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Key Play Breakdown: Dennis Cholowski’s First NHL Goal is His Payoff for a Smart Offensive Zone Read

NHL: Preseason-Pittsburgh Penguins at Detroit Red Wings Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Wings’ first game of the season is officially in the books, as is the first NHL game for five members of the team. Among them, the one with the best highlight was former first-rounder Dennis Cholowski, who was able to find the back of the net for what would be the first goal of the Red Wings’ season and the first of his entire NHL career.

Here’s the play in the first half of period #2 with Detroit trailing 1-0 in the game:

Overall Cholowski had a pretty good game, especially with decision-making in his own zone. He also got burned at the end of a Detroit power play utilizing the same kind of aggression that earned him this goal, but I want to focus on what worked here.

First off, I want to start before the video cuts in. Detroit has the puck thanks to a good aggressive step-up in the neutral zone by Libor Sulak separating Columbus from a breakout prior to center ice. Sulak is well-supported by Larkin on this jump, who picks up the loose puck and feeds it to Danny DeKeyser to reset just inside his own blue line while Sulak changes. DK allows his teammates to set up before going back to Larkin on the Wing who feeds it up to Mantha to start off where the video picks up.

Mantha is well-supported by Nyquist to the inside while crossing the blue line, but a bobble of the puck allows the Columbus defense to step up on him and take away space. Instead of trying to force something, Mantha instead puts it deep to allow Nyquist’s momentum to get him in on the forecheck. Nyquist chases down the defender Dean Kukan as they race towards the soft dump-in and takes a great angle with the stick and the body:

As you can see, Nyquist is positioned to keep Kukan from being able to push it back up the boards while making sure his body position is going to be there in case the defender tries to pull it in and escape behind the net. This pays off as Kukan plays it right into Nyquist’s stick, allowing Dylan Larkin to win the race to it before looking up and seeing he’s got a man breaking to the front he can feed with a backhand saucer pass.

What I like here is that Choloski absolutely makes the right read on this play from the get-go to know he can and should be jumping in. There are times when taking a trip down the middle for a defender is too risky, but based on knowing Mantha had the side boards sealed up and was picking up his responsibility, Cholowski is able to keep the risk of his jump-in turning into an odd-man rush the other way to a minimum.

Additionally, Mantha doesn’t get overly aggressive with the angle he takes to join in the play.

The two players you can’t see in this frame (where the puck is almost to Cholowski after getting past the stick of Gabriel Carlsson) are Josh Anderson, who is behind Cholowski circling around the top of the faceoff circle just out of frame and Danny DeKeyser up at the blue line. You can see that Boone Jenner is behind Mantha, which does give the possibility of a 2-on-1 here as Mantha stays even with Cholowski, but the play it would take to create a clean odd-man the other way relies on what would either be an insanely great pick-off and read by Carlsson or an insanely unlucky puck bounce that finds its way to Anderson before Mantha can effectively turn and get back up ice to help out DeKeyser.

There’s no way to completely promise that these things won’t happen, but when we talk about players smartly balancing risk/reward on their decision-making, the reward for Cholowski far outweighs the risk factors associated with him jumping between the circles.

With good positioning from his slightly more-veteran teammates and carefully-measured aggression, Dennis Cholowski was able to make just the right read to earn his first NHL goal in the Red Wings’ season opener. Dylan Larkin’s backchecking helped start the play while Gustav Nyquist’s forechecking developed it. Anthony Mantha kept it smart and simple while Danny DeKeyser added the support needed. The Wings weren’t able to win the game, but showed a lot of positive promise.