Breakdowning Sammy Pahlsson’s game-winner versus the Winnipeg Jets

Thursday night’s tilt with the Winnipeg Jets was, like Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, a barn-burner. It was a wide open affair with chances in both directions, as the two teams combined for 77 shots on goal with another 64 attempted. Amazingly, considering the speed of the game and the plenitude of opportunities for sexy offensive plays, the Canucks’ first two goals came on fluky bounces.

But Sammy Pahlsson’s game-winner was as hot as Ilya Bryzgalov’s husky.

Upon revisiting it, I’m struck by just how easily that play — in which the puck practically nests at the top of the zone, untouched, for a couple unnervingly long stretches — could have gone horribly awry. Kevin Bieksa’s primary assist, especially, could just have easily been the second assist on a game-winning goal for the Jets.

Bieksa often gets criticized for playing too casual or too loose, especially with the game on the line, and he certainly would have faced those criticisms if this play had been broken up. But it wasn’t, and thus, we break down the game-winning goal by Sammy Pahlsson, not Bryan Little, and a brilliant, not bone-headed, play by Kevin Bieksa.

The first thing to understand here is that this rush comes at the end of a long shift. The quintet of Sammy Pahlsson, Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Dan Hamhuis, and Kevin Bieksa have been on the ice for just under a minute when this rush begins, as have the three Jets forwards, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd. Everyone’s dog-tired and I would wager that the Jets aren’t expecting the Canucks to do anything other than gain the red line, dump this puck in, and change.

The change is actually already starting. Hamhuis swaps off for Marc-Andre Gragnani while this play is unfolding, but let’s not overlook his generous contribution to the clip. Right at the beginning, as all 10 players vacate the zone, he takes the opportunity to lift Andrew Ladd’s stick with such power that it spirals into the air then skate away as though he did nothing. Community Man revels in the silent contributions. Be sure to watch the replay where you can observe that Little is so exhausted it takes him about four seconds to crouch down, pick it up, and start skating again.

But he’s not the only one who’s winded. Take note of Blake Wheeler, who is so out of gas he completely whiffs on the lazy hook he’s attempting on Jannik Hansen as the Canucks break out.

Following this, he coasts back through the neutral zone at about half-speed. Consider the separation created between him and Hansen, who still has the puck in our second screenshot three seconds later. Only the blade of Wheeler’s stick is visible at this point. Like Marty McFly’s siblings in Back to the Future, he’s fading into nonexistence. Wheeler will arrive inside the blue line just as Pahlsson is unloading the one-timer. He’s not the only one to blame here, but if he gets back a little harder, the Canucks don’t have the time, love and space to dance around the puck like it’s a maypole at the top of the zone.

Speaking of time, take a look at the game clock. It’s a tie game with just over five minutes to play, meaning a risky play gone awry — a high possibility considering this is at the end of a shift — would likely cost the Canucks the game. Lucky for us, the honey badger don’t care. And neither does Kevin Bieksa. This 4-on-3 is real.

(For the record, Hansen thumbed his nose as the Canucks’ short shifts mentality all night Thursday. He took six shifts over a minute long, one of which was over two minutes long. This shift was only 55 seconds long, so he was probably feeling downright fresh — dare I say funky fresh).

Hansen makes this play. Take a look at the positioning of Byfuglien and Little above, then look at where they are below.

Hansen has accomplished two things with a little fake to the middle then a cut to his right: first, he’s drawn Dustin Byfuglien to him, and second, he’s made himself appear like enough of a threat to get a step on Byfuglien that Little has turned around.

Either that, or Little turned around for no reason. Frankly, considering it’s Jannik Hansen, not, say, a power forward, I’m gonna go with the second option. Little’s not a defenseman, and he makes a little defensive mistake.

Either way, Hansen has taken both defenders away from the top of the zone and taken big ol’ Byfuglien right out of the play, leaving a lot of room for a big ol’ drop pass. Now it’s up to Bieksa and Pahlsson to determine who’s going to pick it up next, and Bieksa pulls rank. Then he streaks in with the puck, going right at Little, who is trying to recover from overplaying Hansen.

Here’s where Bieksa shows that he has some sack. Remember this goal by the Detroit Red Wings? Bieksa is clearly quite confident in his toe-dragging ability (or in Dan Hamhuis’s ability to cover him — maybe he didn’t know Hamhuis had changed here), because that error didn’t deter him in the slightest.

