This picture was taken moments after Dainius Zubrus scored in the second period against the Flyers in Game 4. How did it all happen? Read on as I breakdown the play. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New Jersey Devils defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2 in Game 4 of their playoff series on Sunday. The fourth goal was an empty net goal, so the score was close throughout the game. The performance certainly wasn't, as the Devils swarmed the Flyers over and over and over. The end result: a heavy shot, Fenwick, and Corsi differential in favor of the Devils. The main reason why the game wasn't a rout was because of the fine play of Ilya Bryzgalov.
Yet, Bryzgalov couldn't stop everything. He had no chance on New Jersey's first or second goals, re-directions at close range. Short of turning into Mr. Fantastic, he wasn't going to get either one from Petr Sykora or Marek Zidlicky. The only goal he had a chance at stopping was the third one. Even that one was incredibly difficult. Dainius Zubrus was wide open just inside the left circle and one-timed it just past him. Bryzgalov was essentially hung out to dry on the play and it gave the Devils a 3-2 lead late in the second period. That lead held up to win the game. 39 saves, three just-about-unstoppable goals, and a loss. Talk about a lack of support for your goaltender.
After the goal, David Sarch of Talking Red suggested I should do a breakdown. After finding a video of the whole play, I can agree that one was needed. While Zubrus' one-timer was just about perfect, some questions about what happened before the shot came to mind. How did Zubrus get so wide open? How did Sykora keep possession after a pass from Adam Henrique went awry? What created the two-on-one prior to the goal? How did the whole play develop? Only a breakdown of the goal can provide the answers to those questions and more. Please set your viewing to "wide" and continue on after the jump to see how the Devils turned a defensive stop into an offensive rush, which Flyers messed up, and Sykora doing a lot more work than a secondary assist would imply.
The Goal Video
The NHL.com video of the goal only shows the end: Henrique getting the puck and feeding Zubrus for the one-timer. The play developed much earlier than that. I want to thank David Sarch for pointing me in the direction of Youtube, where user DevilsHQ had a more comprehensive video, including replays from multiple angles.
Therefore, I used pictures from this video. All text and poorly drawn arrows and circles are mine.
The Players Involved
The play begins with a rare-for-that-period attack by the Flyers. Kimmo Timonen has the puck at the right (far) point.
The Devils' third line is out there, with Zubrus in a deeper role. There's a clear lane in between the three so, Timonen's going to fire this puck on net. Over in the far corner, you can see Zidlicky and Voracek.
The shot gets on net - Philadelphia's fourth of the period - and there's a scramble in front. There was a short rebound from Martin Brodeur, so he's down on his knees trying to get it. Briere is in front trying to jar it loose. Salvador and Zidlicky converge on Briere to try and deny him. Hartnell is going to get around Salvador, while Zubrus charges in to support his defensemen. While Voracek and Hartnell aren't in the mix in this moment, they will be soon. Making it a 3-on-3 scrum is preferable to 3-on-2.
The puck pops out to Hartnell. this is a precarious moment. With Briere and Zidlicky essentially pinning Brodeur down, Hartnell has a wide open net here. Zubrus gets in off-balance, but he denies Hartnell with an important stick-check.
Sykora sees what's going on and he's going to make a beeline right for Hartnell. This crisis isn't over just yet.
While Zubrus dives on one knee towards the left (near) post; Sykora denies Hartnell with an important stick-check of his own. With Brodeur still pasted to the ice, that net was still wide open and Hartnell had a second chance. Thankfully, Sykora got in his way. Actually, he took it one step further.
Sykora not only denied Hartnell, but he knocked the puck to the corner. This allows a little time for Brodeur, Zidlicky, and Salvador to recover somewhat. Even better, Sykora turned faster than Hartnell. So he's able to start striding towards it. In this picture, Hartnell is just turning right now; Sykora has an edge.
Meanwhile, Henrique is going to move up the center of the ice. This will prove important in several pictures. Keep an eye on him.
At this juncture, I decided to use one of the replay angles as it more clearly shows how the Devils are able to get forward. From this angle, you can see that Sykora got to the puck first. The puck was chipped a bit along the boards, which made it easier for him to get the puck and body position on Hartnell. Hartnell's in a bad spot here. He has to pressure Sykora, but that's hard to do from behind.
Fortunately for him - and bad for the Sykora - Coburn looks like he's ready to engage Sykora. While the Devils just got out of a defensive jam, a stop here by Coburn could help keep Philadelphia alive on the attack.
Except Coburn actually moves backwards. He's still in preparation for Sykora coming at him, so it's not a bad spot to be in. Hartnell's literally right on top of Sykora; but the veteran winger is tough enough to keep the puck going forward. Hartnell will get off of him shortly, though.
