The New Jersey Devils scored three beautiful goals in their 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers in Game 1 of their series in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Patrik Elias thoroughly deked Jose Theodore out of his jock for the first goal. Objectively, it was the prettiest and most skillful of the three goals. I will not break that one down, it just needs to be seen to be believed. For the second goal, Martin Brodeur hit David Clarkson with a long pass, who threaded the puck forward for Dainius Zubrus to finish the play. As good as that whole play was, I will not break that one down as it's hard to highlight a bad line change. Again, it's more instructive to see it in motion. The third goal was Ryan Carter's steal and score less than a minute after Zubrus' goal. That will be the goal broken down today.
It was certainly impressive because of who did it. Carter, a player who's not at all known for scoring goals, just took the puck, beat the defender to get into space, and then beat Theodore with a great shot. It was certainly impressive because of when it happened. Zubrus scored 45 seconds earlier to make it 2-0 so Carter's goal put Florida into a deep hole in the first period of their first playoff game since 2000. It was enough for Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen to call his timeout and try to get his team sorted out. It was certainly impressive because of what it became: the eventual game winning goal. Yes, Ryan Carter's goal was credited with the three letters: GWG. He'll be able to say that he helped won a playoff game. It was enough for my praise in my recap, it was enough for Rich Chere to point out the importance of the goal in this post at NJ.com, and it was enough to get him interviewed after the game right on the ice by the NHL Network.
However, how the goal happened really makes it impressive at all. This is best seen when broken down frame by frame; hence, why I chose this goal over the other two. In this breakdown, you'll see how Carter's goal was the result of the Devils' trap working out ideally, how well supported Carter was even if something went awry, and how chip passes along the boards can work for or against the puck carrier. Please set your viewing to "wide" and continue on after the jump to see how Ryan Carter stole the puck and turned it into a score against his former team in Game 1.
For those who don't know and for those who want to see it again, here's the video of the goal from NHL.com:
Note: All screenshots come from the video from NHL.com. All text and poorly drawn arrows were inserted by me.
The play starts off with a simple breakout by the Panthers. Ed Jovanovski had the puck in the slot, he saw Stephen Gionta forechecking and passes it off to his right, where Marcel Goc (close to the boards) and Sean Bergenheim are moving ahead. Ryan Carter lurks up high and sees the play develop. Dmitry Kulikov is at the opposite corner while Mikael Samuelsson heads up ice. So far, nothing bad has happened.
Goc gets ahead of Bergenheim but since he knows Bergenheim is coming up ice, Goc lets the puck go by so Bergenheim can pick up the puck off the boards. It's hard to see since it's on the near side of the camera, but Goc's right leg is lifted for a reason. Bergenheim stretching out also provides context as to where the puck is. I highlighted it with a black circle and, no, it has nothing to do with the two people in the front row.
Gionta turns and will head back to the center of the ice since his job of forcing a pass is done. This is where the play really starts to happen. Carter saw the breakout pass and has shifted forwards Goc and Bergenheim. His vision is directed at both of them. This should be very familiar to Devils fans and for fans who have paid attention to hockey since the mid-1990s. Yep, this is the beginning of a trap.
Since Goc let the puck go for Bergenheim to take it, he can continue out further away from Bergenheim. Carter recognizes this and goes to the boards to meet the puck-carrier. In this moment, Bergenheim has the puck but he's about to be engaged with Carter. He really has no other choice. While Goc is free, Bergenheim isn't facing him and a pass to him, while possible, wouldn't be easy. He can't make a cross-ice pass since he's not facing that way either. It wouldn't be a smart play either to Kulikov because Gionta could pick it off or up to Samuelsson along the far boards due to the distance. He could drop the puck back to Jovanovski, who's just off screen. In retrospect, he's going to wish he did.
Bergenheim takes Carter head on along the near boards. What he's doing here is trying to chip the puck past Carter. Usually, that means he's going to knock it ahead just a little bit, either off the boards (possibly why the linesman is up against the glass) or into space. If he can get it just a little ahead of him and get around enough of Carter, then he can continue his rush. Bergenheim has more to gain than just possession. While Clarkson is hanging out at the red line to prevent a cross-ice pass, Goc is wide open. Gionta is still getting back to the neutral zone so he can't do anything. Bergenheim and Goc could have the puck in a 2-on-2 rush or possibly a 3-on-2 if Clarkson can't get turn back.
All of that hinges on Bergenheim chipping the puck past Carter. Did he do it?
