Whenever someone decides to watch a hockey game, there’s always a tiny bit of hope (or, maybe a huge bit of hope?) in the back of their mind that they will get the opportunity to witness something incredible. Sure, watching a regular ‘ole game can be fun; the speed and skill of the players, the talent level of the goaltenders, and other such things that can be seen in every game are what make hockey the greatest sport in the world (a totally objective opinion, of course).
Still, there’s something thrilling about turning on the T.V (or firing up the laptop) and tuning into a game where something incredible happens. Something like Vladimir Tarasenko taking on four opponents and making them look like junior-league players.
Something like Petr Mrazek making a save with the blade of his stick.
Something like Mike Hoffman tying the game with 1:48 left, and Mark Stone winning it in overtime.
These moments don’t happen very often, and sometimes, it’s hard to tell who will create that point in time that will live on forever. Derek Mackenzie is 34-years-old. He’s played in 444 NHL games, and only totaled 94 points. He still managed to score one of the nicest goals I’ve ever seen live, and to make things even crazier, Dave Bolland picked up the primary assist.
The point is, whenever someone decides to watch a hockey game, there’s always that glimmer of hope that something incredible will happen. It’s why the most exciting players draw the biggest crowds, and it’s why Connor McDavid has become a must-watch player in his rookie season.
Sometimes the hockey gods are kind enough to grant us one of these magical moments. Other times… Not so much.
Last night, we were given a “not so much” moment.
The Colorado Avalanche played the Vancouver Canucks, and with approximately 1:30 left in the first period, the Canucks started a chain of events that would lead to one of the worst goals I’ve ever seen, from a defensive standpoint. This isn’t one of the flukey goals that happens every once in a while, where a single defender or a goaltender gets caught napping. No, this is a goal where the entire defensive unit (all five players) seemed to be entirely lost while in their own zone.
An NHL team that practices several times a week, and consists of players and coaches that get paid to play or coach at the highest level of the sport, somehow managed to look like a random bunch of players that were on the ice together for the first time, ever. That fact is simply mind-blowing.
Let’s start at the beginning. The Vancouver Canucks have the puck in their own end, and defenseman Dan Hamhuis holds onto the puck while both teams make line changes.
The Canucks start their breakout, while the Avalanche set up their forecheck. Mikhail Grigorenko (#25) appears to be forcing the pass to the right side of the ice, but there’s no Avalanche player there, and he takes himself out of the play; there’s no way he’ll be able to catch up to either one of the Canucks forwards, who are now gathering speed and preparing to go on the attack.
The pass goes to Jannik Hansen, and Jarome Iginla (#12) charges out at him, but then takes a terrible angle to the boards and gets beat wide. Tyson Barrie (#4) is also way out in no man’s land. There isn’t a Canucks skater near him.
Matt Duchene (#9) steps up at the blueline, and forces a dump in, but Nick Holden (#2) seems to have not gotten the memo. Instead of turning around and anticipating a dump in, Holden waits until after the puck is in deep to make his turn. As a result, Hansen blows around Duchene, then beats Holden to the puck and chips it to Daniel Sedin (#22).
Now, I’m not entirely sure how Holden managed to lose control of the puck, because he definitely beat Hansen to it. Tyson Barrie certainly seemed to think that Holden had no chance at gaining control of the puck, because he got to the front of the net in order to cover… no one? In the full video, you can see Barrie drift back into the slot, instead of skating back hard and giving Holden an outlet. He essentially handcuffs his teammate by leaving him stranded behind the net, with three opposing forwards on him.
With the current setup of the Avalanche defense, even if Holden wins control of the puck, he doesn’t really have anywhere to go with it. Hansen is pressuring him, while the Sedins are sealing off the sides. If Barrie drops behind the net to support him, maybe Holden can just chip the puck over to his partner, and work from there, but instead, the Canucks gain control of the puck.
