We’ve been waiting for this one a long time. With his noticeable calm and poise on the ice and his great underlying possession numbers, Chris Tanev has become a favourite for both mainstream media and the fancy stats crowd in the Smylosphere. But, while he’s done a lot to impress in the first 62 games of his NHL career, he had yet to score a goal.
Fact is, for all his poise and solid defensive play, Tanev had a complete muffin of a shot. Actually, that’s incorrect: he had an incomplete muffin of a shot. It wasn’t even the muffin-top, which is the best part of a muffin, but the lousy part wrapped in paper that nobody likes: Tanev had a muffin stump of a shot.
It’s not like Tanev was unaware of this: he spent part of the off-season working on his release, and it does look much improved. He also looks a lot more confident about using it. He had 15 shots in each of his first two seasons, for a total of 30 in 54 games. He’s already up to 7 in just 9 games this season. And one of those shots beat Devan Dubnyk for his first NHL goal, the overtime winner on Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers.
Let’s break this down, shall we?
While the killjoys over at Canucks Army are correct in pointing out that Tanev and Ballard are playing very sheltered minutes, Alain Vigneault clearly has some faith in them. It’s notable that Chris Tanev and Keith Ballard are out on the ice with less than a minute to go in overtime against Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov, the clutchiest clutches that ever clutched. Just 9 games into his NHL career, Yakupov already has a last-second game-tying goal and an overtime game-winner to his credit, and Eberle is well-known for his late-game heroics.
Appropriately, the two of them were largely responsible for Tanev’s clutch, last-second goal.
Well, them and the Sedins.
Missing from the above clip is the fact that Tanev was the one who rushed the puck up ice, gained the zone, and out-battled Ladislav Smid to get the puck to Daniel Sedin, which is where we begin. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Tanev below the opposition goal line before, yet there he was going coast-to-coast and getting to the puck first after chipping it in.
At this point, the Sedins have a 2-on-1 down low. Daniel would normally look to pass here, but the puck hops over his stick (the ice at Rexall Place is pretty terrible) and Yakupov does well to get some pressure on him from behind, forcing Daniel to just throw the puck on net.
Also, please note that Eberle is standing around doing nothing. This will come up again.
Daniel’s shot is kicked away by Dubnyk to the boards, where the Oilers look to outnumber Henrik and win possession of the puck. With 28 seconds left, the Oilers have enough time for another rush up ice, or they can rag the puck and take the game to the shootout, where they’ve already edged the Canucks once this season and, with their bevy of young, flashy stars, would likely have the advantage.
Petry, Eberle, and Yakupov all head to the puck, looking like they’ll out-man Henrik 3-1. Yakupov recognizes this and peels off, pointing Eberle toward the boards with his stick, while he returns to the slot to cover Tanev. This is, undoubtedly, the right play. At this point, everything is fine for the Oilers.
Everything is not fine for the Oilers. Keith “I was here the whole time!” Ballard pinches down the boards, and Eberle, instead of engaging in the battle on the boards, is coasting out to centre ice in hopes of catching a breakaway pass. Tanev shades out to the neutral zone to cover him. Meanwhile, the play has gone from a 3-on-1 for the Oilers to a 2-on-1 for the Canucks.
This makes Yakupov sad.
Ballard makes a fantastic play along the boards, kicking the puck behind his left skate with his right to Daniel. He will not score his first assist and point of the season on this play, which will eventually lead to Canucks fans questioning why he’s not putting up points while playing such easy minutes, until he’s once again the scapegoat for all the Canucks problems. Hey, if it’s not going to be Luongo, it has to be somebody.
Yakupov makes his one mistake on the play, skating directly at Henrik Sedin when Daniel feeds him the puck. Normally this would make sense: attack the puck carrier, particularly as he heads to a dangerous scoring area. But these are the Sedins and you can’t defend them the same way: the puck carrier is frequently the least dangerous player on the ice when you’re dealing with the Sedins. But Yakupov’s a rookie and he doesn’t know this yet.
Really, Smid has decent position on Henrik and Petry will be able to get back to Daniel, so Yakupov isn’t needed there. Where he is needed is the slot, which is exactly where Tanev skates as soon as Daniel gets the puck.
This is the exact moment that Yakupov realizes he’s made a terrible mistake. After a quick give and go between the Sedins, Daniel finds Tanev wide open with plenty of time to shoot.
Oh, and there’s Eberle.
To Yakupov’s credit, he absolutely sells out for the shot block, nearly getting nailed in the head. He’s lucky this puck misses him. When he gets up, he’s still pretty. That’s not the case if he successfully blocks this shot with his face.
Instead, the puck finds the back of the net as Tanev places it just inside the post.
It doesn’t get much better than scoring an overtime game winner as your first ever NHL goal. And he has the Sedins to thank, for their wizardry, Eberle to thank, for bailing on a battle along the boards in hopes of being the hero himself, and Yakupov to thank, for being an inexperienced rookie who doesn’t know how to defend against the Sedins.
Frankly, while Eberle and Yakupov have a history of “clutch” play, you can question Ralph Kreuger’s decision to put them up against the Sedins for the game’s final shift. Here’s Oilers blog Boys on the Bus doing exactly that:
I hated Krueger’s coaching decision to put Eberle and Yakupov on the ice in the last minute of OT to protect the tie. The Oilers were roundly getting pillaged in that OT period, and the Canucks were throwing both Sedins onto the ice to try to ice the win. Considering how they had played against the Oilers on the night, you would think a coach would try to send his best defensive pairing to try to close this out — Smytty and Petrell, RNH and Paajarvi, whatever. Instead he sends his two most pure offensively thinking forwards out onto the ice. Sure enough, Eberle cherry picks like he’s in Atom hockey, and the Canucks have a free 4-3 with a rookie in Yakupov trying to outbattle the Sedins, reigning robot scoring champions of the universe. It was bad in theory, and ended up even worse in execution.
Well, worse for the Oilers. The Canucks seemed to like how it ended up.
This is my favourite part: somewhere, under all those gloves, is Tanev:Breakdowning, Chris Tanev