Bergenheim did get past Carter and Goc is right with him. Carter just turned, and at this moment it looks like Carter was cleanly beaten. Look at the gap between him and Bergenheim. There's no way Carter can catch them.
As a side note, this picture should help indicate how a trap operates. Clarkson stopped and given his position, he's effectively prevented a cross-ice pass to Samuelsson on the flank. Both Peter Harrold (near side) and Anton Volchenkov (far side) are in line and can match up with the two rushing Panthers. So while Carter looks beaten and Gionta is just now entering the neutral zone, they've contained Florida's breakout as indicated by the poorly drawn bright red line. It wasn't exactly a 1-2-2 but it's still good work.
Here's the problem for Florida: Bergenheim doesn't actually have the puck and Carter turned so he could collect it.
At this point, both Bergenheim and Goc realize that neither has the puck and they lost it a few feet back. Bergenheim's chip failed. Carter, as highlighted in the black circle, takes the puck and he's going to head forward. Gionta recognizes the turnover but he'll glide a few feet to make a wider turn. Clarkson, who was lurking at the red line, is going to dash ahead to give Carter some offensive support.
Incidentally, the Florida scorer counted this as a takeaway for Carter. It's not clear by the video exactly how it was done. I think either Carter knocked it away from Bergenheim and retrieved it loose off the boards, or he just blocked Bergenheim's chip and recovered it just now. It's pretty funny that both Goc and Bergenheim skated several feet before realizing they lost possession.
So it looks like Carter has an easy path. Not quite. He's got another obstacle to deal with very soon.
Carter is now fully turned around and he sees big Ed Jovanovski ready to engage him at the blueline. He was off camera, but saw everything develop. Bergenheim and Goc may have not realized what initially happened, but the veteran defender did. He's going to be aggressive and try and stop Carter here. If he's lucky, he could win the puck and get it back up ice to Goc and Bergenheim. But Jovanovski's main goal is to stop Carter.
Meanwhile Gionta is just about done with his turn and Clarkson is heading towards the Flordia zone. As his partner goes to meet the puck carrier, Kulikov has settled towards the center of the ice for support.
How does Carter intend to get around a big defenseman who's coming at him with momentum?
How about a little chip pass to himself off the boards? Not unlike what Bergenheim was trying to do, only we know for sure it bounced off the boards and we know for sure it actually worked. Carter had to take a risk to play it soft enough along the boards to get it past Jovanovski's left and then try to get around him on his right. Fortunately, Jovanovski isn't as agile as he once was and Carter's got some speed. In this frame, he's just getting around Jovanovski to get to a puck that's still going forward.
What if it didn't work? Gionta followed behind Carter so Jovanovski couldn't just throw it back up the same side of the ice easily. Jovanovski wouldn't have to do that since a lane to the center of the ice would be open as Clarkson pushed up. This assumes Jovanovski would have gotten the puck immediately. Again, all Jovanovski had to do was to get in his way. He couldn't straight up check him after the chip; that could be called as interference for hitting him early. Since the Panthers just came off a penalty, taking a minor would have been a terrible idea. However, as seen in this play, Jovanovski failed to slow down Carter. He was just beaten.
Jovanovski is now beaten and there's one skater left between the Devils and Theodore: Kulikov. Since Clarkson was at the blueline as Carter made his move, he now gained the zone and will attack the middle of the ice. Gionta will trail behind; but it's essentially a two-on-one. Carter is just about to take the puck and he'll have a clear path to the net. Kulikov is just outside of the slot, but with Clarkson coming, he's not in a position to engage Carter. That would risk a pass to a would-be wide-open Clarkson in the slot that would possibly catch Theodore on guard.
On the far left of this frame, Samuelsson is the first of the Panthers' forwards to hustle back. He's going to key in on Clarkson as he's the closest Devil he can reach. Meanwhile, Theodore is already getting into position in preparation for Carter.
Just as Carter gets to the left dot, we can see that the two-on-thread has been somewhat averted. Samuelsson (with an extra "L") catches up to Clarkson. While Clarkson is in front of him, the winger could make a defensive play from behind like a stick lift or stick check. He could foul Clarkson if he has to. This puts Kulikov in an odd position; he's on an island. He initially drifted back towards Clarkson since he was the open man without the puck on a rush. That's what a defender is supposed to do in that situation so the goalie can focus on the shooter.
At this point, he sees Carter driving ahead and now that he has back support from Samuelsson, so he's going to slide towards Carter. He can try and make a play on the puck carrier. But since he put himself out wide, he has more space for him to catch up. Can he get there in time? More importantly, what can Carter do?
