Breaking down a goal is always a worthwhile endeavor, especially a milestone like lya Kovalchuk's 400th career goal. This post by dsarch, a.k.a. David Sarch of Talking Red, should be read a little more and so it's on the front page. I've only modified the title, made the pictures bigger, and made some minor grammatical changes to the original post. - John.
As frustrating as the power play has been at times, it’s clear that over the last few months it has evolved into a unit which isn’t setting up solely for an Ilya Kovalchuk one timer. In my view there are two noticeable changes. The first is we’ve seen a variation on set plays. Recently we’ve seen the cross ice passing between Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias, utilizing Marek Zidlicky’s passing abilities, setting up down low for Zach Parise as well as setting up for a David Clarkson shot in front. These variations have allowed Kovalchuk to find more space as teams haven’t been able to press on him as they have in the past.
The other big change is that players have been more mobile in the power play. We’ve not only seen Patrik Elias play on both sides of the boards, Zidlicky and Kovalchuk have played in each of the 3 high spots and Parise has played near the goal line and a bit higher in space normally occupied by Elias.
On Tuesday night when Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 400th career goal, it was the perfect example of the benefits of these changes.
Background Knowledge: Through the first 12 games of March the Devils are 6 for 38 on the power player. In games where the Devils scored a power play goal, they haven’t lost. On Tuesday night when the Devils took on Ottawa, they played a team that has definitely given them some trouble. In their previous two meetings, the Devils were 0-7 with the man advantage.
The Play: The play starts with the puck behind the net. Hard work from Parise and Clarkson forces the puck to Patrik Elias on the point. He walks in and has a partially deflected shot.
When you look at the play you’ll notice a few things. Normally, I’m not a fan of just shooting the puck just for the sake of shooting it while on the power play. On this particular play, David Clarkson and Zach Parise were both providing a screen. Combined with the two Senator defenders, that’s 4 men making life difficult for Ben Bishop. As the play develops, the puck wraps around the boards.
Marek Zidlicky is able to prevent the puck from turning into an Ottawa clearance and 30 seconds wasted trying to break into the zone. Zidlicky takes the puck up high in the zone and it becomes clear from their formation that Ottawa is playing a box formation. As Zidlicky takes the puck to the blue line, he creates a large gap between the two layers of defense.
On this particular play, Patrik Elias stays on the left wing instead of retreating to the right. At this point Elias takes advantage of that gap and that sets the play in motion. He sees a potential passing lane (marked by the thin black line) and slides down towards the faceoff dot. This movement forces the penalty killer to drop down low.
In the screen shot below, you can see that the space between Kovalchuk and the defender has doubled, giving him a better chance his shot gets through. It also makes the pass across the blue line easier for Zidlicky as no defender is close enough to get into the passing lane. In fact, Kovalchuk is able to slide back towards the boards and slightly further in from the blue line, which is a better shooting position.
Now when Ilya Kovalchuk is able to take one of his trademark one timers he has a double screen to shoot through. He also has the space to really drive through the puck, getting full power behind his shot. David Clarkson gets into good position and is open for any rebound in front of the net.
Luckily on this play, there was no rebound.
Conclusion: Recently we’ve seen a change in the Devils power play. Instead of setting up for an Ilya Kovalchuk one timer in an umbrella the team has become much more active. By moving around the offensive zone they open up space for the other players on the ice by dragging defenders out of position. In the example above, the movement of Patrik Elias forced the defender to cheat down low which opened up Kovalchuk for a clean one timer - which earned him his 400th career goal and got the Devils on the board 1-0.