The Columbus Blue Jackets were outclassed in a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nationwide Arena. Despite having plenty of chances to score and playing against a backup goalie, the club failed to match Toronto's high-end skill plays that have made the Maple Leafs one of the deadliest teams in the NHL this season.
The eventual game-winning goal was, in many ways, a microcosm for the game. It was 4v4, best on best, and the Maple Leafs stars were able to out-wit the Blue Jackets top players, and eventually cashed in on a goal that made it a 3-1 game.
Let's break down what went wrong on the back-breaking goal. The whole play takes just seven seconds, so we've added in reverse angle time-stamps as well.
0:01 (0:28 - 0:36) - Unfortunately, the video starts as the play is already underway, but the replay will show that Zach Werenski had a shot attempt deep in the Toronto Maple Leafs zone. As Werenski is instructed to be a 'rover,' he is allowed (if not encouraged) to be aggressive in the offensive zone. However, to play like that, a defenseman must trust that he'll have support from a forward (typically the center) to bail him out. That doesn't happen.
As mentioned, this goal takes place at 4v4, which is the simplest coverage to understand, and frankly, to play: man-on-man. Pierre-Luc Dubois is chasing down the loose puck and is in a great position. However, he decides to pursue the puck with one hand on the stick and is confident that he'll be able to out-muscle his opponent.
The problem: his opponent is Auston Matthews, who's shown his proficiency for stick-lifts in the past (this was his second career goal, in his first career game, humiliating two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson). Matthews is equal parts strong and crafty and takes advantage of Dubois' hubris. If you freeze the play right before the clock strikes 0:02, you can see Dubois already in a bad place positionally.
0:02 (0:37) - Ironically, neither Blue Jackets defenseman is in the frame for completely different reasons. The aforementioned Werenski is caught up the ice, and Seth Jones is (responsibly) hanging back in a defensive posture, though the amount of real estate that Matthews has to work with here is less than ideal. Still, Seth Jones is the least faulty of the five Blue Jackets players (Sergei Bobrovsky included) on the ice.
0:03 (0:38) - Matthews looks up to survey the ice. To a casual hockey observer, this seems elementary, but, like with quarterbacks, having the ability in real time to scan the playing field for options is what separates good from great. Matthews realizes that he's got a step on Dubois and that his teammate Mitch Marner, one of the faster players in the league, is busting his tail to try to make it a 2-1 odd-man rush.
Note that Artemi Panarin and Marner are at the same point on the ice, the blue line. More on that in a moment...
0:04-0:05 (0:39-0:40) - This is where the goal starts to take shape. Jones has correctly identified the puck carrier (Matthews) as his responsibility. One of Dubois or Panarin are clearly responsible for Marner since Werenski is still caught up ice. Panarin, by not skating hard at all, has told Dubois with his body language basically: "you lost your guy earlier, better make up for it now."
0:06 (0:41) - Dubois, at 6'3, is actually in pretty good shape to defend a pass from most NHL players. The problem is that Matthews is better than most NHL players and threads a perfect pass that is just a hair too far for Dubois' long reach. The pass went across the "royal road," an imaginary line in the middle of the ice, in which goal-scoring increases dramatically at all levels of hockey. The pass finds Marner, who shoots and scores.
0:07 (0:42) - Marner takes advantage of Bobrovsky over-playing the pass. There's no doubt it's a tough play for a goalie to keep his angles on a cross-zone pass, but it's probably a goal that Bobrovsky would want to have back.
Tortorella had this to say about the play: "No backcheck. It's man-to-man. (Dubois) gets beat up the wall... I think it's Matthews that beats him, so it's a two-on-one... Bread is standing in the middle of the ice and doesn't backcheck."
When all's said and done, there's plenty of blame to go around on the goal. Werenski is encouraged to be aggressive offensively, but he wasn't exactly dying to get back in the play. Dubois got beat clean to start the sequence and is ultimately responsible. Panarin definitely could have given a better effort to help his young center. And Bobrovsky over-commits and loses his angle on the shot. It was this seven-second sequence that ultimately gave the Maple Leafs the goal they needed to win the game.
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