So Coburn retreats further, but Sykora gets away from Hartnell. With Coburn right in front, Sykora really doesn't have the space to try and get around him. Going through him isn't an option. That's why Sykora attempts a chip pass off the boards. As you can see in this picture, the puck actually gets in line with Coburn - and that's when he notices it. Coburn will have to act fast to stop this puck.
Meanwhile, remember Henrique? He's just ahead of Sykora and he notices the chip pass. He's going to skate ahead to where he think it'll be.
Coburn just threw his body to the boards in the hopes of catching the puck. However, either he was too late or he didn't get enough of the puck. It bounces a bit forward. Henrique, who was skating to where he thought it would be, can now collect this puck and go forward. Since Coburn threw his body to the boards, Sykora easily gets around him and will skate forward.
Now, let's recall how many Flyers we've seen. Briere was at the net and is heading up ice on the other side, Hartnell is behind Sykora, Coburn is just along the wall, and Voracek is in the distance. That's four Flyers accounted for. With Sykora and Henrique ahead of them all with the puck, you know what that means.
It's a two-on-one! (Note: the original broadcast camera better shows the play from here on out.) Timonen is the lone Flyer back and he's keeping his eye on Henrique. He did just gain the zone. However, he's not going to commit to him, he'll remain in the middle in case a pass to Sykora materializes. Both Devils will continue on their path. Incidentally, Coburn is the Flyer pumping his legs hard behind the two Devils to get back into the play.
Coburn had a rough night on Sunday, but he's actually making a good effort to get back into the play. This will help out as Henrique doesn't exactly do a good job on this two-on-one. With Timonen not too deep in the middle and lunging his stick, Henrique focuses his vision on Sykora (expecting a pass for a one-timer of considerable distance). Coburn is just about in a position to get in the way of a pass, which is why his stick is stretched out. Henrique will have to thread a precise pass if he wants to get it to Sykora.
Meanwhile, Zubrus is now on camera trailing both Devils. Keep an eye on him in the next future pictures.
Coburn actually stretched out his stick in time and got a piece of Henrique's pass. The puck will go by Sykora's skates and to the wall. A two-on-one wasted. The good news is that there aren't any Flyers on the far side to get to this puck first.
Sykora actually turns first and just like at the other end of the rink, he's in a great position to get to the puck first. Coburn will trail him in pursuit, but again, he's behind Sykora. Timonen moved up with him, but he's going to hold position. He doesn't see Henrique alone in the slot; but it's no big deal since Sykora's not going to hit him with a blind pass that beats two Flyers right there.
As for the others, some other players now join the defensive zone. Hartnell is now skating towards the slot, Voracek is on the near side, and Zubrus has stopped so he can react to whatever happens with the puck. It is about this time where Zidlicky and Salvador go to the bench and get replaced by Mark Fayne and Andy Greene. Neither defensemen will be involved in this play. They'll just get a +1 for being there.
Sykora gets to the puck first but he's not taking any chances. While he's skating towards the blueline, he actually knocks the puck behind him along the boards. He does it in such a way that he's skating hard in the opposite direction. The idea is not only to get back in case the opposition gets the puck; but also to draw attention. He's got Coburn's and he's going to get Briere's.
Yes, Briere is back, not defending Zubrus. With Hartnell heading to the slot and Voracek being on the other side of the ice, I think it's fair to say that Zubrus should be his responsibility. I think it's also fair to say that Briere fails to meet his responsibility.
Anyway, even with Coburn following Sykora, Timonen is heading towards the boards and he's in front of Henrique. He should easily get this puck. But he doesn't. How?
Simply, Henrique just burst in front of Timonen. It's like a cornerback jumping a wide receiver's route in football. Interceptions are usually bad for the team who suffers from them. In this case, it's even worse for the Flyers. Hartnell is going to head towards the other side of the net assuming that the puck will come around that way either by Timonen or by the puck missing both skaters. At no point does he look behind him until it's too late.
Now, Coburn really did follow Sykora up the boards. With Hartnell moving away from the slot and Briere not doing his job, Zubrus has huge tracts of ice in front of him. Things are about to go from bad to disastrous for Philadelphia.
Henrique now has the puck and a little time to make a move. With Zubrus driving towards the slot with nobody on him, it's an easy pass for Henrique to make. Spoilers: he'll make it.
Let's look at Bryzgalov now. In the prior picture, he was hugging the left (far) post in reaction to the play. He now turns in preparation for Zubrus getting this puck. Look where his feet are: they're just right in front of the goal line. Bryzgalov is deep in his crease. He has to be because just a second earlier, he was up against the post.