Essentially, Carter has two options: shoot the puck or keep the puck and go behind the net. While Gionta was trailing, it would require a difficult no-look angled pass from Carter to get it to him. He could have attempted a pass to Clarkson in the sot, but with Samuelsson right on him and Kulikov able to get his stick in the lane, the pass would have to be perfect. Even then, Clarkson would have to fight off one to two Panthers to get a shot on net. Carter can't go back; Jovanovski is behind him. As indicated by the darker red line, Carter is essentially forced to make a move himself: either keep going forward or shoot the puck. With Kulikov now starting to get to Carter - his stick is right in his path - the decision has to be made quickly.
Let's look at the goaltender at this point. Theodore really challenges Carter to shoot. However, I can't say Theodore really has a good form here. He's still inside the crease so he hasn't cut off that much of an angle for Carter. While he has his glove next to his pad, it would have done more to dissuade Carter if he was out a foot further. Theodore is standing up but he's hunched over. The window is small, but a shot to the top of the net would be possible too. And if he's really quick with a wrist shot, it appears Theodore could be beaten five hole if Carter just lifts the puck enough to get over Theodore's stick.
Carter accepts Theodore challenge.
He shot far-post and it went past Theodore and into the net. He surpassed the challenge.
Incidentally, had Carter put the shot to Theodore's right and the goalie stopped it, Clarkson would have had a chance at a rebound if the puck bounced towards the center or right side. With the way the play went, it was a pretty good opportunity for Carter to create something. Fortunately for New Jersey, Carter guessed right on his shot and the execution was great. While Theodore's positioning could have been better, it wasn't totally awful. I'm sure he'd like that goal back all the same.
Kulikov's dive, as seen here as the puck went into the net, was just too late. The last frame was just before Carter shot the puck. If Kulikov began his dive earlier or if he was a bit closer to begin with, then he could have stopped the shot. However, as the earlier pictures shown, this play is not Kulikov's fault.
This play was a great individual effort by Ryan Carter. He trapped Bergenheim at his own blueline, came away with the puck, beat Jovanovski, and had the confidence to drive to the net and shoot it instead of forcing a pass. Carter really earned this goal.
At the same time, the play showed some other good things by the Devils prior to the actual goal. First, it showed how the trap properly operates. If Carter didn't take the puck from Bergenheim, both defensemen were in position to prevent Florida from easily getting into their end. Clarkson's lurking at the red line served to keep them at one side of the ice. I'm not saying the Panthers' attack would have died, but the trap isn't supposed to kill attacks, just limit their options. Therefore, Carter's attempted steal was a low risk move that led to a big reward.
Second, it showed how a little chip pass can make a big difference. For Bergenheim, he got the physical part right but without the important part: the puck. That's how he kept going forward without the puck for a few feet. Goc just assumed Bergenheim had it. Carter then demonstrated how to do it right to get it around Jovanovski. Since Jovanovski was the last man between Carter and wide-open space, the little pass off the boards was a big move.
Third, it showed what happened when a defender gets beat at their own blueline. The idea of Jovanovski challenging Carter wasn't the problem. Instead of hanging back and forcing him to react, he tried to cut him off. The problem was his execution. While he engaged with Carter, he didn't force him to go up the boards with the puck, where he could be checked. He didn't and he couldn't keep with him in open ice. While he was there, he was beaten to his right with the chip pass and then beaten to his left by Carter himself. That's pretty bad. Since Jovanovski isn't swift or agile, he was pretty much done for once Carter got around him.
Fourth, Clarkson wisely rushed towards the center of the ice to command some of Kulikov's attention. While Samuelsson caught up to him and Kulikov eventually did get to Carter, it did keep Carter's lane to the net open for a little while longer. It meant Kulikov couldn't go right at Carter at first. Moreover, had Carter's shot create a rebound to the center or right of Theodore, then Clarkson would have had a good chance at the rebound. His off-the-puck movement served a good supporting purpose.
While the goal was unassisted, the Devils' skaters helped Carter make the most out of an opportunity he created. It's said to death in the post season that every little contribution by every player helps; but it's entirely true. As it turned out, this wasn't little. After all, it was the eventual game winning goal.
Now that you've read the breakdown, you've seen the goal, and you've possibly re-lived the glory of Carter's goal in Game 1, I want to know what you think. What part of the play impressed you the most? What did you learn from this breakdown? What did I miss in this breakdown outside of misspelling Samuelsson's name? Please leave your answers along with any other thoughts about this particular goal in the comments. Thank you for reading.