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Red Wings Key Play Breakdown: Special Teams Breakdown Leads to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Game-Winner

Winnipeg Jets v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Oh boy these are more fun to do after wins. Unfortunately, it’s been a while since we’ve had one of those, so here’s a reminder of the big screwup that led to the game-winner for the Oilers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ late second-period power play tally turned out to be the dagger.

Narratively, it was frustrating to see because it came shortly after the Wings had to kill a Dylan Larkin penalty and ultimately, the call on Mike Green was a little soft (though defensible), but since those were the first power play opportunities the Wings had seen against them since the 2nd period against Philadelphia, I don’t want to complain about the refs. Let’s see what went down.

Before we get started, if you’re looking for some more reference on the PK structure, Prashanth has done great systems breakdowns on the Wedge +1 kill structure:

  1. Getting To Know Jeff Blashill's System - Penalty Killing
  2. Breaking Down Doug Houda's Penalty Kill Structure

The Play

Let’s start with the whole play, because it doesn’t take long, and then we’ll break it down in pieces.

Phase 1 - The Faceoff & Fake

We start with McDavid winning a faceoff cleanly against Glendening. He’s got Nugent-Hopkins behind his left shoulder specifically to feed the puck off this win to Klefbom, who takes it to the top of the zone in the middle to set things up. The Wings immediately set the wedge as this happens, but Klefbom would have a good shot with Ericsson tied up with Lucic in front while Howard has to worry about McDavid crossing his field of vision and Eberle on the low short side (with Brendan Smith to cover them both).

Klefbom decides not to shoot, and honestly Nielsen is in pretty good position by the time his stick comes back down from the windup. However, the fake has already done its job, as it causes a momentary freeze in the defenders, which also causes a lapse in communication which opens up the rest of the play.

Phase 2 - High to Low Pass, Low to High Danger

After Klefbom’s fake, he immediately pushes it off to the strong side point where Nugent-Hopkins ended up after making the inital pass. You can see in the sequence below that both penalty killing forwards move to the right side initially to focus on RNH with the puck. This is the exact point at which the PK has broken down. They are no longer cutting the ice effectively in half and have lost the lane. There will be a chance to recover later, but this mistake is killer.

One underrated portion of this is that Klefbom’s delay is the key. Had he made the fake quicker and passed to RNH sooner, Nielsen likely lets his momentum carry him back around to the slot area and Glendening has no delay in his responsibility to get to the puck carrier (see the linked articles above as to why this switch-off occurs). Instead, Nielsen had stopped his momentum and instead takes his first step towards RNH.

While the play was developing at the top, Connor McDavid slid from the faceoff dot, across the front of the net (during the shot fake), and now finds himself sliding low in the opposite circle with a clean release from Ericsson, who is still tied up with Lucic.

Since neither Glendening nor Nielsen are covering the lane from the top of one circle to the bottom of the other (which is very crucial), Nugent-Hopkins threads that lane to McDavid. A short delay in controlling the puck costs McDavid the snapshot before Howard can square over, but the defense is now caught wholly transitioning while the puck is on the stick of a dangerous shooter in a dangerous spot.

Phase 3 - Shimmy & Shake & Shoot

Now that McDavid has it low, Ericsson has to leave Lucic to get to the puck-carrier and Smith has to abandon Eberle on the back door to momentarily take Lucic. Since Glendening is already in no-man’s land, he needs to arrive at the net-front to cover Lucic at the exact time that Smith is allowed to release to watch the back door. Meanwhile, Nielsen is responsible for collapsing the lane back to the point where the pass originated.

The defensive setup here requires absolute precision timing and a little bit of luck to work. Unfortunately, Edmonton’s timing is better and McDavid snaps the pass back to RNH under Nielsen’s stick while Smith is still low and wide. At this point, you might as well pray the shooter screws up because that’s your last hope.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t screw up, and that’s the game-winner for you.

With the Red Wings’ PK being rusty after almost two full games off, they got clowned on this sequence and Edmonton played things exceptionally well to pressure the advantage and set up a very easy goal. From the lost faceoff to the miscommunication, the way this play went down for the forwards shows how very little errors can snowball into very big effects.