Zubrus is just about to get the pass in this picture. Now, as the text indicates, he has the time to just collect it and try and place his shot. He won't. Zubrus is going to one-time this puck. It may seem like a risky shot, but he's in close range and I think Zubrus has Bryzgalov figured out. While Bryzgalov gets squared up for Zubrus, he's deep in his crease. What this means is that Zubrus can more easily see where he needs to shoot it: towards the right (near to camera) post. A Flyers fan may be unhappy that Bryzgalov doesn't try to cut off the angle; but I think they should be more outraged that Zubrus has all of this space at all. Coburn is charging back for little avail, Timonen is behind the net, and Hartnell takes a wide turn, so he's not going to be involved in this play.
Bryzgalov drops into a butterfly position and gets a little forward in the crease. It doesn't matter because Zubrus already knew what he had to do beat him. He just unloads a hard one-timer towards the opposite post. It goes in.
As you can see in the aftermath, Bryzgalov didn't try to make himself appear big. In addition to being deep in his crease initially, he doesn't stretch out his arms or pads towards the opposite post. It wasn't the best of forms for the goaltender, but I think it can be forgiven as he was hung out to dry. Briere never picked up Zubrus, Hartnell left the slot, Coburn bit on Sykora, and Timonen got jumped for the loose puck behind the net by Henrique.
Up top, I'm assuming Zubrus said "Woo" or some variation after the goal. I can say that Hartnell will attempt a shove on him, presumably out of anger for exposing the Flyers. Or because he's a typical Flyer. Whatever.
While Zubrus got the goal and Henrique made the important board play, I come away with this breakdown with a lot of appreciation for Sykora. He denied Hartnell an easy goal in the Devils' end; he ended their attack as he headed up the side boards; and his chip along the boards beat Coburn and created a two-on-one opportunity. While Henrique's pass was deflected away from Sykora, he was able to get to the puck first and keep the play alive by moving the puck around the corner while drawing attention of other Flyers. Sykora made a lot of this play possible. Among all else in this breakdown, I hope I have properly conveyed Sykora's work that led to the goal.
On the Philadelphia side of things, there's a lot to be unhappy about. Briere was lazy on defense yet again. Timonen got beat by Henrique behind the net, which led to a disaster. Coburn retreated too much (had he got beaten earlier, perhaps Henrique doesn't take that puck after the chip so easily), got beat along the boards, and played Sykora instead of the puck. Bryzgalov's reaction to the shot he knew was coming wasn't all that great. Among them all, I think Hartnell deserves the most criticism. He had two shots at an empty net and he was denied both times twice. He got beaten to a puck by Petr Sykora and just released him in time for him to move it past Coburn. While he correctly went towards the slot, he left the area quickly - assuming his teammate would get the puck. This gave Zubrus even more space to work with. Had Hartnell remained in the slot, he could have made a play. Maybe he hits and/or stops Zubrus as he gets the puck from Henrique in the circle. Maybe holds his position and blocks Zubrus' shot. Maybe his position dissuades Zubrus from shooting at all. Instead, all he does to Zubrus is throw a little shot at him after he scores.
I want to point out that this is another example of how a defensive stop can turn into an offensive opportunity rather quickly. A scrum down low is dangerous because all it takes is one odd bounce and the other team easily puts it in the back of the net. Even worse, the Flyers were getting dominated all period and were ever-so-close to scoring against the run of play. Yet, since so many bodies were committed to the crease, that allowed for more space ahead as the Devils got the puck first once it was knocked away from the scrum. After all, Sykora beat out Hartnell and got it past Coburn to create a two-on-one. The Flyers were punished for their aggressiveness on offense in a way.
Lastly, I want to point out that this goal is a great example on not giving up on an attack even if something goes wrong. The two-on-one didn't work. Henrique should have shot it as Timonen skated back with his stick out in front of him the whole time. The passing lane really wasn't there. Even if the pass came across, Sykora would have to unleash a fantastic one-timer to beat Bryzgalov from that far away. Still, Sykora allowed the play to continue and with the good fortune of the Flyers skaters getting beat or not covering the dangerous areas, the Devils were able to get create a better opportunity. Henrique jumping in front of Timonen for the loose puck was just a great decision and Zubrus' one-timer was superb. Neither happens if the Devils just let the play go on after the two-on-one was done. They took initiative, they made good decisions, and they were rewarded with a 3-2 lead in the game.
Now that you've seen the goal (again) and you've read the breakdown, what are your thoughts about it? What do you think was the pivotal part of this play? Who stood out the most on the play now that you've seen it broken down? What did you learn from this goal? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this play, the goal, and this breakdown in the comments. Thanks to David Sarch of Talking Red for the suggestion and pointing me in the direction for a better video. Thank you for reading.