More often than not, a split-second decision in the midst of the fury of an NHL hockey game is what turns a big game on its side and determines the ultimate outcome. In a new Monday morning segment titled Upon Further Review, we'll use video to break down one of these crucial moments that determined the course of one of the weekend's most important contests.
The game may have never made its way to overtime if not for the brilliant play of Jaroslav Halak, who the Pens are no doubt sick of seeing. Thankfully for them, he's out West now and they only need to learn to beat him once or twice a season. That was no consolation on Saturday, however, as Halak stopped 31 Penguin shots en route to his first shutout in a St. Louis uniform.
Brent Johnson was almost as good for the Pens at the other end, matching Halak with 22 saves of his own in regulation, but the other Johnson's overtime winner gave the Blues a 1-0 victory and a vital two points in the standings.
Let's get right to the video, shall we?
Unfortunately, the highlight clip above cuts out a fantastic sequence of puck possession by the Blues -- in particular, David Backes, the eventual goal scorer Johnson and T.J. Oshie. These three did a great job of keeping the puck in the offensive zone and eluding the Pens attackers while doing so.
With Kris Letang bearing down on him for a good nine seconds, Johnson was able to keep hold of the puck for the entire time despite having literally no outlet to whom a pass could be made.
The above clip shows the final second or two of that stretch by Johnson where he's able to dump the puck off into the corner in hopes of reaching Oshie. Grit is often mocked as a silly intangible that cannot be measured with a statistic, but that's the perfect example of how it wins hockey games right there.
Once Johnson dumps the puck off, defenseman Paul Martin makes a mistake that costs the Penguins the hockey game. Let's freeze things right there. Martin is the first to reach the loose puck.
As you can see, Martin has his body in the right position to defend the puck against the attacking forward, Oshie. As an elite NHL defenseman, there's absolutely no reason why he should cough up this puck in this situation.
A few weeks ago as we prepared for the start of this season, we took a look at eight players to watch this season. One of the guys we highlighted was Oshie. We raved about his physical ability and his playmaking skills. On this play that led to the game-winning goal, it was a combination of those factors that allowed Oshie to strip the puck away from Martin.
Oshie is able to catch Martin off guard, get his stick on the puck by attacking through Martin's legs, poke it in the opposite direction than Martin wants to go with it (to our left instead of our right), and as you can see in this next still, use his body to box out the now-stunned Martin.
Meanwhile, after dropping the puck off in the corner, Johnson retreats back to the half boards where he has great position in front of the guy defending him, Sidney Crosby. With his back to Sid, he can easily run off the half boards and make a beeline for the net as soon as he realizes Oshie has the puck.
As soon as Johnson jumps away from Crosby, he becomes the responsibility of Letang, who all of the sudden is the only defender between the puck carrier and the net. We've enlarged the puck in the next image so you can clearly see exactly where Letang is positioned as the pass from Oshie finds its way to Johnson.
Letang probably could've anticipated this pass a bit sooner. It's a bit hard to see in this image, but you can tell in the video that he's a little flat-footed and a little too far down along the goal line when Oshie lifts the puck from Martin. At the same time though, Letang does a fantastic job of recovering and getting himself in a position to block any shot attempt from Johnson.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, Johnson's lightning quick release and perfect shot placement just inside the post on the goalie's glove side were too much to handle. The Blues win.
So upon further review, what can we learn from this goal?
- For starters, defenders always need to know where T.J. Oshie is on the ice. Paul Martin didn't heed this warning and wound up coughing up the puck in his own zone because of it.
- Sidney Crosby needs to do a better job of noticing the situation and making sure he gets in front of Erik Johnson. If he has better position, Johnson can't get wide open in the slot and Oshie winds up down in the corner without an outlet.
- All in all, Kris Letang did a decent job on this play, but if he's able to anticipate the pass a little earlier, he might be able to lay down in front of Johnson's shot and stop it from even getting on goal. At the worst, he'd be giving his goaltender a better view of the shot. Instead of getting in front of it, he likely screened the goalie a bit and allowed Johnson's shot to get on net. There's the game.