Here, he makes a similar move, faking a wrist shot, then pulling the puck around Little and leaving it for Pahlsson. It is absurd — I say again absurd — that he decides this is a good idea, because if this doesn’t work, the play goes back the other way 2-on-1, 3-on-1, or 2-on-0. Wheeler may be out of gas, but Byfuglien have only been on the ice for 30 seconds. He and Little are more than capable of breaking out (and probably better at it than defending, judging from their overplay on Hansen). Andrew Ladd remains in the neutral zone as well, and with Gragnani is just coming off the bench, this could have gotten ugly.

Not to keep picking on Blake Wheeler, but if he’s doing anything other than slowly decomposing, he’s back in this play and he either picks off the puck at the drop pass or crushes Bieksa during his toe-draggy little sojourn.

Here’s my favourite part: I’d argue that Pahlsson is fully aware of all of this, which is why he one-times this puck.

Take a look. Bieksa has placed him in an impossible position. Byfuglien has peeled off of Hansen and is trying to recover, and Little is near the shooting lane as well. In effect, if he doesn’t thread the puck between them, the Jets are turning back the other way. And, considering that Bieksa is where he is and Marc-Andre Gragnani is coming off the bench, Pahlsson knows he can’t allow that. He’s been touted as a defence-first player with hands of stone but, in effect, his best defensive play is to score.

So he does.

Note: This post originally misidentified Bryan Little and Tobias Enstrom and has been adjusted.

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30 comments

  1. Mark in Steveston
    March 9, 2012

    And what’s with the guy in the Jets jersey on his feet cheering the goal? Did he forget that the Jets wear white on the road?

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    • obituary mambo
      March 9, 2012

      I’ve watched the video a few times and I can’t find the guy you’re referring to, but maybe he’s like the guy on the other thread and he was cheering for both teams. Of course, I suppose a short/shoddy/intoxicated memory could be to blame.

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      • SteveB
        March 9, 2012

        Look right after Pahlsson scores and the goal horn goes off as the Canucks have a celebratory hug, they cut to a close shot of the crowd reacting.

        Confused Jet fan takes up most of the lower right of the screen, he’s holding a nearly empty beverage and wearing a blue Jets jersey with an A.

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        • peanutflower
          March 9, 2012

          His confusion must have something to do with the nearly empty beverage.

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        • obituary mambo
          March 9, 2012

          OK, I see him. Wow, I must have had my blinders on; he’s pretty hard to miss. Also, is that beer in his hand? He looks to be too young to have built up much of a tolerance, so he might just be too drunk to care what’s happening or who won.

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          • SteveB
            March 9, 2012

            He looks young enough to have been wearing OshKosh B’gosh overalls the last time that Winnipeg had a hockey team!

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      • PeeSeeGee
        March 9, 2012

        I noticed that on the TV last night. I was also riding home as people were going to the game. I think there might have been a few Canucks fans in Jets gear at the game. I think people were genuinely happy to have the Jets back.

        There was also a number of times that ‘Go Jets Go’ got going around the stadium.

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    • piker
      March 10, 2012

      It’s not really fair to pick on transplanted Winnipegers with dual allegiances to Vancouver. They were without a team of their own for 16 years, and developed a loyalty to their adopted home. They had the Canucks farm team – I saw two Manitoba Moose Ryan Kesler jerseys last night…talk about internal conflict!

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  2. peanutflower
    March 9, 2012

    I love these breakdowns. I saw the goal and appreciated Bieksa’s move at the time, but this just adds that element of excitement, right? And you realize what a really good goal it was. And how, yes, Bieksa has a pair. I think I will watch him differently now. Maybe he’s playing on another plane and his team mates haven’t figured that out yet.

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    • Brent
      March 9, 2012

      Another plane? Maybe he thinks he is an alternate universe where he is a forward and can take crazy offensive chances and the “defence” can bail him out. Problem is Community Man can only do so much. I think that if his name was Ballard he would be watching a lot more games from high above.

      I know we need him to be offensive, but he needs to strike a balance before the playoffs as he gets burned for odd man rushes on a fairly regular basis.

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      • Steven Ray Orr
        March 9, 2012

        “I know we need him to be offensive”.

        So that’s why he called Fiddler a loser!

