As the season goes on, I'm going to try to do more of these "Key Play" analyses for Red Wings games. They're not always going to be goals, but I think we can comfortably look at the Ryan Getzlaf goal with 24 seconds left in the Wings' game against the Ducks on Saturday as a key play. For the whole play, check out the video above. It's nice that this one starts far enough back to show all the context needed.
The Penalty Issue
It's important to get this piece out of the way first, because I want to look at this play more from a standpoint of things that the Wings can actually control. This play contained two potential penalties and neither were called, leading up to the Getzlaf score. You can see in the neutral zone that Getzlaf pokes it past Franzen at the Detroit blue line and then makes a move to get into the zone along the wall. Franzen throws a hip check to slow Getzlaf down and allow Niklas Kronwall to get to the puck first. We've seen this play called as a penalty to varying degrees over the years, as it definitely meets the criteria for interference. The second non-call was a hook in which Getzlaf got his stick in on Kronwall's hands. While trying to recover from being hooked, Kronwall toe-picks the boards and falls down, turning the puck over.
Of the two plays, the Getzlaf hook is the one which would be called more-consistently because the reffing standard has generally leaned more towards calling penalties on plays which either create or deny a very good scoring opportunity. The bottom line is that it wasn't called and that Kronwall said himself in the pregame that this isn't something he can allow to happen. I'm not happy the play was allowed to continue, but there's nothing to be done for it now.
After the Turnover
One of the consistent complaints I've seen since this goal was scored was that the rest of the team wasn't effectively covering after the turnover. There are two players worth considering here other than Kronwall, they are Jonathan Ericsson and Johan Franzen. The other two players, Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist, are too far behind the play to be considered and they are playing exactly where they should be playing.
On Franzen: You'll see that Franzen breaks his stick along the boards as he hits Getzlaf. This limits his effectiveness, but as the first forward back and with the defensemen covering where they are, a quicker jump from the boards along the blue line to the net front would be called for. It's not necessarily that he even has to race to the net-front, but Corey Perry is actually his responsibility and he's not doing much to deny Perry the net-front area. A bit more hustle by Franzen perhaps leaves him in position to at least see if the refs would double-down on not calling penalties and let him get away with simply tackling Getzlaf.
On Ericsson: This one is more interesting because I've seen a lot of complaints about Ericsson "standing around" instead of aggressively attacking Getzlaf off the wall. The problem here is that after the turnover, this play becomes a 2-on-1. Getzlaf isn't the only Ducks player to cross the blue line on this play and Ericsson is well aware of the other one. You'll see here how it plays out.
The Ducks player coming up the left wing side just inside the dot is Ryan Kesler, who immediately reacts to Getzlaf getting the puck by putting his stick in shooting position and backing to a place on the ice to receive a pass where he can immediately fire it on net. Ericsson is aware of Kesler here and knows that he simply can't attack the right-shooting Getzlaf coming up from the right corner because this would require that he both not get deked out by Getzlaf but also that he somehow know which exact line to take in order to prevent a pass to Kesler. The ability to see both of these lines simultaneously from the position that Ericsson is in doesn't exist except in many species of lizard and possibly Stuart Scott.
What's at play for Ericsson here is the age-old odd-man defense where the defender is tasked with taking away the pass while the goalie is responsible for the shooter. There is a third consideration on plays like this though where the defender should also prevent the play from turning into a pure breakaway. This explains Ericsson's positioning. He has to pay too much attention to Getzlaf to be able to truly go mark up on Kesler, so he stays in front to allow himself to either block the pass or to be in the way of a shot aimed at the far post from Kesler.
However, the third consideration also comes into play here. Let's look at the other angle.
You'll see here that Ericsson recognizes that, even though he has to worry about Kesler, he can't simply let Getzlaf walk unimpeded across the net-front, which is something he's likely going to want to do as a right-shooter on the wrong side to take better advantage of the angle he's on. Ericsson waits until Getzlaf gets near and puts his stick out to prevent Anaheim's captain from bringing it across the crease. This is going to make it much more difficult for Ericsson to stop a Kesler shot if the pass gets through, but by this point, Riggy's stick is in position to deflect such a pass anway. Ericsson has finished doing his job of defending the far post from Kesler and now swipes to defend it from Getzlaf.
Unfortunately (and understandably), Jimmy Howard can't trust that Ericsson is going to be in position to limit three of Getzlaf's options and he moves along with Getzlaf, going down on the first move and jumping off the near post. This gives Getzlaf the one area of the net that Ericsson was never in position to or responsible for protecting.
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All-in-all, it would have been very nice if things had gone differently, but there are many ways the play could have gone differently that would not have earned a better result for the Wings. I don't know how many defensemen could consistently make this play differently while getting a better result. In the list of people to blame for this goal getting past Howard to win the game for the Ducks, Ericsson ranks very low. Jimmy Howard has to do a better job of protecting the part of the net that he truly needed to. Ericsson took away half of Getzlaf's options and the shooter still found a way to get the puck in on a very fast-moving play.