The Columbus Blue Jackets played perhaps their most complete game of the regular season on Tuesday night, as they defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals 3-0 at Nationwide Arena.
The team put on a defensive clinic, holding Washington to just seven shots through two periods, zero high-danger scoring chances at 5v5, and zero goals against.
Offensively, the forwards were buzzing, and the defense did well to activate into the play (subtle foreshadowing alert). If we're being honest, Braden Holtby's stellar play kept the game at just 1-0 for much of the evening.
But the Blue Jackets, despite playing a great brand of hockey for two-plus periods, were clinging to just a one-goal lead. No matter how comfortable the team may have felt, a one-goal game means the other team is just one bounce away from tying it and one more away from taking the lead.
An insurance goal sure would have been nice, am I right?
Enter Nick Foligno, who scored one of my favorite goals on the season. It was a complete play where every skater on the ice influenced the goal in a positive way. An overused hockey adage is the '200-foot' player, but this was truly a 200-foot goal. From stopping Washington's attack to a textbook three on two, this play had it all. Even more impressively, it came against Washington's top unit of Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuzentsov, Tom Wilson, Dmitry Orlov, and John Carlson at a crucial point in the game, with just four minutes remaining.
Allow us to break it down:
0:00-0:02 (not shown in reverse feed) - Orlov is in the neutral zone and makes a pretty standard pass to Ovechkin along the wall. Ovechkin touches the pass effectively to Wilson, who enters the Blue Jackets zone with speed. As soon as Ovechkin makes the pass, Foligno delivers a solid hit that eliminated the Russian winger and kept him from joining the offense.
0:03-0:04 (0:41-0:42) - Wilson tries to beat Seth Jones wide, which is ill-advised. Jones, being one of the top defensemen in the NHL, has a perfect gap and rides Wilson into the boards right at the hashmarks and separates Wilson from the puck.
0:05-0:06 (0:43-0:44) - Boone Jenner, who has been a crucial cog for the Blue Jackets this season, is the center on this line. In simple terms, in the defensive zone, centers act as an extension of the defense. Jenner embodies that responsibility on this play, and is low in the zone and first to the puck, beating Kuznetsov by 15 feet.
0:07-0:08 (0:45-0:46) - Kuznetsov pressures Jenner and forces him to move the puck, or face the consequences of a potential turnover. Ryan Murray, who anticipated that Jenner would win the race to the puck, opened up in the left corner of the defensive zone as an outlet. Normally, with Jones pushing the play wide, Murray would be best served to stay at home in front of the net, but he makes the correct read here once he realizes Jenner is going to win the race to the puck.
0:09 (0:47) - Murray, one of the more cerebral players on the team, opts to start skating the puck out. In doing so, he draws Ovechkin to him, while Kuznetsov (the Capitals' center) who hit Jenner is late on the backcheck.
Note: Take note of how Jones is flying up the zone to beat Tom Wilson up ice.
0:10-0:12 (0:48-0:50) - Once Murray has drawn Ovechkin into a potential hit, Murray sends a tape-to-tape pass up the ice to a streaking Foligno, who catches the puck in stride and is able to enter the Capitals zone with speed. If you freeze it right before 0:12, you'll note a 2v2, with nobody else in sight. Anderson reads the play correctly, and opts to skate hard directly towards the net.
0:13 (0:51) - Foligno briefly looks up and sees Anderson crashing to the net, but thinks he has a better, higher-percentage option. Remember that note about Jones flying up the ice? Here's where he reaps the benefits of his hard work. Foligno drops the puck behind his back to Jones, and (this is important) immediately gets open. Orlov, who must respect Jones' speed, immediately pivots from Foligno to Jones.
0:14 (0:52) - Jones gives the puck right back to Foligno, who, by virtue of his little give-and-go with Jones, is in a much more advantageous position to score. Think about it. Foligno is now on his forehand side, with more time and space to release his shot, in closer proximity to the net, and with less defensive pressure. If you were to draw a circle on the ice of where you would want your teams' forwards shooting the puck from, it would basically be where Foligno is standing.
All in one second, Foligno receives the pass back from Jones and lets a rocket of a snap shot go, high to the blocker side of Holtby.
0:15 (0:53) - The puck is in the back of the net, but one more player deserves credit for his continued work on this goal. Josh Anderson, who went hard to the net, brilliantly moved from the left side (where he crossed the blue line) to the right side, where a) he'd be a target for a backdoor pass and b) where he could bang home a rebound Foligno didn't score. By shifting his position to his strong side, he opened up even more ice, and the Capitals defenseman (Carlson) didn't have time to react.
In all, it's a beautiful goal and shows once again how the little things make all the difference. It's also a great example of defensive structure leading to offense. Lastly, it shows how thin the margin for error is in the NHL. If Wilson is able to keep pace with Jones on the backcheck, or Kuznetsov makes a different read and is higher in the offensive zone, there is no 3v2, and likely no goal. But because Washington was pressing for the tying goal, they were more aggressive offensively than normal, and it cost them a goal, and ultimately, the game.
Editor's Note: Stick tap to YouTuber/CBJ Redditor SpecmenceCBJ for posting the video.
Follow 1st Ohio Battery