When the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Carolina Hurricanes by a 4-1 score on Saturday night, most of the headlines rightfully revolved around Cam Atkinson's hat trick and the sterling play of Sergei Bobrovsky.
And while those are absolutely deserved, perhaps the most pivotal play of the game was Zach Werenski's goal, which restored the two-goal lead just 1:17 after the Hurricanes' Sebastian Aho cut the lead to 2-1. The goal was Werenski's fourth goal of the year, and was Atkinson's third point in his eventual four-point night.
Werenski's demotion to the third pair and his perceived struggles are almost comical, as his 13 points put him tied for 12th among NHL defensemen.
zach "can't figure it out, demoted to 3rd pair" werenski has 13 points in 20 games and is on pace for a better offensive season than his rookie year
— Jeremy Crowe (@307x) November 18, 2018
— Hockey Daily (@HockeyDaily365) November 18, 2018
But let's talk about the goal itself. It starts with a seemingly innocuous play in the neutral zone. At the 0:00-0:03 mark of the video, Artemi Panarin finds himself in a spot that's trouble for 99% of the NHL, but his genius allows him to problem-solve the play. For starters, he's all alone in the neutral zone, and has no speed. The Hurricanes' Dougie Hamilton (#19) steps up on Panarin.
0:04 - Pierre-Luc Dubois and Scott Harrington are stuck in no man's land. Both are trapped at the far blue line and are unable to enter the zone since Panarin hasn't yet entered, and it would have been offside. Panarin realizes this and is able to circle back.
0:05 - This is where the play begins to open up. Andrei Svechnikov, #37 for Carolina, believes that Panarin is going to drop it back to Werenski, who is the obvious outlet. Svechnikov is fooled. Panarin looks off Werenski and finds a cutting Atkinson, who is wide open in the middle of the ice.
0:06 - Not to pick on Svechnikov too much, but if you freeze the frame here, you'll note how Werenski and Svechnikov are both at center ice, but Werenski is clearly attacking the play, whereas Svechnikov is still looping back. Werenski sees nothing but open ice in front of him, and his instincts tell him to join the play.
0:07 - Atkinson is forced wide by Jaccob Slavin, but knows that he's going to have support behind him. The Hurricanes center, Lucas Wallmark (#71), gets to the middle of the ice a hair late, as he was focused on Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois. Ultimately, it's his man that scores the goal.
0:08-0:09 - By this point, Werenski has officially joined the play, and Atkinson has dropped the puck. Werenski has a lethal wrist shot, and even from the high slot, he's able to pick his corner perfectly.
The aerial view that starts at 0:27 does an excellent job of showing this play, and I'd recommend watching.
Panarin's brilliance is on full display on this goal. For most of the league, stuck in no man's land in the neutral zone means a dump into the corner and a 50-50 puck battle. His strength, balance, and vision allowed him to create this beautiful goal. Atkinson, who made himself available for the Panarin dish, also deserves some love. And of course, some credit needs to go to Werenski. Plenty of defensemen in the NHL can fire the puck, but few see the ice as well as the All-Star Michigan native.
This coaching staff has continually entrusted its defensemen to join the attack, and with talented players like Werenski, it's easy to understand their rationale.
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