sustr rims it up the boards thinking Crombeen is going to be there, but try as he might, he’s not going to get there.

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And now…now the Lightning of Tampa are in tah-rubble. First off, Ryan Johansen AKA Sexy Rotation Face has continued his great shift by heading to a soft spot for Ryan Murray. In the O-zone, once your team gets possession, skill guys find soft spots, and the one SRF (this is a terrible nickname I shall now abandon) is in is them softest of them all, up there nice and high.

Why is it so soft, you ask while curiously tilting your head like a puppy? Ryan Malone, upon seeing the puck go all the way around to the other side of the ice hasn’t headed to the slot where the weak-side winger should be. He’s just…illin out over there, man. Lazy response on his part.

And the other two Columbus forwards have continued their perfect o-zone shift by heading to the net for screens upon seeing that their D-man has the puck at the point with possession.

Murray makes the heads up play and moves the puck to Johansen,

AND

THEN…

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…And here we are.

That, my friends, is what they call Broadway, and it is way broad.

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It would’ve been awfully tempting to skate this write to the rim for a layup, but Johansen sees he has Foligno screening in front, Carle doing the same trying to remove him, Umberger sniffing around for rebounds (and providing another layer of screen), and Sustr clogging up the area too. 

He opts for the clapper, and it goes well.

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And that’s all she wrote.

The Blue Jackets executed their forecheck rotation flawlessly, but the whole turnover started with a James Wisniewski pinch, and a Ryan Johansen cover.

Coaches tell their players that good defense leads to offense, and it’s true. You don’t realize how often doing things the right way leads to a turnover and a goal, versus cheating and looking for the easy one. When everyone does their part, and all the rotations and reads go smoothly, it only takes a minor error or two from your opponent to cost them a goal.

Give ‘er another go in full below. That’s one hell of a shift from Johansen.

Comments (12)

  1. Great post.

    Is there anything Filppula could have done differently? In all the screen shots he doesn’t seem to be providing support to his teammates or covering anyone in particular, and it kinda ends up being his man who scores.

    • I’m thinking Filppula starts out okay — he moves into a soft spot to receive a pass on the turnover. Malone passes to Carle instead, and Filppula might still be thinking he’s going to get a pass until the puck goes to Sustr.

      At that point, Filppula’s out of position, and can’t really do anything.

      But I understand your suspicion. I think he takes two steps during the entire sequence, which never looks good.

      • He’s trying to provide support for his wingers on presumed breakouts. Heading over to Malone is fine, mirroring the puck as it comes back to be support on the other wing. By the time Johansen gets the puck and fires it, he can be excused for not having anyone in coverage.

  2. Ryan Johansen is a strange beast. He came in as a 4th overall pick, with tons of offensive talent and has taken a strange route to being good. Most highly picked offensively talented guys figure out the offensive side first, while the defense is a work in progress. Johansen has became a very good defensive center, with great positioning, great on draws, and usually takes the opponents best players. He’s just now figuring out how to score. He kind of did the reverse of most young talents. Strange.

    • Columbus did a good job developing RyJo after a history of failed high draft choices. Todd Richards was getting a lot of flak last year for making RyJo skate on the fourth line, earn his ice time, presumably to teach him the defensive game, which makes the coach look smart now. Now SRF (a nickname I hope doesn’t stick) is getting the confidence on the offensive side, and what a sick shot he’s got! Thanks, Justin for the RyJo love…

    • That was from his coaching when he was with the Portland Winter Hawks. Mike Johnston is doing a terrific job developing talent in the WHL. Johan got up to Lumbus pretty young, but had done all the WHL damage he could. Off season work has paid off for him, and as he gets stronger, he should continue to develop. We are hoping that Nino takes the same path now that he is with the Wild. Both of them went up young, so had to stay up their first year. Their second season they went down to the AHL for a spell, and now should stick.

  3. From a hockey newbie: what do you mean by “eat it”?

    • He means, don’t move the puck. Get hit by the forechecker and keep the puck in your feet. This will create a multiplayer scrum, or a faceoff. Not sexy, but should be safe.

  4. These Systems Analyst posts are some of the best things since beer.

  5. Is this whole scenario avoided if Malone skates back towards the puck that’s coming up the boards? It looks like he backs off once he sees the puck wrapping around and then he comes to a complete stop once he knows it’s going to be his puck.

    Why not relieve the pressure from the pinch and give yourself more time?

  6. As someone who’s just started playing at 27 (I’m 30 now), these post are invaluble to learning some of these subtle X and O-type things I never got to learn growing up. So yeah Kaz, almost as good as beer!

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