I will admit that I like New Jersey Devils winger Vladimir Zharkov. He's quick, he's got a good head on his shoulders, and good things tend to happen when he's on the ice for limited minutes. He may only be a fourth-liner, but he brings something to the table and I can appreciate him for that. However, one thing Zharkov will never be confused with is being an offensive player. Among his many tools, a good shot certainly isn't one of them. He didn't score any goals in his first season, a 40-game stint in 2009-10 that yielded him only 10 assists.
Last season, Zharkov finally got into the lineup after Jacques Lemaire stepped behind the bench. After 8 scoreless games, he finally scored his first NHL goal against the Islanders on January 17, 2011. It wasn't a very good looking goal, especially since Mattias Tedenby scored this beauty later on in that same game. It could be best described as a result of being at the right place at the right time. Still, the ugliest goal is better than the best looking non-goal, and so I was glad Zharkov finally got on the board in his career. As it turned out, Zharkov furthered the notion that he's not an offensive player by scoring only one more goal (a more impressive looking goal on the last day of the regular season against the Bruins) and registering only one assist since that game.
However, there is value in taking a closer look at his first goal and the play that led up to it. The other goals reviewed so far featured a Devil forward doing something impressive to make it happen. Zharkov backhanding a loose puck into an empty net doesn't really count. However, the work that went into the play certainly is worthy to break down to understand what sometimes has to happen for such a goal to come about. The play represents something slackdog_rm wanted to see based on this comment in the breakdown of Kovalchuk's breakaway: a grittier effort that proves that goals can come as a result of hard work.
To that end, please set your viewing to wide and continue on after the jump to see a visual break down of Vladimir Zharkov's first NHL goal.
In case you don't recall or you want to see it again, here's a video of the play that led to Zharkov's first NHL goal from NHL.com. There are no replays, so what you see is what you'll get.
Note: The following stills are from the video. The poorly drawn arrows, circles, and other stuff in MS Paint are mine.
We begin with Mattias Tedenby possessing the puck in the corner all by himself. Unfortunately, he doesn't have a lot of options. Vladimir Zharkov is going towards the right side of the net, but he's well covered by Bruno Gervais. Jason Arnott has Josh Bailey in front of him and Rob Schremp behind him. A shot on net wouldn't do much good given the sharp angle where he would be shooting it from; and Kevin Poulin has the left post covered very well. Tedenby has to make a decision soon since Milan Jurcina is coming right at him. Given where Tedenby's facing and the impending Jurcina, I doubt Tedenby will make a good decision.
Yep, this play begins with a mistake. Tedenby tries to thread a pass across the slot, hoping to find Zharkov. However, Jurcina blocks it easily to the sideboards. Even if he didn't, it probably wouldn't end very well given that three Islanders have effectively closed out any passing lane to Arnott and Zharkov. Just for this scene alone, maybe he should have tried a pass Andy Greene, who's out of frame on the left point? Fortunately, Jurcina's block is not the end of the Devils' attack; just an obstacle.
While Jurcina blocks the pass, Tedenby is first to the loose puck on the sideboard. Jason Arnott recognizes this and heads towards the left corner. Bailey will do the same, from what it looks like. Zharkov curls around at the goal line and will start to head towards the left circle. Gervais will not chase him. While Tedenby will have the puck, he doesn't have much choice but to go up the wall. Presumably, this is where Schremp is hanging out with Greene.
Two seconds after the last screen and this is where we stand. Tedenby's battling with Jurcina along the boards with the puck. Zharkov is still looking at that left circle dot and will continue to skate there. Arnott and Bailey will inch up the ice in case the puck jars loose. Schremp is hoping the puck bounces his way so all he has to worry about is getting past Greene. At this point, the attack looks dead for New Jersey. Tedenby can't really continue up the boards. He can't cut towards the center with the puck. His best option is to try and play it towards Arnott and Bailey and hope Arnott gets control of the puck.
