On Thursday, November 7, 2013, a very rare event happened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Noted "enforcer" and general net-negative-as-a-player Cam Janssen scored a goal in a regular season hockey game for the New Jersey Devils. In his fifth season with the organization, Janssen scored his second ever goal in regulation. It is rare that Janssen does something positive in a game. That he got onto the scoresheet at all was and to a degree still is astonishing. The goal helped make it easier for the Devils to seal off what would become a 3-0 win.
Since it's highly unlikely that we will see Janssen score another goal anytime soon, it deserves a closer look even if it was a deflection goal. And upon further review, Janssen did three good things on the play. It also makes Adam Larsson look smart for taking some initiative. It also shows Ryan Carter's hustle. It's also another example of how a decision can come back to haunt a player in a matter of seconds. There's plenty to see on this play so let's get right to breaking it down.
This video comes from NHL.com. All pictures were taken from here with poorly drawn lines and text added by me.
The game was 1-0 in favor of New Jersey just under three minutes into the third period. It was an even strength, 5-on-5 situation with both team's fourth lines out on the ice. Here's who was out there for Janssen's goal according to the play-by-play log at NHL.com:
We begin with a dump in. Meszaros is first to get it but a certain someone has been pumping his legs to go right after it too.
Cam Janssen came on for his sixth shift of the game about twenty seconds earlier. He clearly had a lot of gas in the tank as he just blazed ahead in pursuit of this puck. Meszaros got to it first due to being closer to the puck to begin with. In this shot, he's going to do the smart thing and carry it around the corner. But Janssen is sizing him up for a check in the hopes of getting the puck away.
Janssen hits Meszaros pretty hard and, more importantly, separates him from the puck. The positioning after the check is key. Janssen is still free to push forward, while Meszaros is going to hit the ice. Hal Gill came over around the net to support him. He sees the loose puck and will pursue it. But he's not going to get to it. By the time he rounds the net, the puck will be further out and Janssen could get in front.
Now, let's switch to the TV view and we see that there was another Devil behind the net in support
It's Stephen Gionta and he's all by himself. The puck got to him first and now Gill figures he's in trouble. He immediately bends over to get his stick on the ice in the hopes of denying any pass to the front. Gill doesn't know if there actually is a teammate Gionta can pass towards the middle. He probably knows Meszaros He also doesn't know that Kris Newbury smartly dropped deep into the slot as additional protection. But the experienced defender knows he's not going to make a speedy play so he opts for a safe maneuver like this one.
By the way, notice that while Meszaros is on the ice behind the net, his stick is up against the end boards. This will be important much later.
Meanwhile, Janssen completed his first good move on this play - the hit - and is about to make his second. As he sees Gionta hold onto the puck, he's going to pop out from behind the net and head to that open space beyond Gill. This will give Gionta an actual passing option and possibly a good look on net.
If you were to tell me Janssen scored a goal, then I would have seen this and figured this is when it's going to happen.
It does not. Janssen attempts a one-timer and whiffs on it. Even if made full contact on the puck, he's at a sharp angle and it would have had to have been a perfect shot to beat Ray Emery. Sure, the short-side top corner is open but let's be reasonable. Cam Janssen is not going to pick the short-side top corner on a sharp one-timer short of divine intervention.
But here comes Ryan Carter. He came across the slot wide enough to get behind Janssen and with enough pace to be able to get to this loose puck. Adam Hall and Zac Rinaldo were sort-of approaching him but they're too far away to do anything. Curiously, Newbury is stepping up from the slot in this shot.
Meanwhile, Meszaros is up and decides to not pick up his stick. He saw Janssen attempt (and fail) a shot as well as Carter coming behind to retrieve the puck. He figures he needs to get up and involved as soon as possible. Again, remember this decision.
Newbury is the one to make a challenge on Carter He applies some pressure while Rinaldo and Hall drop back. Hall goes into the high slot to keep watch on what's going on while denying a lane to the opposite point. Rinaldo sticks with Janssen, who moves further away from the net. Gionta rotated into the slot, bringing Gill with him. Meszaros is now in the slot and gives Gionta a shove. This could throw off any pass from Carter to Gionta, except that pass never comes. Newbury has Carter in a position where he can't make a play along the corner and he will win the puck from him. He will do the decent thing and just throw the puck up the boards and away from danger in deep. While I respect and understand what he did, it leads to the killer moment on this play.
