Ryan Carter scored 5:36 into the second period of the New Jersey Devils' 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Normally, it would be seen as a successful play and we move on. However, this goal takes additional importance because of the larger context at the time. Not only have the Devils lost ten games in a row, not only have the Devils not taken a lead in the month of April so far, but the Devils last scored with 37 seconds left in the game in a 5-4 loss to the Boston Bruins. The Devils were scoreless in their next two games and didn't score in the first period against the Flyers. Provided I counted it correctly, the scoreless streak went 146:11. It was agonizing to watch. More so because the Devils have played very good hockey; they just weren't rewarded. Therefore, the goal that breaks that streak deserves a little more attention than just to say the drought's over. Besides, I did promise that the first Devils goal in over two games would get a breakdown in the preview of the Flyers game. So here it is.
Fortunately for me and you, the goal came off of a very good play in the neutral zone. It was a case of defense quickly turning into offense. It was also a case of good awareness by the CBGB line to turn a won puck into a dangerous rush. If that wasn't enough, Carter even got some luck his way to beat Ilya Bryzgalov high and to his right. This will all be highlighted in a goal breakdown.
The Video of the Goal
This video comes from NHL.com. All pictures in this post come from this video. Any poorly drawn arrows, lines, circles, and text were added by me. The replay of the highlight does include a Matt Read brainfart on a Flyers 3-on-1. Funny as that is to watch, it's ancillary to the goal scored. I'm going to focus on what the Devils did to end their goalless streak.
The Players On-Ice
We begin with the Flyers breaking out of their zone and heading up ice through the neutral zone. Voracek has the puck and he's going to hit Giroux with a pass as he goes forward. Usually a good decision to give a very talented forward like Giroux the puck to enter the zone. Ryan Carter is already backchecking, trying to get Voracek to make a different decision. Andy Greene and Adam Larsson are dropping back but in good position. Over by the Flyers bench is Simon Gagne, who is biding his time a little bit before Giroux gets into the zone. Once he's in, he'll presumably follow.
Where are the other two Devils skaters? Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier are still coming back from their forecheck. Don't worry, you'll see them both soon enough.
Voracek does get the pass off to lead Giroux forward. Yet, for one reason or another, Giroux couldn't handle it. The puck is free and that's going to allow Greene to make a play from the blueline. He's going to swipe at it just to knock it away from Giroux before he can recover. A poke-check, if you will. At a minimum, this will force the Flyers to regroup a little bit before gaining the zone.
While Carter didn't deny the pass, his focus is now on Gagne at the blueline. While Carter doesn't know what's going on with the puck, he's going to get back and provide some support on the right side should it be needed.
Again, where's Bernier and Gionta? Again, you'll see them soon enough.
But not just yet. Here's the result of Greene's poke-check. He gets enough on the puck to get it away and behind Giroux. Since Voracek peeled off back at the red line, he can't just storm ahead and pick up this puck. No, it's in space. Momentum carries Giroux forward and Gagne, assuming Giroux was going to gain the zone, already went forward. Carter maintains focus on Gagne and will follow him into the zone.
Now, look at the bench on the far left side of the frame and you'll see Gustafsson by the bench. Given that there's a teammate standing up, I figured he wanted a change. Unfortunately, he sees the puck and now has to hold up. This is going to turn out to be a problem very soon.
Now we see Gionta in frame. Note that he's on the near side of the camera, or the left side of the ice. He's got his eye on the play developing. Gionta already covered a lot of ground getting back into the neutral zone. He's going to do a lot more very soon.
Greene did his job well at the blueline. He forced the Flyers forwards to regroup and start again. Maybe they carry it in, but he and Larsson would be in position to receive them. Maybe they dump it in, which would give the two defenders or even Martin Brodeur a chance to play it. It wasn't a highlight-reel worthy action, but it was a good move. It's going to eventually result in a highlight in a few seconds.
Carter is still chasing Gagne and since he had ground to catch up, he's only about to turn here. Gagne has already turned and is about to recover the puck. He'll have to get back beyond the blueline but that shouldn't be a big issue. Giroux's in the middle of his turn so he'll get on side soon and he's got Gustafsson back as support. Gustafsson is essentially stuck where he is as he's too far away to make a play on the puck and it wouldn't be a smart idea to risk a change with the play right by him.
Now, we're four pictures in and we haven't seen Bernier yet. Here he is:
Bernier comes seemingly out of nowhere (actually, the Flyers' end) and he's about to be a real thorn in the Flyers' side. He's making a beeline for Gagne. While Gagne is experienced enough to know what to do here, he's actually in more trouble than you would think in this frame. It's a little difficult to see, but look at his stick. He's holding it close to his body and in an awkward position. Even though he had all that space to collect it, he doesn't have enough space between his body, his stick, and the puck to really control it. That's why he can't just immediately chip it to Gustafsson (is it me or is his stick up?), across to Voracek on the left side, or even all the way back to his own zone. That's also why Bernier charging at him is going to create an issue.
