Well Avalanche fans, I worked to endure myself to you by showing some of the good things the Avalanche did on my previous breakdowns. Unfortunately, now is the time to take a look at some of the things they could use some work on defensively. And while this goal against was mostly a breakaway, there were a lot of factors that led to the Brock Boeser goal in the first minute of the game on Friday night.
This play starts off with a clean zone entry into the Vancouver Canucks’ zone by Alexander Kerfoot. Notice in the image that Derrick Pouliot actually does a good job of maintaining a decent defensive gap on Kerfoot. At the top of the screen we see Colin Wilson making a hard break into the zone after just getting on the ice from a line change. the Canucks have a fairly decent looking coverage as this zone entry transpires. Troy Stecher shifts towards Kerfoot as well, which means both Canucks defensemen are isolating one Avalanche player. This leaves Nickolay Goldobin to cover the streaking Wilson.
Kerfoot would go on to make a great play to get separation from both defensemen and turn back up the boards which causes Pouliot to rotate off the pressure. Stecher continues to pressure Kerfoot, but Kerfoot has good body positioning and leaves himself open to making a play with his head up looking at all the Avalanche options entering into the fray. Wilson does what he does best in pushing towards the net and creating chaos in front. This play looks like it has legs at this point.
How does the saying go? “Hockey is a game of inches”? This is where the play takes a massive turn as Kerfoot attempts to hit a wide open Sheldon Dries as he enters the slot. A play that, if executed, would have at least led to a high quality scoring chance. Unfortunately for the Avs here, Kerfoot misjudged Dries speed and the pass ends up going a few inches behind the Avalanche forward. Also notice that Erik Johnson comes very deep into the play here, expecting to be an option for Kerfoot as well. As you can see, there are 4 Avalanche players at or below the faceoff circles in this play, and none of them in a position to get back defensively as we will see on the next image.
The last Canucks player into the defensive zone on this play is unfortunately their most dangerous player, the 19 year old phenom Elias Pettersson. He collects the missed pass and Boeser is well aware of who is retrieving the puck and makes a break for the Avalanche zone as fast as he can. Again, notice how deep and out of the play four of the Avalanche players are here with what was probably a bit too aggressive of a play by EJ.
Now, Nemeth is hardly to blame on this goal, but over the next few images notice how he makes some interesting (and detrimental) decisions. He is well aware that Pettersson has the puck and is passing it, and he remains in between those two burgundy lines (which in itself isn't a bad position if he is going for an angle-off play). Also, as much as it may hurt, watch the highlight and replay of this goal a few times to just get a sense of how incredible Elias Pettersson’s passing is on this play (and many other plays in this game).
This is where Nemeth lost me a little bit on this play. He turns around to watch the puck go to Boeser. Go back and look at the last image again. Given his head positioning and where Pettersson was passing the puck, even if he wasn’t 100% aware of who or what was over in that direction, he should have known somebody was there and just kept skating forward for the angle-off play. His decision to turn around here costs him about a half of a second for getting back to get positioning on Boeser later on, which would end up costing the Avalanche big time.
Nemeth turns back around again to skate forward. Notice here that Boeser is a right-handed shooter coming in from the left wing. If Nemeth changes his angle of attack on Boeser slightly (the dotted arrow) from the angle he goes take (the solid arrow), he has a change to get better positioning on Boeser here. This is because to get a good forehand shot off, Boeser is going to have to put the puck towards where Nemeth is coming from. Instead Nemeth takes the shortest route to where Boeser is now rather than going to where Boeser is going to be.
And as we can see in this shot, that decision allows Boeser to get fantastic body position on Nemeth. He pushes the puck out to the far side on Nemeth, allowing the Avalanche defenseman almost no options for stopping the Canucks forward from making a play. Here we also see the beginnings off a slightly ill-advised play by Philipp Grubauer. He has decent positioning in this image, but he ends up planting himself just inside the crease and goes for the poke-check.
And as we can see on the replay and from this image, Boeser has already elevated the puck as Grubauer’s poke check is approaching where the puck once was. To be fair, it is hard to do anything about what Boeser does here. He manages to pull the puck back in from his one-handed drag from the backhand we see in the previous shot and chip it up and over Grubauer’s blocker on the forehand all in one quick motion. It was an incredibly skilled play from the Canucks sophomore forward to finish on an unbelievable breakout pass from the young Pettersson.
This image was to show one very small but important detail about Boeser’s body position on Nemeth here. Notice how he has his right knee pushed out and keeps his stick to the left of his right leg. There is absolutely nothing Nemeth can do with his stick here to disrupt Boeser’s play.
And finally this is what a missed poke check will do to a goalie. Grubauer’s stick and blocker are on the ice and he is well out of position allowing Boeser to have a relatively wide window on the left side of the net. This is because Grubauer’s blocker is dropping as Boeser’s chip shot is rising.
So the biggest takeaways from this play and goal against are the following.
- A missed pass in the offensive zone can quickly turn into an opportunity the other way, especially when one defenseman has jumped deep into the play.
- Defensive awareness is key if you are going to thwart a partial breakaway the other way, which includes going to where the puck carry is going to be, rather than chasing the puck carrier.
- Goalie poke checks are a lot of fun when they are well-timed and work, but not so much when they are not.