Meet Mr. Adam Larsson. He was just hanging out at the blueline as Janssen, Gionta, and Carter got around that corner. He clearly sees the clearance by Newbury and he's got not one around to deny him from getting to the puck. Rinaldo was busy with Janssen so the only winger who could have chipped the puck along or continued the movement wasn't there. Larsson decides that he's not just going to get to this puck first but he's going to take a chance and fire it on net. And why not? He's got a pretty clear look on net. No Flyer is going to block the shot unless he is completely inaccurate. The fourth line is out there anyway so their job is to get the puck in deep and apply a little pressure. If he misses then it's not really a big deal since the puck will be further in.
Now, this was about to Larsson's first shot on net in the game. But a certain man in a red circle is going to prevent that and make it better. Janssen got away from Rinaldo, due in part of Newbury winning the puck and clearing it around. This allows him to make his third good move and most important. He's all alone at the top of the circle. Hall is quite a distance away from him and the two defenders are in too deep. Janssen sees his teammate wind up and he's going to be able to react if and when the puck comes towards him.
This is the point of deflection. Again, nobody is around Janssen. As the puck comes towards him, Janssen quickly gets his stick down on the ice. He's got his blade up and angled slightly towards the net. It's a fortunate occurrence since he really just got his stick down for the shot. But what it does is it changes the speed and angle this puck is heading towards the net. It's not much but it'll be enough.
I apologize for the blurriness but you can see that Emery saw the initial shot coming. He's already moving off the post. Also, you can see that Meszaros is still in the slot. Do you remember how he's without a stick? Do you remember that he didn't bother to pick it up after he got checked by Janssen on the initial dump-in? This is where that decision comes into play and it doesn't end well for him.
And a goal is just about to happen. This the point of entry for the score. Let's look at Emery first.
Emery's five-hole was open for two reasons. First, he was moving laterally and that's difficult to do without opening your legs somewhat. Second, his right pad was sticking a bit out. That could have been part of the motion; pushing off with the left skate such that the right is laid out. I also think he may have done that also to stop Larsson's shot and also kick the rebound out to the open space to his right. It's moot since Larsson's shot was deflected and the new path for the puck just happened to catch Emery off-guard. A bad break for him, even if it was tipped up at the top of the circle.
This shot makes Meszaros look far worse anyway. He saw the re-directed puck and just tried to get his leg out to deny it. He missed. Incidentally, if he had got a piece of it with his skate, then there would have been a second deflection and maybe there still would be a goal scored. But the bigger issue is that fact he had no other option than to lamely wave his leg at it. He had no stick. I understand that a defending player may lose their stick and has to make the best of it. However, a skater without a stick is like a soldier without a gun; playing without one really should be a last resort. I don't think that was the case in Meszaros' situation. I think he had the time to pick up his stick and get back into the play. Newbury was initially in the slot to cover for him, the Devils kept the play in the corner, and Emery was in position had Janssen hit that one-timer. He thought he had to get back in front quickly even though he had support from his teammates. That's why I say that he chose not to pick up his stick. If he did and got back in front (I think he could have done so), then he could have easily stopped Janssen's deflection. It was low, it wasn't coming in terribly fast (the puck was wobbly), and it was coming from a good distance away. But he decided against that. Therefore, instead of Meszaroes knocking a puck away, we got to see this:
And the scoreboard then read 2-0 New Jersey.
Conclusions & Your Take
Given my justifiably low regard of Janssen's skill set, the hit he threw at the beginning of this breakdown would ordinarly be enough. It was a good body check and it led to the Devils gaining possession. But he made the right moves off the puck, got his stick on Larsson's shot, and got rewarded. Well done, Cam Janssen. In doing this breakdown, I appreciate Carter's and Larsson's decisions with the puck, even though Carter lost it to Newbury in the corner. They kept the play going after a one-timer miss and an attempted clearance, respectively. Their initiative was rewarded as well. And Meszaros gave the world another example of how a little decision could turn into a big problem in a matter of seconds.
So now I turn to you for your take on the breakdown of this goal. What was your favorite part of the play? Are you surprised as I was to learn that Janssen did more than just get his stick-blade on Larsson's shot? How about the fact that Larsson immediately shot that puck off the clearing attempt? Do you think Meszaros would have stopped the deflection if he had a stick? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this goal in the comments. Thank you for reading.