Well there you are, sleepyheads. Good afternoon! I know it feels like morning, you Canadiens fan you, but trust me, it’s the afternoon by now. Mix in a cup of black coffee, a Tylenol, and if you can muster it, get outside and get yourself a little bit of fresh air. It’s a great day, even if you’re feeling a little fragile right now.
Thursday night was a night for “who the heck cares how it happened, we won,” I’m sure. But would you like to re-live it, and bask in some of the secondary endorphins? I’m happy to be your guide. I haven’t done a Systems Analyst-style post in a while, and this felt like the perfect candidate.
Let’s pick through the goal that put the Habs through to the Stanley Cup Final, and give out some well-earned flowers to Carey Price, Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, and of course, Artturi Lehkonen.
First off, I’d like to note that “Carey Price, Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, and of course, Artturi Lehkonen” were on the ice with Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot...against Keegan Kolesar, Tomas Nosek, Will Carrier, Zach Whitecloud, and Alec Martinez very early into the overtime period.
That’s a pretty lopsided matchup.
To understand why that’s who Vegas had out there through just 1:28 of the extra frame:
The top three Vegas lines had already touched the ice. Granted, the line of Janmark-Roy-Tuch saw just the first eight seconds of the period before a favourable icing call led to a line switch. But you can understand Pete DeBoer seeing a chance to use his fourth line in an O-zone start situation and being locked and loaded to follow with his best nine forwards next, with what would be Montreal’s top line back on the bench.
(And hey, it’s not like the Danault line ever scores anyway, right? It’s easy to see that shift playing out as a wash.)
With that, it looks to me like Vegas was down to five D (Nick Hague’s last shift came with six minutes to go in the third, and was just his fourth of the period), and so DeBoer wanted to get Whitecloud a shift (you weren’t going to see Hague/Whitecloud anymore in this game). He went out with the responsible Alec Martinez.
Still, seeing “O-zone start” and putting what I’d say are the four guys at the lowest end of your depth chart on the ice at once was undeniably a gamble. Should Janmark-Roy-Tuch have jumped back over the boards? Hindsight makes that an easy yes, but DeBoer’s line choice was never guaranteed to hurt Vegas (who mostly played well on the goal against).
Let’s take a look at the goal as a whole, shall we? That’s always fun.
Y’know what really kills me about this goal? It’s pretty rare to see a player cut laterally inside the blue line, avoid all the defensive sticks, then manage to sneak a pass on their backhand back through the traffic from whence they came, get it to the off-hand of an open teammate on the wing, and have that guy then get off a good shot.
Only it happened just seconds before, for the Golden Knights, too. Look at the contrast in these moments and consider that they both happened in the first 100 seconds of overtime. What a clear definition of one side getting it done and the other...not.
You could search for hours and not find two offensive plays that unfold so similarly. Vegas’s arguably comes from a more dangerous spot on the rink, too.
These stats seem relevant here:
Anyway, time to pick it apart.
The puck gets won back to Martinez, who lets a real heater of a half-knucklepuck go from the point. This was a dangerous shot that Price tracks and gets his collarbone in front of, but it’s impossible to control. It hit high enough up his body, and with such force, that it launched up high back into the slot.
As you can see from the picture below, if it comes out much lower at all Nosek is probably able to grab it in a pretty dangerous spot, and you can see the Golden Knights have some players in good offensive positions for any chance that may come off a grabbed puck there. Kolesar is underneath Chiarot by the faceoff dot for any potential rebound.
The problem with having your players in offensive positions is if the puck hops over a stick, or say maybe, floats over everyone’s head then “good offensive position” immediately becomes “bad defensive position.”
Based on Nosek reaching for the puck and heading downhill to the net, and Danault having a little lateral momentum going, the Habs forward is able to cut up ahead of Nosek, and turn a 2-on-2 in a 3-on-2.
I think the Vegas D, by and large, played this oncoming rush really well. What Martinez wants to do is pressure Gallagher before the red line to force him into making a decision, and hopefully either ice the puck or force a play and turn it over.
If it’s a clean 2-on-2 maybe Martinez would have pressed a bit harder, but because they don’t have numbers, he stayed back just enough (you can see his stick still reaching at the centre red) for Gallagher to make a poised play, maintain possession, and use his teammate (Danault) streaking up the middle of the ice.
So here’s where this all really goes to pot for Vegas.
Nosek is in a Sort Out situation, and I capitalize Sort Out because Sort Outs are a thing teams practice on rushes back into their D-zone. The first forward back has to make a read. If they can get back and pressure the puck carrier, they should. Nosek can’t do that here. In that case, if the D are locked into two guys, the Sort Out guy should work back hard to cover the weak side forward, as there’s likely a Kick Out coming.
Most 3-on-2s in the NHL play out the same way when they don’t have pace like this. Generally, the guy who’s Danault with the puck in the middle almost always kicks this out right away and drives the net. Nosek is within a stick length of Danault in the frame below, and with Chiarot wisely pulling up out of the rush, it’s now clearly on him to be the Knights' third guy back to even up the numbers.
Nosek stops skating, and never takes another real stride past the centre red.
Now, Whitecloud has done a nice job managing the gap in the middle, not backing in so deep that Danault has the zone uncontested, and staying up enough that Danault thinks the usual kickout might possibly maybe perhaps get tipped, and you do not want to turn the puck over there. I like where Whitecloud is just fine (if you’re being picky you’d like him up about six inches), and I like his stick position, too.
Danault is actually in a dangerous spot here to turn the puck over, but it’s an odd-man rush so he doesn’t want to just chip it in deep. Instead, he basically decides to make the puck a huge container ship trying to navigate the Suez Canal (I’m told that can be perilous), only he doesn’t get stuck. Look at how narrow the ice is where he’s handling the puck, right inside the opposing blue line:
It closes even tighter on him, yet he greases the thing through…
…And then has some daylight on the other side, shown below.
Also: just a terrible time for Nosek’s controller to disconnect.
It’s becoming panic-mode for Vegas now. Martinez wasn’t able to disrupt the puck from Danault’s stick and is now left to sprint to get to the guy Nosek should be hot after.
Danault is now in a less risky spot on the rink, and so decides to throw one of those backhand passes that probably comes with the thought “Unlikely this will work but if it doessss….” And it finds a puck-sized hole by Whitecloud’s feet.
Martinez again almost gets a tip on the puck as you can see below, but everything came up absolutely Milhouse on this goal for the Habs.
Now something important I want to address. Let’s not act like this was some tap-in for Lehkonen. I feel like he’s not getting nearly enough love for this finish. This is an off-hand one-timer past a big goalie who’s by no means out of the play. It needs to be shot hard, and up, and placed well.
Look how far out he’s shooting this from. He’s barely inside the faceoff dot. Pass your buddies a few off-hand one-timers in this spot against no goalie and see how often they can hit this spot with any force.
And like Martinez, who almost disrupted the play a handful of times, Lehner falls short of getting a blocker on this by the breath of a Montreal Canadien ghost.
There’s some sort of life metaphor for how this play unfolded: all you can control is getting by the moment you’re in, and sometimes you survive enough of them and look back and go “how the heck did I get through all that?” None of the moments between the Price save and the goal were, in isolation, impossible. But they were all challenging, and yet the Habs conquered each one en route to scoring the goal that put them back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993.
It was a beauty, and well-deserved for an opportunistic team that’s made its hay in this post-season capitalizing on rush chances.
After the game 3,500 people in the building felt like 35,000, to put the estimate on the conservative side. A few more moments like that, and they could sound like 3.5 million or more. Swear to God.