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Red Wings Key Play Breakdown: Howard Stops Two Breaks

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NHL: Detroit Red Wings at New York Rangers Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Wings beat the Rangers on Wednesday night 2-1. There’s plenty more to be concerned about after a performance like that, but sometimes you’re going to have a goalie steal a game for you and that’s what we’re looking at here.

In today’s Key Play Breakdown, we’ve got just a small glimpse of the work Jimmy Howard put in to keep the Red Wings in this game. Let’s take a look.

The Setup

We start you early in the second period near the end of a Red Wings power play drawn by Jonathan Ericsson tripping himself. Mats Zuccarello sits in the box and the Wings’ power play has not much to show for the last two minutes. Dylan Larkin pulls the puck away from a Marc Staal/Justin Abdelkader scrum down low and races to bring it behind the Rangers’ net to see what he can create.

While Larkin goes around, Sheahan moves from the slot to the far post to give Larkin first a passing option and then some room. During this play, Rick Nash chops down on Sheahan’s stick and ends up breaking his own. Larkin uses this to get to the faceoff dot, turn, and fire a puck low to the far post. Lundqvist kicks out the pad and blocks it away to the boards.

At this point, there’s four seconds left on the PP and Rick Nash does what is by all logical means the absolute worst thing he could do in a situation where the PP isn’t over and his team isn’t going to regain possession of the puck, he goes off for a new stick.

You can argue that Nash knows that his teammate will be out of the box soon enough, but he makes this a 5-on-3 play and but for the grace of screwups, it doesn’t burn him.

The Missed Opportunity

Gustav Nyquist has his back turned as he collects in the corner with Nash leaving to create a 5-on-3. He knows he has support at the top, but doesn’t recognize Sheahan alone in the slot or Larkin sneaking up the back door. To the Rangers’ credit, Stepan and Staal both take real good angles to cut off the likelihood of Nyquist threading a pass, but a guy his caliber ought to be able to do this.

Instead, Nyquist passes down low to Abdelkader to reset things a bit. This is still a pretty good play because Abby has a lane directly to Sheahan out front, or can go back to Nyquist for that pass into the slot. Abdelkader tries the latter, but his execution is bad. The pass misses Nyquist and bounces from the corner to the half-wall where Stepan is the only player nearby.

Watch at the end of the .gif. You can actually see Abdelkader recognize how badly he’s just screwed up.

Unfortunately, Brendan Smith has not yet realized how badly he has screwed up on this play by not having snuck out of the zone by now. At this point, he’s not likely to be involved in a successful offensive play and the risk he’s taking by insisting on holding the blue line at the end of the power play is not a good one for where he’s positioned. He should either be headed to his own blue line or going for broke at the half-wall by now.

Things Go Bad, Then Not So Bad

Stepan has time to take a few steps up the wall with the puck before realizing that Rick Nash has just finished receiving a new stick behind the play and firing a puck up his way. The pass connects behind Brendan Smith, who is also behind Mats Zuccarello coming out of the box. The Rangers now enjoy a staggered 2-on-0 break into the zone on Howard.

Fortunately, Howard remains steady, square, and big to the shooter. Nash tries to out-wait Howard into giving up space before looking stick-side low on him, but Howard is able to stop it without wasting any movement. This becomes key when the result leaves him already almost completely square to the rebound chance that Zuccarello steps into immediately after. Howard has very little need to move to re-square and block the second attempt as well.

Alternate Angle

You can really see how well Howard positions and recovers on the two chances from the behind-the-net replay here.

Ultimately, this play kept the Wings only down by one goal early in the 2nd after a blown power play opportunity. Based on the way this game went down, it’s really hard to imagine the Wings would have been able to overcome the two-goal deficit they would have been put in had Jimmy Howard not stayed strong on this double breakaway chance.

I’m sure Jimmy will be eating well at the expense of his teammates very soon.