New year, same Red Wings that we saw finish out 2018 by blowing a lead and then losing. The Wings were sloppy and undisciplined. This is pretty well-encapsulated in Calgary’s game-winner from Wednesday:
With Jacob de la Rose in the box for a bad, obvious hold, the Wings’ PK goes to work and, to their credit, get a decent shorthanded rush about 30 seconds in. Calgary recovers and moves up ice, gaining the offensive zone with a pass to Monahan on the left wing side.
Hronek comes over to recover from giving a little too much space to Monahan (with Abdelkader and Kronwall in decent position to take the middle, Hronek should be about a step closer). While Hronek comes to cut off Monahan and Nielsen pinches back on him, the Flames’ forward spins to keep control and let his linemates get set up before throwing a backhand to Gaudreau entering the zone:
Gaudreau gathers and immediately feeds it to Matthew Tkachuk on the right wing side, catching all four Red Wings players on the wrong side of the ice against a lefty shooter streaking in.
Tkachuck has to reach on his backhand to gather in the Gaudreau pass, doing so just below the faceoff dot. This slight delay has given Nik Kronwall space to move and cut off the lane across the top of the crease that Tkachuk could use to either cut in himself or pass to Elias Lindholm on the back door.
Undeterred Tkachuck freezes Howard by showing shot the entire time before going to his backhand at the goal line and then passing it back in front before he fully eclipses behind the net. Everybody is caught puck-watching by this point and the puck ends up right on Gaudreau’s stick for the easy put-away.
The Blame Game
This is a pretty spectacular breakdown and everybody gets to take a bite of the biscuit here. Frans Nielsen might be the least-blameworthy, but it’s his job to stop the pass from Monahan to Gaudreau, which he fails to do. After that, he fails to recognize the breakdown that left Gaudreau wide open and fails again with a weak stick-check attempt that misses.
Ok, honestly, it might be Jimmy Howard who is least-blameworthy, as he has to respect Tkachuck’s option to shoot the entire time and needs to be able to rely on his teammates to help cover as he gets slowly dangled. I suppose he could play this more stand-up to prevent what ultimately happens, but I don’t know if that helps stop a goal because Tkachuk had plenty of opportunity to take a shot himself.
I already covered that Filip Hronek was probably one step out of position on the zone entry pass, but his recovery from passing Monahan off left him watching the play as it developed and ignoring the net-front area. I feel he should have recognized Kronwall in the lane between Tkachuk and Lindholm should have given him more time to get to the back post and turn to face up ice. Instead, he focuses solely on Lindholm and never even sees an opportunity to deny Gaudreau the easy goal.
Nik Kronwall was appropriately positioned when the puck got to Monahan on the zone entry, but chases all the way over on Lindholm, which gave up far too much of the ice when the puck made it’s way over to Tkachuk. His recovery to the crease-front lane was appropriate, but the initial chase out of position is a huge part of how this play developed. He’s also slow to recover once Tkachuk is no longer in a position to shoot and should be spinning around to see who’s coming in behind him.
Lastly, we have Justin Abdelkader. I don’t think he’s the most-blameworthy (probably Kronwall, to be honest), but that back door coverage on Tkachuk is on him. He freezes when the puck gets to Gaudreau without recognizing Hronek is already getting into position to deny him space to walk into the middle. His hesitation leads to Tkachuk getting the pass. Following that, he recovers to glide to the net-front to cover for Kronwall and then watches as the puck slides right past his feet and onto the stick of the guy he should be covering.
This whole play broke down very fast and we got a good indication of how ugly a team can look with a collection of momentary lapses. I just wish we’d stop getting so many of those indications lately.