The Devils get a fortunate bounce that turns out to be big. Tedenby's decision to lay it off first doesn't go quite right but the puck remains loose among Bailey, Jurcina, and Arnott. Zharkov is at the dot and he's going to crash this little party and come away with the puck. Since Gervais didn't follow him and Jurcina is too far away to really do much about it, Zharkov is able to do what he will do next. This is a crucial moment for the Devils on this shift as it revives their attack, instead of dying out along the boards in a battle or being cleared out.
Zharkov lays it off for Arnott as the direction of the play heads to the corner. He's not facing the direction he wants to go, so he's giving it to someone who can. Not to mention someone who is bigger, stronger, and more experienced than Zharkov. As Zharkov collected the puck, Jurcina returned to his traditional position opposite Gervais. However, he's got his eyes on Arnott, so he's going to follow him. Also, take a look at the sideboards just below Arnott. Bailey's putting a hit on Tedenby to try and neutralize him. The Islanders center isn't going to stop his direction either, which turns out to be important for the Devils very soon.
Since Zharkov made that short pass to Arnott, he was able to curl away and head towards behind the goal line. Jurcina attacks Arnott in the corner, as he should. Bailey comes in to help him out. The Isles have a 2-on-1 on Arnott in the corner battling for the puck. If you read the breakdown for Kovalchuk's breakaway goal against the Rangers, then you know how important it is for the team doubling up to win that battle.
The stakes of the battle are significant for this shift. If the Isles win here, this is big for them since they'll have possession of the puck. They can clear it out, play it around the boards and hope to reach Blake Comeau on the other side, or even try to hit Schremp up top. If they don't, Arnott could have some options. The safer play would be to hit Zharkov with a pass behind the goal line to continue the play. The more dangerous play would be to find Tedenby somehow. Since Bailey joined Jurcina in going after Arnott, Tedenby's wide open in the circle. Schremp was too far away to help him - not to mention the idea of asking Schremp to cover someone on D - and Gervais is patrolling the slot.
Since this is a breakdown of Zharkov's first NHL goal and not how the Islanders got out of a jam, it's clear that Arnott's going to win this battle.
The way Arnott won this is by getting daylight towards the corner. He got the puck and while Jurcina was up against him from the side, Bailey helped out towards his back. This gave him the room to slide it along the backboards to Zharkov. Shortly after Zharkov touches it, he's going to sling the puck right to Tedenby in the circle. He moved towards the battle instead of hanging in the slot, but he's still got a significant pocket of space around him.
The play now rests on Tedenby's shoulders. He could attempt a shot, though trying to get past Gervais' body and the goaltender's would be very difficult. He can't hold on to the puck for long since blue-and-orange jerseys will collapse on him in short order. What he does decide to do is quite impressive, and perhaps a hint of what he would do later that day.
Please excuse the blurriness as there's no clear single frame of what Tedenby's doing here. He decides to challenge Gervais and does so with great success. He beats his poke check with a sweet cross over move. Given the defenseman's positioning, Tedenby is now able to go around his left and right at Poulin with the puck. Bailey is now focused on Tedenby, but he can't do much legally from behind. Comeau dropped into the slot for support, Jurcina is between Arnott and Zharkov and now away from the play, and while Schremp is just hanging out in the circle. Arnott's going to start striding for the net, while Zharkov is going to continue along behind the net in the same direction.
Tedenby comes in close and at first glance he seems to try and put a short shot on net. As it turns out, he didn't do this, he just came in close and is protecting the puck from being snatched by Poulin. The impressive thing here is how every Islander except for Schremp is looking at Tedenby. Obviously, Poulin is; so is Gervais who's trying to do something to repel the winger. Bailey and Jurcina are also fixated on #21 as is Comeau. This is important for Zharkov as he's now able to go around the net undetected. Arnott's also undetected too, but since he's behind everyone, he's not going to make much of an impact on this play anymore. That's fine, he did his good deed already.
Despite all the eyes on him, Tedenby is able to cut to the middle. Poulin sprawls to knock the puck away. This is a smart move by the goaltender. Since Tedenby wasn't trying to shoot it, being aggressive to knock it away, I think, is a good choice. I can defend that decision except for just one problem, though. The puck happened to bounce to his right.
