Breakdowning Ryan Kesler’s mess of a game-winning goal versus the Coyotes

Mike Smith was dynamite Monday night, making 40 saves as Vancouver peppered him with chance after chance. The Canucks managed to beat him three times, with two called back — one for goaltender interference and the other for a distinct kicking motion.

Smith was playing so well that you’d expect only the prettiest of goals to beat him. Instead, the Canucks won the game thanks to indecision, falling down, a flubbed shot, and missing an open net.

Quick, skilful passing plays that lead to goals often get described as tic-tac-toe. This play needs an easier child’s game than that: let’s go with Candy Land. Like Candy Land, it was completely random, with no one really deserving to win. Ryan Kesler just happened to draw the right cards to reach Candy Castle and rescue King Kandy first. There’s no glory in that. And yet, Kesler still celebrated the game-winner appropriately: like a three-year-old.

Let’s break down the madness, shall we?

Watching this again, I’ve come to an odd conclusion: I think Zack Kassian may have actually made the right decision with the puck. That’s not to say he couldn’t have made a better decision or been more decisive earlier and ended up with the same result, but looking at his options, he actually made a good choice. Let me show you why I think that.

As Kassian comes in on the 3-on-1, he has Schlemko standing in the passing lane to Edler, the most obvious passing option. Kassian could try to fire the pass under his stick or saucer it over, but Schlemko has his body there as well, making it a low-percentage option. That’s neither Edler nor Kassian’s fault: on a three-man rush, the middle skater, Mason Raymond in this case, should be driving the net, forcing the defender back and creating more room for a pass or shot from Kassian.

Instead, Raymond sets himself up as a second passing option, but Schlemko is positioned perfectly to block a potential shot from that area, making a pass to Raymond completely pointless. Really, Schlemko plays this 3-on-1 remarkably well, taking away both of Kassian’s passing options with his positioning.

To complicate matters, Kassian has two other options: he could shoot the puck, which is the usual course of action on a 3-on-1 when the passing options are taken away. Unfortunately, Kassian is in a terrible shooting position because of where he had to pick up the puck.

Kassian collects the puck by the boards and has to quickly cut to the net thanks to the backchecking Coyotes…

…leaving him with a bad shooting angle and a great goaltender in Mike Smith to beat. A great shot would do it — there’s room at both corners and a little space between Smith’s blocker and the post, as indicated, but Kassian also has to contend with Schlemko’s stick and likely doesn’t have sky-high confidence in his shot at the moment, considering he has just one goal in his last 23 games.

Kassian’s second option would be to find the trailer, Ryan Kesler, like he did with Edler for his first assist of the season. On that occasion, he similarly hung on to the puck for what seemed like far too long on an odd-man rush before dropping it to the open defenceman for a wide open shot. Unfortunately, this time Kesler has a defender draped all over him like he was designed by Rami Kashou.

As is his lot in life, Raymond falls over Schlemko after getting pushed by Vermette, further gumming up the works in front of the net. On the plus side, this also leaves him wide open for later.

That’s when Kassian notices that all 5 Coyotes skaters are below the hashmarks, meaning there should be one Canuck wide open above them.

The problem for the Coyotes is that they backchecked without a purpose. They saw a 3-on-1 and skated hard back into the defensive zone, effectively taking away the slot, but leaving both Bieksa and Edler, who peeled off to the left faceoff circle after the rush, wide open. Instead of backchecking intelligently and actually covering a Canuck, they all just crashed to the front of the net.

As you can see, Bieksa doesn’t actually have much of a shooting lane. He’ll have to thread the puck through two Coyotes and Smith has a pretty clear view of the shot and likely would have been able to stop it. The right play for Bieksa was probably to set up Edler at the left faceoff circle for the one-timer, but I can guess at what was going through his head: Does no one on this cussing team shoot the cussing puck? Cuss it, I’m shooting it.

Fortunately for Bieksa, his shot was awful. Schlemko tries to kick it aside, but it trickles straight through to Raymond, who is wide open thanks to the power of falling down. He tips the puck behind Mike Smith, but it goes off the post and sits in the crease.

This is incredible to me. At one point there were five Phoenix skaters in front of the net. Two of them were directly engaged with Kesler. Not one of them boxes him out and Kesler has no opposition as he shovels in the puck.

Chipchura seems to be momentarily distracted by seeing Edler wide open, but the puck has already been directed towards the net. Vermette has been shoved aside by Kesler and is checking no one. Schlemko has missed the kick-save on Bieksa’s flaccid facsimile of a shot and is effectively useless. Yandle and Boedker have both skated out to check Bieksa, meaning that they left Kassian wide open as well.

At this point, the only Canuck with a defender checking him is Bieksa, who is the furthest Canuck from the net. Unbelievable.

You may laugh at how poorly the Canucks played that 3-on-1, but other than Schlemko, the Coyotes played it a lot worse. They were playing Candy Land without having learned their colours yet.

