The Wings had lost five straight and for 19 straight years in Philadelphia. With nine minutes left to go in the game, it looked like both of those streaks were going to continue, as the Wings had given up a 2nd goal to the Flyers earlier in the period and were struggling to create offense. Then, Andreas Athanasiou came on and burned a hole right through the middle of the ice on his way to tying it.
AA would score on another unimpeded shot during the shootout and win the game fro the Red Wings. Let’s take a look at how he helped the team get that far.
The play starts with the Wings regrouping while backing out of the neutral zone after Dylan Larkin and Justin Abdelkader combined to prevent a Philly transition. DeKeyser brings it back while both teams start the process of changing up their lines.
Abby and Larkin head off while Nielsen runs up through center to keep the Flyers honest. DK is supported by Green as he glides back down the right wing side and then across the ice to let things set up. After covering back for DK, Green sets up on the right side and receives a pass to keep the delay going while things develop. During this time, Athanasiou takes a line off the bench back into the Wings’ zone behind both defenders so he can come back up through the middle to keep any forechecking presence at bay for now.
You’ll notice on this play that Nielsen is coming back through the middle and peels to the left wing wide just as AA’s path takes him from the left side to the middle. Meanwhile, Tyler Bertuzzi comes off the bench and immediately takes up the position up the right wing side to keep things well spread out.
After one more beat to get Lyubimov off his case, Green goes back to DeKeyser just in front of AA’s path up the middle. AA is already picking up speed and the way this pass is timed forces Philly to respect both the immediate pass to AA and the D-to-D that ends up happening.
While Nielsen and Bertuzzi are both wide on the wings close to the Philly Blue line, the defenders have to respect the rush up either side and will rely on their forward help to cut off the center lane. Unfortunately for them, Chris VandeVelde has just come onto the ice and is ever so slightly late getting to the lane between DeKeyser and Athanasiou. AA receives the pass at the center faceoff dot and already has enough speed generated to split the D and finish the play.
Mason tries to outwait AA without biting, but the speed he brings in has the goalie frozen by the time AA comes to the forehand and roofs it over the glove.
Watch the Sea Part Again (In Slow-Motion)
I’ve slowed down the replay of the pass from DK to AA to give a better idea of how Philadelphia messed up here by discounting Athanasiou’s speed. I’ll go player-by-player here.
Lyubimov (#13) - The primary forechecker already behind the play after pressuring Green. His job is to come back to the middle to keep DK from carrying it up main street himself. Not much blame.
Bellemare (#78) - Covering the right wing side in the lane between DK and Bertuzzi. He’s already coming back and his primary concern is helping make sure Bert doesn’t get it with speed before having to either help cover for the defender on that side (Manning) or backing off to watch for a trailer. He’s also kind of caught by the idea that Green’s pass could have gone straight to AA and he’d be responsible for trying to angle that play off. He would’ve had to have ignored a coverage that was his responsibility to pick up a coverage that wasn’t in order to make a play that could have prevented this goal.
VandeVelde (#76) - Comes off the bench trying to cover the lane from DK to Nielsen up the left wing side before realizing he should be coming straight to the middle to give himself the ability to step up on DK while blocking the passing lane to AA. He’s late to this assignment.
Manning (#23) - “Last man back” coverage where he both has to protect the middle and make sure Bertuzzi doesn’t get around him on the right wing side. He’s leaning to Bertuzzi’s side when the pass comes and does have to concern himself with having to release to keep Bertuzzi to the outside if AA decides to pass to the wing upon entry. By the time he realizes his defensive partner is toast, it’s too late for him to recover as well.
Gudas (#3) - He’s lurking up the strong side to take away Nielsen’s space if DeKeyser ends up going up the boards that way. When AA receives it, he’s already crossing up his own feet and doesn’t have an angle to get over to stop the rush.
The tl;dr version of this entire play is that the Red Wings set up a very well-timed cycle to move the puck through the neutral zone, catching a Flyers team still in the middle of trying to get set off a change and too focused on the edges. A good pass from DeKeyser creates a play that at the very least should create a 3-on-2 rush, which then immediately turns into two possible 2-on-1 combinations before ultimately collapsing into a breakaway.
Andreas Athanasiou’s speed is a weapon that forces teams to make decisions faster than they want to. In this game, it sliced right through the defense and helped end an all-too-long winless streak.