Meanwhile, Gionta has already moved up towards the center of the ice. He's in the middle of a long turn, but Carter is going to have plenty of room to move into. Incidentally, Schenn made it up to the red line but he's stopping here, leaning back towards his own end. He sees that Gustafsson is still on the ice and just "there" by his bench and Gagne isn't in control. Preparing for the worst, he doesn't continue forward. Keep that in mind in a few pictures.
With Bernier coming, Gagne quickly re-adjusts his stick and backhands one towards Gustafsson. He's the only player he had in his vision who was close to him. While Gagne got it away in time before Bernier came, you'll notice that Gustafsson doesn't play it. His stick wasn't on the ice. It wasn't in the last picture. In this one, it's at waist level. He may be coming down with it but that means the puck is in space. It's moving and who knows whether it'll be where Gustafsson can play it when his stick blade does get to ice level. That means the puck can be won. That means all Bernier has to do is beat Gagne to the puck and knock it away. It's like a battle along the boards only the guy actually along the boards isn't in control.
Incidentally, the other three Flyers are all standing watching here. That's not a criticism of Schenn or Voracek, who are both too far away to do anything about it. From my perspective, Giroux could have followed Gagne and tried to provide some additional support. I actually understand his decision to hang back, figuring a veteran like Gagne can simply collect a puck, make a pass, and try to enter the zone again. Giroux jumping in could've just got in Gagne's way, too. However, in retrospect, I figure the Philadelphia captain would have tried it anyway.
Now, I can't really capture what happened along the boards in a single frame and a bunch of them would've been confusing. Here's the summary: Gagne actually denies Bernier a chance a the puck with a stick lift. That's why both of their sticks are still raised high. That's good for Philadelphia. Gustafsson actually did get his stick down and tried to dump it in or at least get it away from where he is at the moment. That's the right idea. However, the execution of said idea was abysmal. He missed. I'm serious. He just whiffed on it. As he got his stick down, the puck slid by his feet and ultimately went through them. Gustafsson not paying close attention less than a second earlier ruined his timing to get his team out of a sticky situation. That's bad for Philadelphia.
Stephen Gionta is in a perfect position to make it worse for Philadelphia. While Bernier was getting defended by Gagne, Gionta just followed the play. He hustled his way from the center towards the play on the far side of the camera, or the right side, and the puck is just right there for him. I took a guess as to what he's thinking. It was probably something else, possibly wittier or unrelated. Whatever. It's a gift for #11.
Gionta picking up a loose puck in motion is bad enough but look at the rest of the Flyers in this picture. It exacerbates the issue. Gagne's out of the play as he had to do what he did against Bernier. Giroux's out of the play. Gustafsson missed and he's about to be a victim of a takeaway by the official scorer as well as out of the play. Voracek left his spot on the left side and went towards the middle. Not only is he too far to do anything, Carter's going to have space to burst ahead behind him. Only Luke Schenn - that's his stick on the far left side of the frame - and Bryzgalov are in any kind of position to do something about what Gionta could do with the puck.
Stephen Gionta is now skating hard towards the Flyers zone with the puck in complete control. He's also got a lot of attention from everyone. All five Flyers skaters are looking at him in this frame. Voracek's vision is particularly notable because he's unaware that Carter is going blow by his flank. Carter's also looking at Gionta and knows he's going to need some additional support once he gets into the zone. Therefore, he kicks it into higher gear so it's not going to be a one-on-one between Schenn and Gionta with a lot of bodies coming from behind.
Gionta's in the zone and Schenn correctly moves towards him. He has his stick out in the hopes of forcing Gionta to keep going forward instead of giving him a chance to make a lead pass or cut to the middle. Voracek and Carter are just heading into the Flyers zone. It's worth noting that Voracek had a bit of a head start. Carter really turned up whatever jets he had to catch up. Voracek doesn't know that Carter is behind him. Schenn does, which again, is another reason why his stick is out.
Gionta decides to make a lead pass, hoping his linemate Carter will get there in time. If you want to talk about a good break, then here's another one after Greene's pokecheck got enough on the puck to knock it behind Giroux, Gagne's awkward handling forced him to make a hurried decision, and Gustafsson whiffing on a puck along the boards. Look very closely at the black circle. You'll see the puck and two sticks. Schenn's stick blade has to be not more than a few inches away from the puck. He was so close to denying the pass. Likewise, Gionta's pass was so close to being denied and having the play derailed. They don't say it about hockey, but it can be a game of inches too.