Barrie eventually decides to go behind the net and pressure Daniel, but everyone else forgets about Henrik, and the puck is cycled over to the second Sedin twin.
Barrie returns to the front of the net to cover… no one, again. To make matters worse, Jarome Iginla stares at the puck and completely loses track of where Hansen is located (hint: not very far away).
Daneil Sedin ends up with the puck behind the net. Matt Duchene sees the wide open Hansen and tries to alert his teammates.
All five Colorado skaters are staring at Daniel Sedin, who is BEHIND THE NET with the puck. No on is pressuring him, and they’re giving him tons of space to work with. Iginla (who is playing center) and the two defenseman (Holden and Barrie) are also ignoring Hansen, for some reason, despite the fact that at least one of them should be covering the slot.
Mikhail Grigorenko, who is playing wing, has dropped down completely into the slot. He is trying to cover for his incompetent teammates, and yet, he also somehow fails to pick up Hansen. Duchene can’t get back in time, and the Canucks forward gets a one-timer off from the slot despite being located directly in the middle of all five Avalanche skaters.
This was essentially a 2-on-5. The Canucks managed to generate a Grade A scoring chance despite being outnumbered 2-to-5 down low.
All five Avalanche skaters are in the slot! All five are within the space highlighted below.
That is an incredibly small portion of the defensive zone. For all five skaters to be crammed in there is terrible defense in the first place, but for an opposing forward to be open enough to receive a pass and get an uncontested shot off within that tiny area while all five defensive skaters are in that tiny area is beyond bad defending. It’s incomprehensibly bad defending. I would even go so far as to say that this level of bad defending was almost unfathomable at the NHL level, before last night.
So, thank you, Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche, for providing me with something I never really would have thought possible. Too bad it had to be such a horrid play.
Here’s full video (or GIF) of the play.
The zone entry:
The offensive zone work:
Sometimes, the incredible skill level of NHL players gives us some aesthetically pleasing hockey to watch. Other times, we get the Colorado Avalanche giving up one of the worst goals I’ve ever seen. The hockey gods giveth, and they taketh away.
Some closing thoughts
The interesting question that absolutely needs to be answered here is whether or not this is a one-time breakdown, or the result of a flawed defensive system. Going off of Patrick Roy’s results with the Avalanche so far, my money would be on “flawed defensive system”.
Perhaps the most telling part of the entire play is the zone entry, and not the utter chaos that ensued once the puck got into the zone. Both Nick Holden and Tyson Barrie played the dump-in atrociously, to the point where they didn’t really have a chance to break the puck out of the zone. If Holden anticipates the dump in and gets to the puck quicker, he may have a split second to make a play with the puck; if Barrie gets back and provides an outlet, the puck could be moving out of the zone just as quickly as it got in.
Barrie’s insistence in camping out in front of the net makes me believe that this is how he’s coached to play; protect the slot at all costs. This may seem like a smart, conservative, safe defensive system, but, in reality, it’s keeping the Avalanche pinned in their zone for more often than they need to be. As we’ve seen, sh** happens, and defensive structures collapse. The best way to keep the opposition from scoring is to keep the puck out of your defensive zone, and Colorado is simply not good at doing that.
Patrick Roy has been behind the bench in Colorado for three seasons. The Avalanche have a 44.5% Corsi For percentage in those three seasons. The only team that has been worse is the Buffalo Sabres, who have actively been tanking in order to pick up high draft picks.
Whatever Roy is doing in Colorado just isn’t working. Good goaltending, some good shooting talent, and a heavy dose of puck luck has propped this team up for the past three years, and it will be interesting to see where they go over the next couple of seasons. If the percentages start to go, and the PDO drops to 100 or below, things could really ugly, really fast.
A goalie’s perspective
"I've got him!"
"No, I've got him!"
"No, I've got him!"
"No, I've got him!"
"No, I've got him!"
— Greg Balloch (@GregBalloch) February 22, 2016