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15 comments

  1. DanD
    April 10, 2013

    That was awesome!

    I didn’t realize from watching the replays how badly this could have gone. If that shot gets blocked, Bieksa is in no man’s land with a 2 man breakout going the other way.

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  2. Brent
    April 10, 2013

    Man, the rose coloured glasses are on. Kassian became paralyzed with indecision and totally messed up. He could have flipped it back to Raymond and then driven to the net either for another pass or from a shot from Edler. Or shooting sooner, hoping to score or a big rebound with Raymond and Edler driving to the net. It was just pure luck we scored on that one, thanks to, as you point out, some incredible puck luck and some misplays by the Coyotes.

    Can we do the Vulcan mind meld and get Burrows hockey smarts implanted into Kassian’s big rugged body? Now that would be a force to be reckoned with.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      April 10, 2013

      Look, I agree that Kassian was indecisive, but the reason he was indecisive is because he actually had no viable options, thanks to Raymond hanging back instead of driving the net. I think I’ve laid our pretty clearly why I think this was the case. The pass to Edler was his best bet, but Schlemko is right in that passing lane, so I understand why he was hesitant.

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      • Chris the Curmudgeon
        April 10, 2013

        I’m going to break character for a moment and defend Kassian here too (and agree with D.W., perish the thought). The guy didn’t exactly make a great play but his options were very limited based on the circumstances.

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        • Brent
          April 10, 2013

          Well if you think that then I must be wrong. Sorry everyone.

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          • James
            April 11, 2013

            I have to agree with both you guys. Because of Kassian’s indecisiveness, it left him with little to no options except to pass back to Bieksa. Had he made the choice earlier to pass to Raymond, with hopes that Raymond would continue the tick-tack-toe play to Edler, Edler would have had a wide open net for his shot or a sprawling Smith hoping to make the save. In the end, playing a game played at such speeds, Kassian made the right play by passing back for Bieksa to take the shot.

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  3. bc
    April 10, 2013

    I think you could have used only “RAAAAAGH!” for all of Kassian’s captions with the same effect…

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    • madwag
      April 10, 2013

      no way! the added thought comments are serendipitous.

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    • Mitch
      April 10, 2013

      Followed by the occasional “Kass smash!”

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  4. Bolderevolution
    April 10, 2013

    Awesome! You breakdowned it!

    Apart from the delicious irony of breakdowning an ugly brokendown play, this is great for illustrating how hockey has a beautiful element of improvised reaction to fast-paced chaos. The tidiness of the chalkboard disappears and instinct and skill take over.

    How long did this goal take from the time the puck entered the zone? 6.5 seconds. No other sport can put so much into 6.5 seconds while making it seem like it’s taking forever (when I was watching, I though Kassian held onto the puck for forever).

    Thanks D-Wag!

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    • J21
      April 11, 2013

      Pshht, everyone knows that the past tense of “to breakdown” is “breakwegian”.

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  5. iain
    April 10, 2013

    personally, i liked bieksa’s play selection – he’s got three blue jerseys near the crease available for rebounds, and against the coyotes the one-timer from outside is an even lower percentage shot than it usually is, due to the way the ‘yotes collapse around the net (qv see how they have FIVE guys collapsed in front of smith). ok there’s bodies galore for screening smith if edler gets the puck but at the same time lots of stuff to block any shot, even if smith weren’t great at tracking the puck through traffic. so the quick (emphasise QUICK here, young Zack) shot and potential rebound is the higher percentage play – and lo, it results in a goal.

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  6. RAAAAAGH!
    April 10, 2013

    RAAAAAGH!

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  7. jluglue
    April 12, 2013

    Hahahahahahaha!!!!

    Oh man. This is gold.

    On the one hand, I think Kassian worked himself into that position of limited options. When he carried down so far, I was pulling my hair in frustration. He gets a mulligan for being young and inexperienced. But still…

    Kassian carrying deep on a 3-on-1: WRONG
    Kassian waiting for all the Yotes to get back: WRONG
    Kassian passing back to Bieksa for a flubbed shot: WRONG
    Raymond missing a wide open net: WRONG
    Kesler tapping in a puck on a virtually empty net with everyone completely out of position: WR…GOAL! Wait what?

    Moral of the story: While 3 wrongs do not make a right, it looks like 4 wrongs make a goal…

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  8. jluglue
    April 12, 2013

    Leading to the other hand: This may have been the ONLY way to score on Mike Smith, or even at all, that night. I mean, all the correct hockey plays that night, Smith was on top of them all. Even the 2 disallowed goals were good attempted hockey plays of driving hard to the net. Since we couldn’t score playing correctly, let’s score playing incorrectly. And after Smith was pulled, tell me Vermette’s own goal wasn’t due to a Jedi mind trick!

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