Anyway, Carter's still out of Voracek's sight. However, Voracek is a smart guy and he must have figured out by now that Gionta isn't passing it to an invisible teammate. He's about to find out it's Carter very soon.
Carter stretches out his stick but not so much so he has to dangle it to receive the pass. He can't one time it but that's OK. It was a successful lead pass as he received it, it was too far for Voracek to do try and disrupt it, and Carter is in a position to do something with it. Again, look at the Flyers in this picture. Schenn sees the play but as momentum carried him back, he's essentially out of the picture. He can't do anything to Carter unless Carter delays or doesn't go forward. Gionta has done his job after a lot of skating just to get back, take the puck, and go forward. Voracek now sees Carter and he's the only skater who can make a defensive play.
As for the goalie, well, Bryzgalov's positioning leaves a little bit to be desired in my eyes. He's only now turning towards Carter. He's still within his crease. Perhaps he was out further in case he had to cut off the angle for Gionta and moving forced him to drop back a little. Perhaps he wasn't out to begin with and he's only forward now. Either way, he's got to move briskly. While Carter could and did not one-time it - and perhaps he didn't want to - he needs to get in position fast.
After Carter settles it while moving a few feet forward, he decides to shoot it just past the top of the left circle. He's already committed, this shot is about to happen. Voracek saw him prepare and desperately stretched out his stick either to deflect the shot away or even block it. Schenn and Gionta are out of the play; the Flyers defenseman is focused on Gionta to try and neutralize him from doing any other damage. Bryzgalov has his eyes locked on Carter. He's in a standard stand-up form in preparation for the shot. However, look at where he is inside the crease. He's not deep in it, but he really could have tried to be out a foot further to give Carter a worse angle to shoot at. As it turns out, it'll be a moot point thanks to Voracek.
In the additional replays with the video, there is a close up on the sticks of both players as Carter shoots it. Here's the best screen shot I could get from it. The puck was flat when Carter was about to shoot it. It started wobbling in mid-air after Carter released it. We know that in combination with Voracek's stick shifting that he got a piece of it. His desperate lunge did work to a degree. Unfortunately for him, his good deed goes punished because all it did was just touch it off. We also know that a deflection can change the direction and velocity of a shot. But since Voracek's blade only got so much, it didn't alter it too much. I can't tell you what Carter was aiming for. I can tell you he shot it hard and where it ended up.
For the first time in a little over seven periods, it was in the back of the net. Bryzgalov guessed it was coming in close because he just clenched his form. Because of the sudden deflection, he's looking in confusion at the puck dropping out of the top left corner. Voracek's good intentions paved the road towards a loss for his team. Ryan Carter finished a play by Stephen Gionta with non-assists to Bernier's pressure in the neutral zone and Greene's play at the blueline that eventually turned into the goal. The drought was over.
The goal rewarded good play by the Devils thanks to some fortunate occurrences. Let's summarize them: Greene made the right decision to go for a pokecheck on Giroux at the blueline. The fortune was in how the puck traveled after he swiped at it. Bernier came back to pressure Gagne and then tried to win a puck in the neutral zone. The fortune was in how Gagne's awkward handling and Gustafsson's timing being so off thanks to his stick not being on the ice. (As an aside, I'm sure Peter Laviolette is going to love seeing that when he reviews the video from the game.) Gionta covered a lot of ground in seconds, followed the play along the boards such that he would be in position to pick up the loose puck, and he made a great leading pass to Carter. The fortune there was that he was in the right spot for the puck after it slid through Gustafsson's legs and then he got the pass off just ahead of Schenn's stick. Carter received the puck after skating hard up-ice on Voracek's blind side, settled it without losing control, and shot it in for a goal. The fortune there was that Voracek made a desperate lunge for the puck and while he got a piece of it, all it did was re-direct a hard shot past his goaltender, who was expecting something else.
This goal was the result of good defense to start things off, good awareness in the neutral zone and on offense, a lot of hustle by the forwards, and good luck both in the Devils' decisions turning right and the Flyers' own errors. I emphasize the "and" there because most goals scored require something out of the scoring players' control to go their way. For a while, the Devils would do all of those other things but something went awry to turn it into anything but a goal. In that game and for a team that was in such a scoring slump, getting the benefit of additional fortune - Voracek's deflection, if nothing else - made the difference. That's why there's a goal breakdown at all.
How did you react when you saw Carter score? What did you think of this breakdown? Which part of the play other than the goal itself impressed you the most? Isn't it amazing how so much can go wrong or go right in seconds? Did I miss anything in this breakdown that you noticed? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this goal and the goal breakdown itself in the comments. Thank you for reading.