Given that Poulin dove out starting from the left post, he's not in position to recover quickly enough to cover up the now-open right side of the net. Moreover, look at the positioning of the Isles. Both defenseman can't do anything about the right side, Poulin or Tedenby are in their way. Bailey stood back from the bodies and is content to stay next to Arnott. Only two people can clearly get to this puck going to the right: Zharkov, who's watching this alone behind the net and Comeau, who had his vision focused on Tedenby and the puck up until this point.
Here, it's just a battle for a loose puck. Zharkov darted out by the right post in a path similar to the red line, and is able to move freely in trying to get this puck. Tedenby and Jurcina try to stab at it, but it's really between Comeau and Zharkov at this point. As you may expect since this turns out to be a goal, Zharkov gets to the puck first and is able to pull off a backhander that slides it past the fallen Poulin.
The Summary & Conclusion
It definitely wasn't the nicest looking goal in the world, but it's a lot better looking than the many misses Zharkov had last season. This goal turned out to be the first of the game, too.
The amazing thing about this breakdown is how this goal came about despite what happened. I'm more sympathetic towards Tedenby's pass at the beginning of this play since he had no real option available. However, he was fortunate to get that puck and continue along with the play. A favorable bounce allowed Zharkov to swoop in and snatch the puck among three other skaters along the sideboards to turn the shift into an attack by New Jersey. Arnott was able to come out of the double-team by Jurcina and Bailey not only with possession but a smart pass to Zharkov to really open up the play. Lastly, Tedenby's sequence at taking the puck to the net could have gone wrong in so many ways. Lots of what-ifs from that one alone: What if Gervais decided to just hit him instead of poking at the puck? What if Tedenby lost his handle on the crossover move? What if Poulin pokechecked the puck away sooner or did so without falling over? What if Tedenby got the puck knocked away from behind? Most of all, what if the puck didn't go to Poulin's wide-open right side?
The main point here is that a few risks and bounces went the Devils' way which allowed the play to go on, much less yield a goal. It's funny how that turns out. This is not to say that luck overruled the Devils' hard work on the play. Tedenby's willingness along the sideboards to keep the play going was important. Arnott coming out of the double-team with a pass was huge. Tedenby's decision to drive to the net was gutsy and paid off in a big way seconds later. Zharkov's hustle throughout these 15 seconds allowed Arnott to get to the corner, Tedenby to get the puck in the left circle, and to come around the net to successfully swipe at a loose puck. I'm not discounting their work, this play wouldn't have happened without it. It's just that alone wouldn't have led to Zharkov's first NHL goal just like luck alone wouldn't have done it here. It was a combination of the two.
Lastly, let's consider what the Islanders did. In retrospect, the decision by Bailey to help out Jurcina blew up in his face. Jurcina was right on top of Arnott and Bailey should have let him go into that battle alone and covered Tedenby. Sure, Schremp could have helped out on D a lot more than he did in this video. However, Bailey was right on Tedenby and instead of staying with him, he went after Arnott. The Isles took a risk there and lost, leaving Tedenby open and Bailey having to play catch-up. Gervais certainly didn't look good by being burned by Tedenby on a little move in the slot, he probably should have just stood up the rookie winger. Comeau could have done better on Poulin's right side, but given the fracas of players there, maybe he couldn't. The Isles looked to be in control of matters early on in this video, but once Arnott got it to Zharkov, who found Tedenby wide open, they were a mess and the Devils made them pay for it.
Now that you've seen the play that led to Vladimir Zharkov's first NHL goal, I want to know your opinion on this breakdown. What did you learn from this breakdown of the goal? What in the breakdown stuck out to you the most; the two-on-one in the corner, Zharkov's hustle to the other side of the rink to help keep the play alive, Tedenby's move on Gervais, or the final fracas that led to the goal? Have you noticed some common threads between the other goals we've recently broken down? Please leave your answers in the comments along with any other thoughts about this particular goal. Tomorrow, I will break down Ilya Kovalchuk's thrilling overtime goal against Pittsburgh on March 4, 2011. Thanks for reading.