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.Tags: Breakdowning, kevin bieksa's got sack, winnipeg jets