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Red Wings Key Play Breakdown: Tomas Tatar Gives Detroit the Lead over Predators

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NHL: Nashville Predators at Detroit Red Wings Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

So far in our Key Play Breakdowns, we’ve focused heavily on odd-man rushes, whether caused, prevented (by a goal), or stopped. This time, I want to look at a play where the Red Wings were able to minimize the risk of an odd-man rush while still getting a player deep into scoring position to finish a chance.

This time, we’ve got Tomas Tatar’s goal early in the third period against Nashville which gave the Red Wings a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Setup

We start with some back-and-forth play in the neutral zone as both teams change. We start off the play with the Preds breaking up a transition pass and trying to immediately counter, but not able to get it past Alexey Marchenko fresh on the ice. Marchenko dumps it safely out of his own zone off the boards and away from an onrushing Colin Wilson.

Fisher and Tatar fight for it by the bench with Riley Sheahan giving good support. Fisher is able to play it back to Josi, but Zetterberg is immediately on him, forcing a quick push up ice that splits Wilson and Arvidsson straight to DeKeyser. DK feels the pressure of what could be a 3-on-2 rush if he doesn’t act quick, so he kicks it up to his stick and gently pops it back where it came from.

The pass back up ice works out perfectly as it floats beyond Fisher into the space that Josi has since backed out on. Zetterberg skates into it with Tatar on his right and the Wings have a controlled zone entry with the defense backing off.

The Marchenko Chance

Once the Wings are in the zone, Zetterberg wisely gets it over to Tatar. This not only allows Zetterberg to become an instant pick and give Tatar room against the backchecking Fisher, but also frees him to drive the front and take Roman Josi with him. Meanwhile, Riley Sheahan is trailing behind pushing PK Subban back coming from the left wing into the center slot area.

Arvidsson rushes back to help take away the lane to Sheahan as Tatar gets near the corner and spins away from Fisher. Wilson is the lone high man responsible for the opposite side point. At this point the setup looks very familiar to the play against Tampa where Tatar spun it back to an on-rushing D-man and accidentally turned it over leading to a rush the other way. However, Tatar’s turn is crisper and Nashville’s defense isn’t as well set.

With every Nashville player either below the dot or on the far side of the ice, Tatar spins to see Marchenko stepping up into the zone. Tatar feeds Marchy for a one-time blast that could very well be the end of this writeup were it not for Marchenko missing the mark.

The puck comes to the opposite side half-wall where Jonathan Ericsson is the first player on it, knowing full well he has coverage for this pinch thanks to Marchenko circling back and Tatar coming across to take the point.

The Cycle Reset and Score

When Ericsson picks up the puck, Subban is coming at him quickly. He has a safe option around the boards to Sheahan behind the net or the choice to fire it at front and see if Zetterberg can do something with it in traffic. With all five Preds players still locked up in a pretty tight box, Riggy can be more aggressive and chooses the net-front chaos option.

Ericsson fires to the net-front, but to the wrong side of Zetterberg’s body to hit his stick. Josi is too busy trying to tie up the lumber that he can’t stop the puck as it misses the net wide and bounces off the corner boards back up to Marchenko’s point. Still cycling back up, Marchenko has space to pick it up with plenty of room before Wilson can challenge. While he’s doing that, Sheahan is coming low to give another safe dump option, Zetterberg is circling the high slot to keep the defenders busy, Ericsson is retaking his own point position, and Tatar is safely out of the zone entirely.

You’ll see that all five Predators players are still below the top of the circles when Marchenko gets the puck, so there’s plenty of room to create at the top of the zone. You’ll also notice that if that room weren’t there and Marchenko screwed up somehow, Detroit would still have had at least two players back to defend. From this positioning, the worst you’d get is a 3-on-2 rush, but more likely you’d see 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 develop out of a loss of possession.

Fortunately, that possession change doesn’t happen, as Wilson is way too far away and Arvidsson is still too deep. This gives Marchenko room to spin and make a pass to the middle where Tatar can now pick up the puck with a fair amount of speed carrying him up ice, helping freeze the defense in place. Tatar barely has to throw a deke Arvidsson’s way to make himself space to shoot from within the faceoff circle and around a frozen Mike Fisher. Rinne doesn’t stand a chance.

Even better here is that even if Tatar’s shot is blocked, both defensemen are back and Riley Sheahan is facing the correct way up ice. If the Preds want to start a counter-attack off a block, Four of Nashville’s five skaters have to turn around to get up ice while Detroit would have Sheahan already moving the right direction to cover back and make sure the Wings have three.

Alternate Angle

The reverse angle shot shows that Rinne is expecting a shot, but Fisher kind of helps screen it so the goalie can’t get a real good read on the initial point of aim. Tatar snaps it off the blocker and into the net.


Overall, when Jeff Blashill talked about getting the Wings’ defense more involved in the play, this is exactly what he wanted. Speed and numbers across the blue line made space for the Red Wings’ blueliners to jump into the offensive play while smart forward coverage allowed them to mitigate the risks. The overall speed of these transitions forced the defense to collapse and eventually ended up catching them flat-footed.

While Nashville added a power play tally to make sure this particular score wasn’t the game-winning goal, it was definitely the game-defining goal in terms of how well the Wings executed at even strength in this win.