The Red Wings got pasted in Boston on Saturday afternoon by the Bruins 8-2, so it’s obvious I’m not going to be able to keep this writeup very positive, but it’s almost poetic that the game-winning goal for Boston was also the one I feel effectively ended things for Detroit on the day.
The score was already 2-0 Boston just over halfway through the game, but to that point, it felt like things were going in the right direction for the Wings for another one of those not-terribly-upsetting-because-the-process-is-fine losses that comforts the fans on Team Tank. After this goal though, things shifted and, at least to me, it felt like there was a lot more quit in the team.
I’m still not entirely certain how above-the-weather the Red Wings team is right now, but this goal seemed to sap whatever energy was left out of the roster on their way to an embarrassingly lopsided loss.
The play starts in the Boston zone as Thomas Vanek tries to get fancy after receiving an Athanasiou pass in the corner of the Boston end and trying to feed it quickly back to the point, instead having the puck intercepted by David Krejci covering exactly where you’d expect a Boston defender to be. Libor Sulak immediately steps up on Krejci to force him to dump the puck out of the zone. Filip Hronek is covering back and chases it down with Jake DeBrusk on his tail through the neutral zone. DeBrusk hounds Hronek very well, forcing the young defender to take the loose puck all the way to a board battle behind his own net.
As Joakim Nordstrom and Libor Sulak come in to join the battle, Hronek does well to win the board battle and get the puck up to Thomas Vanek on the half-wall for a quick bump around a forechecking Krejci to Frans Nielsen supporting to the inside and this time ready to receive such a pass. Detroit starts the breakout with Rasmussen racing to the Boston blue line in order to force the defense back while Nielsen drifts to the center as he crosses into the neutral zone allowing Vanek and Hronek to come up and support a rush against a Boston squad ready to back out.
Under basically no pressure to the left side of the ice, Nielsen crosses the blue line and decides to pass it back to the right side wing where all four Bruins players who are in the neutral zone are positioned. The pass is ahead of its target and Vanek takes it off the boards where Nordstrom is there to pressure him. Vanek tries going back to Nielsen immediately to take advantage of the give-and-go which would have gotten Detroit into the Boston end with puck control, but Filip Hronek tips the puck on its way and instead deflects it to David Krejci.
Krejci wastes no time immediately bumping it back up ice past the onrushing Hronek and the up-and-coming support Sulak for Jake DeBrusk trailing the entire play after coming off his forechecking duties. DeBrusk gains control as he turns at the Detroit blue line and is on a breakaway in which he pulls Gustav Nyquist’s signature shootout move on Bernier, opening him up with a forehand-to-backhand deke that he shortens by sliding it five-hole. Bernier can’t seal the pads in time and it ends up trickling in.
The Blame Game
Michael Rasmussen is an innocent victim here and Jonathan Bernier is a goaltender facing a breakaway, so I’ve got the least criticism for them here (although yeah you always want to see a goalie stop a breakaway, I don’t care about getting too down on this one). Filip Hronek isn’t very impressive on this play either. Winning the battle with DeBrusk was a good recovery after a good play by the forechecker, but I’d rather he had found a way to beat that pressure without forcing the Wings to start from behind their own net. He then followed it up by getting too aggressive and tipping a pass not meant for him, helping create the turnover that led directly to the breakaway pass.
I also don’t like Frans Nielsen’s pass decision coming out of the Red Wings’ zone (and this marks two games in a row where I feel Nielsen overall has played uncharacteristically awful). I don’t believe the give-and-go pass to freeze the Boston defense to that side of the ice was necessary in order to create the controlled zone entry he was trying to set up and, what’s more, the pass to start that setup was bad to begin with. It should have been on Vanek’s tape from the get-go instead of off the boards.
That said, Vanek’s turnover in the Boston zone which started everything off was a bad choice in a game he played poorly. I also feel like he should have been hustling more out of the zone to receive that Frans Nielsen pass and he should have put more mustard on the return feed, knowing that he’s attempting a pass across the middle in the neutral zone with his team transitioning all their momentum away from their own net. This is just about the worst place for a turnover and passes have to be their most-crisp through here.
Finally, I’m torn on Libor Sulak’s decision here. As the last man back, he’s ultimately responsible for making sure Jake DeBrusk doesn’t get a breakaway opportunity here, but he’s also a guy watching what should be a good breakout for his team trailing 2-0 halfway through the game and he’s easily winning the race against the man who would be responsible for covering his late-man jump into the middle of the ice for a potential scoring chance I would expect Frans Nielsen and Thomas Vanek to be able to help set up most nights.
Your mileage may vary on whether you want to call Sulak’s choice here a mistake. I think it was worthwhile, but the results certainly don’t support that.