On Wednesday Night, the Red Wings beat the Calgary Flames by an 8-2 score. Of the 19 total points earned by Red Wings skaters, nine of those belonged to the trio of youngsters many fans have pegged as the most-exciting reason to tune into Detroit games this season. I’m tired of talking about Matthew Tkachuk and Luke Witkowski after this game; I want to turn back and appreciate the kids who helped their team stomp Calgary the best way to stomp them: on the scoreboard.
With that in mind, we’ve got the first two goals of the game to break down and show you how those happened. Let’s get to it.
Goal 1 - The Defensive Setup
You can watch the NHL.com video here to see just the finish, but I want to start from earlier and show you how the play developed, starting with the Tatar-Larkin-Athanasiou line (backed by Luke Witkowski and Trevor Daley) because it shows how the unit working well together helped Calgary bottle themselves into a fatal mistake.
We start with Calgary breaking out 3-on-3 through the neutral zone with Sam Bennett carrying up flanked by linemates Jankowski and Jagr. You’ll notice that Athanasiou is back with his defensemen and the gap control up the middle is excellent. This allows Luke Witkowski to close on Bennett near the blue line and force the play. While Daley backs to the net-front, Larkin fills in to cover Jagr trying to trail and Bennett can’t complete a low-percentage pass to a well-covered teammate, turning the puck over and getting the Wings transition from well in front of their goalie
Goal 1 - The Transition from Transition
With everybody recognizing Daley is getting to the puck first, Calgary gets back defensively while the Wings prepare to move up-ice as a five-man unit. Witkowski recognizes that AA has slid low to cover the pinch he made on Bennett and joins the rush. AA chugs to get back in while Tatar speeds to the Calgary blue line to stretch the defense and Larkin supports as a trailer who is also keeping the bulk of Calgary players in front of him.
Daley passes to Witkowski just before the Flames’ blueline for an attempt to gain a numerical advantage on an entry that Hamonic breaks up and takes back for Calgary, but you’ll see immediately how everybody was already in good position for the rush is able to use that to flex back into perfect defensive posture again before Calgary can set up a counterattack.
Goal 1 - The Fatal Delay
Tatar forechecks to separate the defenders and force the play to one side of the ice. Hamonic takes the puck from his partner and chooses the right side to attack with numbers into the Red Wings’ defense. Larkin, knowing he has three teammates covering, chances a pass breakup that if successful would create a breakaway; he misses, and the puck gets to Jankowski to cross the blue line while Jagr and Bennett join along with Hamonic.
Daley feints over to keep Jankowski honest while knowing he has to back off immediately due to the numbers joining and it makes the Calgary forward blink and delay on the boards. There’s actually a fleeting moment shown in the following screenshot in which Jankowski could have made a wonderful pass that could have led to a Calgary goal taking advantage of the numerical advantage given by the small acts of aggression by Larkin and Daley.
Without motion, it’s not as easy to see, but a small dump up the boards by Jankowski puts Jagr and Bennett 2-on-1 against Witkowski in front of the net before Daley, Tatar, or AA can get back. However, the nature of hockey is that the window to have burned the Wings here was extraordinarily small, and windows like this get missed all the time. Jankowski missed such a window, but Larkin and AA did not.
While Jankowski delays on the boards, AA is reading the option to cover low or pinch while Larkin is taking advantage of the delay to smartly skate between Jankowski and the puck. This prevents the up-the-boards dump and completely separates him from his teammates. As this is going down, AA reads the opportunity right and comes in on the tie-up to jump up ice with a freed-up puck. Tatar isn’t far behind and Larkin is already in better position to head up ice with only TJ Brodie back and nobody covering for Hamonic’s pinch. It’s a 3-on-1.
Goal 1 - The Fortuitous Finish
The 3-on-1 goes as it should. Tatar pushes the exact right lane to remain dangerous while Larkin hangs back to take either a drop pass or be the best bet to get on a shot rebound. Brodie actually takes a pretty good line to keep AA from cutting to the middle while worrying about the pass, but as he has AA committed to a lane that can’t get to the net-front, he goes down for a slide to eliminate the pass.
AA recognizes the slide, waits an extra half second, and then makes the pass towards Tatar’s eagerly-waiting stick blade. The puck never gets there though because Brodie panics and swings his stick back to re-block the lane and ends up sweeping it into his own net.
Goal 1 - Conclusion
The line of Tatar-Larkin-Athanasiou played a well-structured shift that utilized the speed of the forwards, allowing their aggression to force a perfect play that a young Flames forward couldn’t make.
Goal 2 - The Faceoff Win
Again, the official video highlight doesn’t go far back enough to show Henrik Zetterberg winning a faceoff and some smart play up ice to get numbers into the Calgary zone.
Hank wins a faceoff clean to Mike Green while Ouellet come straight from outside the circle to behind the net for support. Tkachuk chases XO until realizing that in the crossover between Ouellet and Green that the puck is going to his corner. Backlund is also pushing forward, but like Tkachuk, he hesitates during the cross. This gives space for Green to feed XO behind the net and escape out the other side building speed to head up ice. Mantha is well-positioned as the safety valve up the wing while Nyquist is already pushing up ahead of Mantha to keep Hamonic away. Zetterberg joins Mantha in the middle of the ice as he receives the pass and we cross center ice in a 3-on-3 rush.
Frolik gets in the lane between Mantha & Z to make a pass harder.
Goal 2 - The Fly-By Bye-Bye
Mantha is facing Hamonic at the blue line so he tries the feed to Zetterberg, but can’t get it tape-to-tape because of Frolik’s stick, but the momentum of the play carries the puck and the players in. The puck bounces off the far wall and drifts towards the slot. Here you get a really smart and wonderful sequence by Zetterberg and Mantha to realize that the Calgary defenders are interested in getting the puck out of the middle while all they can do with it is help those defenders with that.
Instead, what you get is Zetterberg eliminating Brodie from the play and Mantha eliminating Hamonic. None of the four players to it first touch the puck as it slides right into the slot. This leaves Gustav Nyquist all alone (and separated from Frolik) to pick it up. As he gains control, Zetterberg sweeps back around to the front of the net and screens Eddie Lack right as Goose snipes it glove-side.
Goal 2 - Let’s See That Again
I just want to show you the closer angle of how Zetterberg and Mantha tied up sticks to let the play develop like it did. Honestly, the Zetterberg play might have been called a penalty in the first week of the season, but it’s a really good job to disrupt the stick. Beautiful work.
Goal 2 - Conclusion
Uncertain play by Calgary players and good chemistry by both the defenders and forwards by Detroit led to a really pretty snipe of a goal. It’s hard for a goalscorer to not play a puck right in front of the opponent’s net, but two of them fighting that urge to get Nyquist the space was gorgeous.