Five minutes into overtime between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche last night, Mikael Granlund started to make the best play of his young NHL career. His linemates Zach Parise and Jason Pominville helped the Wild gain possession low, and room opened up behind the net. With Avalanche defender Jan Hejda draped all over him, he carried the puck east-west, at one point hanging on to it with one hand on his stick, took Hejda out to the far wall, where a combination of shoddy body position from his opponent and a fortuitous bounce left him with a clear lane to the net.
He then took the puck directly into traffic, stick-handled beneath the player waiting in the slot (Marc-Andre Cliche) and above Eric Johnson, carried the puck across the crease, and tucked his seventh shot of the night home on the far side.
With that, Granlund became just the fifth player ever to score his first NHL playoff goal in OT of a 1-0 win, and the Wild trimmed Colorado’s series lead to a manageable 2-1, instead of falling behind 3-0.
I wanted to explain what went wrong for Colorado (it wasn’t all Hejda’s fault), and I will below, but first here’s what made Granlund’s goal so special from an offensive standpoint:
* He got his legs moving behind the net and took the puck east-west, which forces defenders to rotate, and can create problems.
* He actually thought about cutting in with a wrap-around, feels he doesn’t have body position, but stays with it and stays strong on his skates.
* He was relentless. When he gets taken into the wall, he’s immediately looking for the puck, and immediately gets his legs moving again.
* The pure skill of the play. He showed great hands in tight and a nose for scoring goals. Not bad for a 22-year-old.
As it is with any goal, some players messed up. I wanted to briefly point out something that seems misunderstood when hockey people talk systems and positional play: you are not chained to any particular area of the ice, so when things break down, you’re allowed to leave.
I’ve written about a system I like before here, which the Boston Bruins play. In every hockey game some players are going to get beat in the d-zone, so you want your team to be able to provide help when that happens. The idea is that you want to force the other team to make plays. Read the rest of this entry »