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Red Wings Key Play Breakdown: Defensive Transition

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NHL: Detroit Red Wings at St. Louis Blues Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Not every key play in a hockey game is going to be a goal. This time around, we’re going to look at a play that turned out just to be a pretty good defensive play on a shuffle by the last man back. Jonathan Ericsson once more factors into one of these things.

To set things up, the Wings and Blues were tied with under six to go in the third period. We were already in a situation where the next goal would have won the game. The Blues got speed up ice, but aggressive play by the goalie and smart defensive coverage negated it.

The Setup

The play starts with Jake Allen getting to a tipped-in dump behind his own net and playing it around the boards where Abdelkader and Sheahan both pinch in on the forecheck trying to disrupt transition. The Blues stack up three up the boards and are able to get it past both forecheckers to Schwartz near the blue line. Marchenko is at the top of the zone to keep him trapped, and Helm recognizes that Marchenko is committed, so he’s backing out of the zone.

Schwartz spins off Abdelkader and throws it to the middle of the ice out of the zone before Marchenko can pinch in, hitting Kevin Shattenkirk joining the rush in stride.

The Mid-Play Rush

What you probably don’t see on the first loop of that gif is that Vladimir Tarasenko has left the zone and headed up ice very quickly on this play. This will come into focus as the play moves to the middle of the ice and you see Shattenkirk with what looks like half the entire ice surface to play around with while Jonathan Ericsson moves over.

Tarasenko is the reason for this. If Abdelkader/Marchenko fail to seal the boards and the Blues get a pass straight up ice, it’s going to #91. Ericsson is positioned to keep the play in front of him when Shattenkirk gets it.

You can see immediately, Ericsson does two things:

  1. He rushes over to take an angle on Shattenkirk that will keep the man with the puck to the outside
  2. He commands Helm to focus on Tarasenko while backchecking

If Tarasenko and Shattenkirk execute absolutely perfectly, there’s a window to pass back across and break Tarasenko in, but the moment is fleeting and lost. This is now essentially a 2-on-3 rush for the Blues, but one where they are entering with enough speed to be very dangerous.

The Ride to the Boards

As Shattenkirk comes across the blue line, he’s now got Tarasenko as a trailer. #22 winds up for a big slapper that he fakes releasing at the top of the circle (the very edge of the high-quality scoring box), but Mrazek is very far out of his crease cutting of the angle. By the time Shattenkirk’s stick is moving down, Ericsson’s reach is already there to deflect it anyway.

Having turned this into a fake, Shattenkirk now has Mrazek having bought the slapper enough to be down in the butterfly position about three feet above his crease and off his near post. Mrazek tries his best to remain big and shuffle to remain square, but what prevents the puck-carrier from sliding it by him is Ericsson’s extended stick and body position angling him off safely.

If Shattenkirk has the speed to turn the corner, nobody is going to beat him to the back post on the wraparound, but him not being Dylan Larkin prevents this.

Instead what happens is Shattenkirk allows Ericsson to take him to the corner and then tries to make him miss by stopping up. Ericsson doesn’t buy it and positions himself to stay hip-to-hip. Having lost the drop pass to Tarasenko and now having Ericsson leaning on him, Shattenkirk falls over. Ericsson makes sure to hold him down a bit while the Wings’ defense gets set up.

The final good play here is when Helm comes in to slightly disrupt the puck to keep it away from Shattenkirk; this allows Ericsson to push off of the downed player with one hand while playing it around an oncoming Jaden Schwartz back up to Helm. The Wings begin a three-man transition back up ice without so much as a shot attempt allowed.

Overall, what we had here was a nice simple play by a stay-at-home defenseman to make quick decisions to keep the play in front of him and to use his body angling off dangerous plays. Shattenkirk achieves the edge of the high-danger scoring area, but is never in good enough position to use it. Petr Mrazek’s challenge is perhaps a little reckless on this drive, but his defenseman maintains very good gap control and deflects his man safely out of harm’s way.

Jonathan Ericsson has looked good so far this season; this is one of the reasons why.