The turning point of the 2010-11 season for the Canucks was their lowest moment, an embarrassing 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on November 20th after the Blackhawks had knocked them out of the playoffs two seasons in a row. The Canucks responded with a closed-door players’ meeting and, after losing a close one to the Phoenix Coyotes the next game, went on to win 18 of their next 22 games, including a statement 3-0 victory over the Blackhawks.
After that loss to the Blackhawks, the Canucks only lost 13 of their remaining 63 games, cruising to the first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history, finishing ahead of the Washington Capitals by a whopping 10 points.
This season, the Canucks decided to get their low point out of the way earlier. On Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens, in front of a national Hockey Night in Canada audience, they scored one of the most bizarre and embarrassing own goals in NHL history. Now it’s time to break it down.
The easy thing to do would be to blame Dan Hamhuis for this goal. The normally steady blueliner has struggled to start the season, despite his solid underlying statistics, with uncharacteristic turnovers at inopportune times. Given some of his previous errors this season, it doesn’t seem all that unlikely that he would mishandle a puck, sending it off Luongo’s skates and into the net.
It’s not that simple, however, as there is actually plenty of blame to go around on this goal and, simultaneously, no blame at all, as it’s a series of events so unfortunate that they inspired a new book from Lemony Snicket.
It stars off innocently enough — and really, it progresses pretty innocently too — with Roberto Luongo picking up a puck cleared by the Montreal Canadiens’ penalty kill and deftly banking it off the boards past the forechecking Travis Moen to Jason Garrison.
It’s a nice bit of puckhandling by Luongo, which really should have been a warning sign that something terrible was about to happen. Luongo doesn’t handle the puck well as a rule, or at least a guideline, so challenging the hockey gods with such a well-performed routine pass was clearly foolish.
Here’s where the problems start for the Canucks. Normally on the powerplay the defenceman will hold the puck behind the net before dropping it off to whoever is to start off the breakout. Jason Garrison, however, took Luongo’s pass on the backhand along the boards and doesn’t really have time to go behind the net to leave the puck for Hamhuis, the designated puck-carrying defenceman for the Canucks’ powerplay breakout.
This is a pretty innocuous detail, but if Garrison drops the puck off for Hamhuis behind the net, any mix-up between the two defencemen would have resulted in the puck hitting the back of the net instead of sliding through the crease. Most of the time what Garrison does here isn’t an issue at all, but here it’s the dislodged pebble that starts a rockslide.
Everything is going well. Ryan Kesler enters the picture, ready to do his part in the breakout. Luongo skates back into his crease, content with how well he avoided Moen. Dan Hamhuis takes the puck and looks up ice to assess the Canadiens’ penalty killing posture, while Jason Garrison breaks up the ice to provide an outlet option for Hamhuis.
Everything’s going fine, really. Seems like there’s no way this could result in an own goa…wait. What’s that circle in the corner?
That would be Jason Garrison’s back skate hitting the puck, knocking it off Hamhuis’s stick towards the front of the net. That’s not good. But it’s also not the end of the world. There’s a decent amount of space between Hamhuis’s stick and the front of the net and, since it’s just a deflection off a puck-carrier, the puck doesn’t have a lot of pace on it, so there’s no reason why someone couldn’t stop that puck before it gets into Luongo’s skates and causes something embarrassing, right?
See? Kesler is right there and could pick up the puck as he skates around the net. Henrik could likely reach out his stick and poke it away. Even Hamhuis isn’t out of it yet: he could just reach out and pull it back and the entire crisis would be immediately averted.
If only Joan of Arc was there to help Hamhuis out: Dan, the puck, it’s sliding. It’s going to hit Luongo’s skates! Dan, it’s moving really slowly, just step forward and grab the puck! Dan!
Regrettably, Dan doesn’t grab the puck, likely because Kesler is about to skate into the puck’s path and he just experienced the dangers inherent in trying to handle the puck where someone is skating. He may have even been telling Kesler to take the puck and trying to stay out of the way as Kesler wheeled around the net with the puck.
Kesler, unfortunately, doesn’t take the puck, either because he isn’t paying attention or doesn’t realize that Hamhuis isn’t going to get it. Henrik’s view of the puck is obscured by Luongo; he doesn’t know that a desperation move is needed. And poor Luongo seems to have just realized that Hamhuis isn’t behind the net, setting up the breakout.
This picture is sadly hilarious. Every single person in frame is looking directly at the puck except for Luongo. The puck hits his left skate as Hamhuis tries to rush around to the other side of the net. If Luongo freezes in place, the puck slides harmlessly out the other side of the crease.
Instead, he lifts up his left skate trying to avoid kicking the puck in with it and ironically has to pivot on his right skate to keep his balance, putting it directly in place to bank the puck into the net. It’s such a bizarrely flukey set of circumstances, which is why no one seems to be all that worried until the moment before the puck goes in. Even as the puck deflected in front of the net, no one panicked, because it had to bank off both Luongo’s skates to cross the goal line.
To add insult to injury, Hamhuis’s last-ditch effort to sweep the puck off the goal line only succeeds in taking out Luongo’s right skate, causing a sad-trombone inducing pratfall.
Meanwhile, Kesler is so depressed about that own goal that he’s given up on staying in focus.
So, to sum up: Garrison leaves the puck to the side of the net instead of behind it. Hamhuis handles the puck, but it deflects off Garrison’s skate. Hamhuis refrains from regaining control of the puck because Kesler is wheeling behind the net and could easily take it. Luongo quickly swivels to find the puck, lifting his skate so he doesn’t kick it in, ironically kicking it in by doing so. Then Hamhuis sweeps the leg while trying desperately to save a goal.
Or, to sum it up more succinctly:Breakdowning, Dan Hamhuis, Jason Garrison, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kesler