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        • Brent
          March 9, 2012

          I was wondering if people would get the double meaning. He is funny to!

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  3. obituary mambo
    March 9, 2012

    Excellent — and hilarious — analysis. And I agree the super-imposed ads are most definitely obnoxious. Also:

    “But Sammy Pahlsson’s game-winner was as sexy as Ilya Bryzgalov’s husky.” Ha! I think that was probably one of the oddest comments ever caught on television. And it was HBO, so that’s saying a lot.

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  4. bergberg
    March 9, 2012

    He’s been touted as a defence-first player with hands of stone but, in effect, his best defensive play is to score.
    So he does.

    I like.

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  5. Jezz
    March 9, 2012

    Sammy Pahlsson is clearly the Canucks’ Lieutenant Data, infallible in reason and execution but governed by the strict laws of best practice. As such, it will be essential for the team to episodically compromise Pahlsson so that his cold calculations result in feel-good moments of redemption and ultimately happy endings.

    (at least until he’s blown up on a Romulan warbird)

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    • obituary mambo
      March 9, 2012

      Let’s hope that last bit never comes to pass. Fingers crossed!

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    • Nee
      March 9, 2012

      Haha. Awesome comment Jezz.

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    • Scout
      March 10, 2012

      Combining hockey and Trek is beyond awesome.

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  6. Brentals
    March 9, 2012

    BTW, you incorrectly have posited that the Jet in #18 is Enstrom, when in fact Enstrom is the “don’t screw up, don’t screw up” player in the photos. Bryan little wears #18 (http://jets.nhl.com/club/roster.htm). Clearly visible in the pic of game time 5:47 that the player marked Enstrom is wearing #18. Doesn’t really change your commentary much, but it may explain why he turns the way he does?

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    • Harrison Mooney
      March 9, 2012

      Noooooooo I mixed up Enstrom and Little. Thankfully, that doesn’t change much, although it does explain why he was so ineffective. It’s been fixed, thanks.

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  7. The Bookie
    March 9, 2012

    Question – Is Hansen the Canucks’ second in line for the Iron Man title, behind Henrik? I can’t seem to remember him missing a game through all of last season and the current one, playoffs included. (I only mean for the team, not league-wide).

    Either way, it baffles me that there are people out there still complaining about him being on the third line (and there are a few, select nutjobs over in the chaos that is CDC criticizing the Honey Badger). But considering the endless energy he seems to bring to every single shift on both the forecheck and backcheck, the fact that he chips in with goals and assists every now and then is just a bonus to me.

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    • Kate
      March 9, 2012

      I think Jannik missed some games in 09/10 but it was from being a badass honey badger and breaking some fingers in a fight? And also he wasn’t a fixture on the roster yet…regardless, he seems super resilient.

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  8. Lenny
    March 9, 2012

    You know the Sedins are struggling when PITB is breaking down a play by Hansen, Bieksa and Pahlsson.

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    • Steven Ray Orr
      March 9, 2012

      “Struggling”.

      Sigh.

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  9. sarah
    March 9, 2012

    I’m taking credit for this goal because it occurred at the very moment I turned my phone on to call and donate to the Canuck kids fund. That seems fair right?

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    • Brent
      March 9, 2012

      Totally cool Sarah, you get all the credit. I donated after Lou was talking about being with the kids at the hospice. Hard not to feel for those parents when you have kids.

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      • sarah
        March 10, 2012

        Hard not to feel for the parents when you have the ability to feel empathy. I don’t have kids, but my heart sure went out to those families. Really makes me proud of the “we are all Canucks” line of thinking when I see what the team is doing for families and for the community.

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    • Nee
      March 9, 2012

      $1.3 million raised for the kids.

      Woo!!!!!

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  10. Tengeresz
    March 9, 2012

    This is my favorite feature of the jouirnalistic gem that is PITB.
    Please continue with your thoughtful and well illustrate…

    Oh, sorry, this is the one of those “Web Logs” I hear about on the internet.

    (ahem)

    Yo! OMG! super-LUV this shiza! LOL!!!! gimme MOAR breaky breakishnisssss. LMAOROFL

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  11. piker
    March 10, 2012

    I was sitting in section 303 (behind the Canucks net-with my Jets jersey wearing wife) and yelled Shoot Bieksa! as he had such a clear shot. Fortunately, he ignored my advice and Passed it to Pahlson.

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