If you want to defend Daniel Sedin, you’re going to need a stick

The Canucks scored a number of pretty goals during Tuesday night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. From Jannik Hansen taking out two players with a single dangle to the perfect passing of the Sedins and Burrows, it was a good night for aesthetically pleasing plays.

The goal that I found most interesting, however, was Daniel Sedin’s second of the night, where he got the chance to show off his league-best accuracy by beating Semyon Varlamov gloveside with a wicked wrist shot. The question is, how in the world did he end up with so much room in the slot in the first place? Most teams in the NHL work pretty dang hard to keep guys like Daniel out of that area of the ice and especially hard to give them no time whatsoever if they happen to get there.

The answer is that rookie defenceman Stefan Elliott had an absolute gong show of a shift that resulted in him trying to defend last season’s Art Ross winner without a stick. It did not go well for him.

The trouble starts as Elliott cuts too close to Varlamov while trying to get to Daniel behind the goal. Elliott gets Varlamov’s stick caught between his legs, causing himself to lose his balance and Varlamov to lose his stick. It also leaves Daniel with all sorts of time to go around the net and, as Canucks fans know, it’s not a good idea for opponents to give a Sedin a lot of time.

Because he’s a Sedin, Daniel doesn’t immediately try for the wraparound as soon as he gets some space. Instead, he passes the puck to his brother, Henrik, as he skates down from the point. His check is Shane O’Brien. Yes, the Avalanche have Shane O’Brien and a rookie out as the defensive pairing against the Sedins during a 4-on-4. It’s like they wanted to get scored on.

But I want to draw your attention to the area I circled: Elliott gives Varlamov his stick to replace the one he just kicked out of his goaltender’s hands. This is not unusual, but I’m wondering if it should be. When a defenceman loses or breaks a stick while in the defensive zone, a forward will frequently hand over his stick as a temporary replacement. This makes sense to me, as a stick is incredibly important for a defenceman for both tying up his check and for gap control. While a goaltender certainly needs his stick, it seems a lot more important for a defenceman to have his stick, particularly when up against such tremendous passers as the Sedins.

Is there some stick-passing hierarchy that I should be aware of? Are goaltenders at the top of the stick-passing pyramid, the carnivores atop the stick-passing food chain, if you will? Which is better: a goaltender without a stick or a defenceman without a stick?

Henrik drops the puck back to Daniel with a neat little back pass that O’Brien was powerless to stop. Meanwhile, because Elliott took the time to give his stick to Varlamov, he’s caught completely flat-footed and nowhere near Daniel. And that’s when Daniel notices that Elliott doesn’t have a stick…

…so Daniel skates straight at him. Somehow, O’Brien ends up chasing Henrik despite being so far behind him previously that he actually had a head start on getting to that area of the ice, so Henrik has no problem establishing position in front of Elliott, setting a subtle pick on the rookie. Meanwhile, Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly look at what’s developing in dismay. As for Elliott, it looks like he’s about a stick-length away from the puck. Yep. A stick-length.

Here’s Daniel as he starts his shooting motion. Elliott appears to be, uh-huh, still a stick-length away from the puck. With a stick, he would be able to block or deflect Daniel’s shot or, better yet, prevent Daniel from getting there in the first place. Without a stick, he’s completely useless. O’Reilly has realized what’s happening and has transformed into Shia LaBeouf, while Varlamov has rendered his borrowed stick completely useless by blocking a part of the net already covered by his pads. Why he’s down on his knees already is beyond me.

From John Garrett’s colour commentary during the game to Gary Valk’s analysis during Sportsnet Connected, all of the coverage on Sportsnet focused on Varlamov playing with a defenceman’s stick instead of his own. But the real problem for the Avalanche wasn’t Varlamov playing with an unfamiliar stick — it was the defenceman assigned to cover Daniel Sedin giving his away.

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10 comments

  1. JDM
    December 7, 2011

    Well, to be fair, you’ll need both a stick and also for the referees to call interference penalties. Henrik should have been headed to the box for that pick. I was calling that penalty from my couch. However, it being four on four, having already given the Avs an extended 5-on-3 in the game, the zebras were no doubt hesitant to put someone up 4 on 3. As the play ended in a goal and would not have (from where I sat) absent the interference, the non-call was an error.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      December 7, 2011

      I think the reason that doesn’t get called on them very often is because they don’t use their arms and hands. The Sedins just frequently turn their hips into players and refs aren’t used to seeing that and calling it interference.

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  2. Blake Rupert
    December 7, 2011

    It’s worthy to note that Stefan Elliot is from the North Shore and probably was in might have been in major shell shock playing his hometown heroes, some of thee best in the world.
    Most likely the thoughts in his head were “sheet sheet sheet it’s the sedins sheet I’m screwed”

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  3. MelT
    December 7, 2011

    These little cartoon thought bubbles are so funny! Plus did you notice that Daniel doesn’t even go stick-side, he goes glove-side, which is just rubbing it in.

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    • Nee
      December 7, 2011

      I agree….perhaps PITB could do more of them? They are rather amusing, and informative too.

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  4. John in Marpole
    December 7, 2011

    As a member of the Goaltenders Union, I’d prefer that the defenseman keep his stick, for the reasons you’ve mentioned. A stickless dman is not very useful.

    I think I can also explain why Varlamov did what he did: when a goaltender loses his stick he feels vulnerable along the ice. Really, *really* vulnerable, because there is nothing you can do if the puck is shot between your feet. having been there/done that i can tell you that it is very disconcerting to not have your stick.

    “But that is easily resolved by going into a butterfly.” you say. True, althought there is still a chance of the puck getting through between the pads in that position. That said, it’s the mix of a loss of some balance – as John Garrett mentioned during the broadcast- and the feeling of vulnerability that combine to cause most goaltenders to do what Varlamov did in that situation, and cover down low in reaction to the loss of their stick.

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  5. J21
    December 7, 2011

    “While a goaltender certainly needs his stick, it seems a lot more important for a defenceman to have his stick, particularly when up against such tremendous passers as the Sedins.”

    Agreed 100%, and always have. I think there is a hierarchy, and the defensemen just give up their sticks instinctively, because we see it happen all the time. And it’s a mistake.

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  6. noulp
    December 7, 2011

    Furthermore, I think a forward is better at defending with his own stick than a defenceman is with someone else’s stick. Also, a forward usually doesn’t have the size required to properly bearhug/defend without a stick. If I were coach everyone would keep their wood to themselves.

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  7. SimplyBC
    December 7, 2011

    JDM is right, why press thumbs down? Henrik clearly sets a pick, which is interference. It is nothing new, the Sedins set picks all the time.

    I love the Sedins. We have two Forsbergs on our team.. but it was interference.

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  8. Matt
    December 9, 2011

    Interference on Henrik? No way. It’s not interference to simply get in someone’s way, especially WITHOUT EVEN MAKING CONTACT. That’s a smart pick and it’s always been acceptable. Interference has to involve some level of contact, check or restraint against a player the puck. “getting in someones skating path” is not interference. If it were, we would have interference penalties all game long because people are sure to get in each other’s paths.

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