The Colorado Avalanche managed to snap a two game losing streak and hand the New Jersey Devils their first lost of the season Thursday night. This effort was lead by the Avs top line, which at this point should be considered the best line in the Western Conference.
For the next Goals Against Breakdown for Mile High Hockey, I wanted to look at the game winning goal (which also happened to be Gabriel Landeskog’s third of the night).
This play starts off with a very high-confidence and highly intelligent play by Tyson Barrie. Notice that Stefan Noesen is applying pressure to Barrie in the neutral zone, as depicted by the red arrow. Most players at this point would go with a dump in while they still have time and space to send the puck into the offensive zone (as shown by the cyan arrow). However, Barrie instead shifts his weight to the outside and he is given plenty of space by New Jersey to carry the puck into the zone on the right side as he eludes Noesen. This is critical to this play as the Avs enter the zone with control of the puck rather than having to chase the puck down in the corner.
New Jersey quickly realizes their mistake in letting Barrie carry the puck in. However, the overcompensate for this with both Andy Greene and Noesen applying pressure to Barrie. Mirco Mueller is in good position to take Mikko Rantanen out of the play at this point, however Nathan MacKinnon comes in late (commonly known as the F3 position in these rushes) and is wide open as Barrie threads a pass attempt across the ice to him between Noesen and Greene. Notice how Barrie’s head is up the whole time and he is able to see something that no one else in the New Jersey zone is able to notice at this point.
Barrie’s pass would ultimately go just under MacKinnon’s stick. This allows Mueller to shift over and apply pressure to MacKinnon. MacKinnon decides to go for the safe play of chipping the puck down just to the left of Keith Kinkaid with Rantanen right on the doorstep of the goal crease.
Rantanen would go on to collect the puck behind the net. From this point on, the New Jersey Devils are doomed by their attention on the puck and lack of attention on the other four Avalanche players on the ice. Notice how deep all five Devils players are playing, with the blue line and arrows indicating the amount of ice they are completely unaware of at this point. Also notice that every single New Jersey player is focused on Rantanen. Both Noesen and Greene are going to apply direct pressure to Rantanen at this point which will lead to a very unfortunate incident for the Devils.
After a couple of seconds of Rantanen fighting off both Noesen and Greene, he actually loses the puck battle to Greene. However, with three big bodies occupying a very small space, something has to give as we will see in the next image. Again, notice every single Devils player is occupied with this one Avalanche player while the rest of the Avalanche cavalry arrives in the zone, something no one in the red jerseys notice.
Here is where the most noticeable and egregious mistake happens for the Devils on this play. Rantanen gives a slight shove to an off-balance Noesen, causing Greene and Noesen to get tied up with each other and lose possession of the puck. MacKinnon comes in to cut off the left side of the night while Rantanen, ever the puck-hound, side steps the New Jersey mes behind the net to collect the puck. At this point still no one on the Devils is aware of Landeskog (or Samuel Girard for that matter) sneaking into a quiet and dangerous spot on the ice. Miles Wood is the only one who broke off for the Devils, however he choose the wrong area of the ice to cover as the entire left side is left wide open for Landeskog.
Landeskog plants himself just off the left faceoff dot. Rantanen collects the puck while MacKinnon just gets out of the Finn’s way. Rantanen then backhands the puck to the captain who is wide open. Notice that even at this point, still no one of the Devils is even remotely aware of Landeskog’s position on the ice, save for maybe Andy Greene who is collecting himself after the turnover.
Unfortunately for Landeskog, the pass from Rantanen is not great. It gets in really tight to his body and forces him to take a fairly awkward catch-and-shoot attempt. However he has nearly the entirety of the left side of the net and likely would like to go for the top corner circled in yellow here. Notice how far away the nearest Devils are from Landeskog when he releases this puck. This will all come down to Kinkaid who is extremely deep in his crease and, just like everyone else on the Devils, was completely unaware of Landeskog until this moment.
Remember that Landeskog had to take an awkward shot from the pass he received from Rantanen. This actually works out in the Avalanche’s favor as it appears the captain was not able to get everything he wanted on his shot. Now, Kinkaid is no fool, the goalie was well aware of what area of the net was exposed as he started to face Landeskog. However, he immediately raises his glove to cut off the top of net (which could very well have been where Landeskog had intended to go). This causes there to be a very big gap between his leg pad and his glove. This is precisely where Landeskog’s shot ends up going, beating Kinkaid to the right and just below his glove.
This image further illustrates what I stated above. As Kinkaid gets out of something resembling a reverse-VH, he is well aware of where Landeskog intends to go on this shot and where he needs to get his body to stop this puck.
However, notice the orange box here. Kinkaid’s skate is inside his net, and he is not able to push off the post or really re-position himself at all in this situation. We can see he starts to throw his glove towards the top corner in a last-ditch effort to get in the way of this incoming shot.
Kinkiad does realize (too late) that the puck is in fact not going top corner. We can see he attempts to re-position his glove but it is far too late and he is far too out of position to do anything about this goal against him.
There were a lot of mistakes made on New Jersey’s side of the ice that lead to this goal. However, this shouldn’t take away from a highly intelligent zone entry by Barrie or an absolute clinic put on by Mikko Rantanen about attacking the puck. And if it isn’t “a thing” already, Thursday night’s game should solidify Landeskog - MacKinnon - Rantanen as the best line in the entire Western Conference.