The Columbus Blue Jackets didn't win Saturday night, but it was an encouraging night for their special teams. The club went 1-for-2 on the power play, scoring on a beautiful Pierre-Luc Dubois feed that found Cam Atkinson at the back post. The home team also held the New York Rangers to 0-for-2 on their power play, and even scored a shorthanded goal for the second time this season.
The Blue Jackets had fought back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game, and Alexander Wennberg's go-ahead goal was, at the time, a huge goal. It was Wennberg's first goal of the season, and it encapsulated so much goodness that we've decided to break down exactly what went right – and wrong, if you're the Rangers – on the play.
The play starts at the 0:00-0:03 second mark, when Rangers defenseman Neal Pionk gets the puck behind his net. Cam Atkinson, the only Blue Jackets player in the screen, is aggressively pressuring the play. Atkinson abides by one of penalty killing's golden rules: avoid going behind the net (reason: the power play defenseman can easily evade the play, and now you're 200 feet from home base).
0:04 - The Rangers are running a common power play breakout, where they have one player flanking each side (Chris Kreider on the left, Mika Zibanejad on the right), coming up the ice with speed. Atkinson is flying back down the middle of the ice, effectively giving Pionk the easy breakout pass, both of whom are on their "strong" (forehand) side.
0:06 - Pionk starts to make the pass to Zibanejad, but hesitates. This is where the play starts to spiral out of control for the Rangers. Pionk, who is a talented young player, just panics.
0:07 - Pionk decided against his first option (Zibanejad) and insists that, as power play QB, he must make a pass. He tries for option two (Kreider). Seth Jones, an elite defenseman who is still somehow underappreciated, reads it perfectly.
Note: I haven't watched Pionk enough to say this definitively, but a more experienced defenseman would (and should) simply start skating up the ice, as he has nothing in front of him but time and space.
0:08 - As soon as Jones picks off the pass, freeze the video. This is the first time we (the viewer) have a full chance to see why Pionk went away from Zibanejad (the replay at 0:36-0:37 also shows it perfectly). Alexander Wennberg is within one stick length of the Ranger, and Atkinson's hustle back in the play effectively neutralized the two Rangers players who were cutting up the middle of the ice. Ryan Murray, who isn't even in the frame, is playing deep center field high in the Blue Jackets' defensive zone.
0:09 - Here, the Rangers problems begin to compound. Pavel Buchnevich (No. 89 on the Rangers) realizes the puck has been turned over. His instinct isn't necessarily a bad one: go fight to retrieve the puck. But it backfires on him.
0:10 - Jones realizes that Buchnevich is coming to attack him and baits him further. Buchnevich is either unaware that Wennberg is joining the play or is hoping that his backcheck will force Jones into a turnover. Pionk, who turned the puck over in the first place, makes matters worse by giving Jones a healthy gap (space between him and Jones). At this point it's unclear if Pionk is aware of Wennberg, either, given how far to the left of the ice he's playing Jones.
0:11 - Jones dishes a saucer pass, leading Wennberg just enough that he doesn't have to break stride. This is the "oh, crap" moment for Buchnevich and Pionk especially, as they can only turn their head and watch a streaking Wennberg with a pass that's currently on its way.
0:12 - Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev doesn't stand a chance. Left-handed shooters like Wennberg have some favorable shooting match-ups that right-handers simply don't have. Since Georgiev is (like most NHL goalies) a left-handed catching goalie, his right side of the net is protected by a blocker and stick, as opposed to his glove. NHL goalies are difficult to beat, period, but especially so on their glove-hand side. Wennberg's strong side (left side), allows him to shoot on the near post without having to beat Georgiev's glove, and he fires a picture perfect shot under the crossbar and over the shoulder.
I'd recommend watching the replay at the 0:35-0:44 mark of this video. It gives a reverse angle of the same play and will really reinforce the above descriptions, especially why Pionk panicked and the brilliance of Jones.
Dozens of split-second decisions were made to create this goal – on both sides of the puck. This goal doesn't happen if Jones doesn't step up and is playing more passively. If Wennberg doesn't attack up ice (instead of deciding to play it safe on the PK), this goal doesn't happen.
Similarly, if Pionk doesn't force the pass and simply skates it to the red line, it's a moot point. If Buchnevich tracks back with Wennberg instead of pressuring Jones, it's a simple 2v2, which happen all the time and are easier to neutralize. It's the little things that make a big difference in the NHL.
Editor's Note: Stick tap to YouTuber/CBJ Redditor SpecmenceCBJ for posting the video.
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