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.Tags: Breakdowning, Ryan Kesler, Zack Kassian