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How the Capitals' second-period goal taught the Flames a lesson in puck-watching

A video breakdown of even-strength wizardry.

NHL: Calgary Flames at Washington Capitals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

For a few seconds on Tuesday, the hottest team in the NHL looked woefully over-matched in Washington, D.C.

While Sidney Crosby left jaws hanging in Buffalo for three periods, Alex Ovechkin and his counterparts left mouths agape for a brief moment. But what a moment!

I bet the Flames would like to forget it. But it’s a nice teaching moment. Calgary got carved up on T.J. Oshie’s second-period goal so thoroughly, so quickly, that we had to break it down in video form.

The result? A lesson in puck-watching. As in: don’t do it.

The Play

Hey look, it’s the first 30-goal season for T.J. Oshie. What a guy. What a wealthy guy. (That sentence is from the offseason future.)

So at first glance, that’s a beautiful play. Pretty tempting to just leave it at that and lavish praise on the silky-smooth Capitals. I’m sure the Flames would prefer that.

But that’s easy. Let’s shine floodlights on the Flames’ defending here.

This is not a penalty kill

I know it seems like one, but it isn’t. The reason it does? The Flames are so not aggressive. I don’t know why. But they just sit back and wait for the Capitals to carve them up.

It also feels like a Capitals power play because every player is set up in their usual spot: Nicklas Backstrom (with the puck) is at the half-wall. Ovechkin is waiting for a one-timer at the circle. There’s a point man at the blue line and two players heading for the net.

This is typical Capitals power play stuff. But since this is EVEN STRENGTH, Flames, Backstrom has fewer options to work with and more Calgary sticks to avoid.

From right here, he could:

  • Toss a puck to the net and hope for a miracle rebound as Oshie crashes the crease
  • Try to hit his teammate in the slot, but risk a turnover and an odd-man rush the other way
  • Pass back to the point and reset the whole thing

He does none of these things.


Change your perspective

He moves.

And now the playing field is much differe—

[slams hand on Ovi slap shot alarm]

Sorry, forgot to turn that off.

Yes, Ovechkin is Backstrom’s target here. But there’s a reason why A) Ovechkin becomes available and B) Oshie ends up scoring.

We now turn to the Flames.

I JUST DISCOVERED THE MAGNIFYING TOOL

This dude. (Names have been omitted to protect dignity.) (Also, I can’t find my glasses.)

He’s the only thing stopping Backstrom from completing his pass to Ovechkin. If I hopped into his brainhead right now, he’s probably dying to intercept a pass and take it the other way for a 2-on-1 chance. He can sense it.

What he can’t sense, though, is Ovechkin’s location. Flames Man is floating up in anticipation. Ovechkin already floated down to await Backstrom’s pass when the lane clears up.

Boom.

Hey look, the whole zone changed again. Why are there four Flames high and two Capitals all alone down low?

’Cuz they done messed up, y’all

What we have here is a textbook case of puck-watching. Teams usually fall into this trap when they’re on the penalty kill, transfixed by the high odds of a goal against.

Let’s track their vision spheres across the play.

Backstrom gets the puck ...

Backstrom moves the puck ...

... whoops. To Mikael Backlund’s fleeting credit, he does seem to recognize that Oshie is slipping behind him toward the crease.

And yet ...

Dagger.

No time to re-adjust

Normally, every one of the Flames would overreact and try to prepare for an Ovechkin slap shot. But there wasn’t even enough time to do that. The puck was on Ovechkin’s stick for half a second before it hurtled to Oshie and into the net.

I suppose that’s why the Capitals are so deadly. Too many weapons. Too many threats to register in the offensive zone at any given point. Give them time to set up, and opponents will fall into observer mode as Washington carves them up.

Even when you know what each of them will do (Backstrom will look to pass, Ovechkin will wait for a slap shot), that knowledge can keep you thinking. Your feet stop moving, your eyes lock onto the puck, and before you know it, the Capitals have made you look like you’re two defenders short at even strength.

It’s a unique group in Washington. Whether they can keep these tricks up in the playoffs has yet to be seen.