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Key Play Breakdown: Hronek finishes the Red Wings prettiest passing play of the season

NHL: Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Wings ended their latest winning streak at one game with a 3-2 loss against the Capitals. Detroit was swept in the season series against Washington this season, but at least they were pretty competitive in this one.

Not sarcasm either, I’m not real bothered by this one. Perhaps it’s because the game gave me this goal:

The Setup

The Capitals begin a rush up ice with Alex Ovechkin joined by Tom Wilson against Ericsson and Hronek on defense. Ovechkin carries up the right wing side while Ericsson minds him and Hronek tends to the middle lane. Tyler Bertuzzi comes back to help out with Ovechkin and is followed into the zone by the Capitals’ Kuznetsov.

Ovi pulls up at the half wall and tries to feed Kuznetsov jumping in with speed behind Bertuzzi, but Ericsson’s gap control is good and he gets a stick on the pass attempt, which ends up going straight to Bertuzzi. Lil’ Bert doesn’t control it cleanly, but is able to get it around Kuzenetsov and immediately feeds it up ice for Gustav Nyquist to start the counterattack.

The Finish

Nyquist starts up ice on the left wing side with Larkin turning around and joining him on the opposite end. Hronek recognizes the chance immediately from Bertuzzi getting the puck and joins the rush by taking up the center lane (you can see him already start the jump in the .gif above).

Nyquist puts a bit of a hitch in his path through the neutral zone so as not to get too far ahead of his teammates, which also helps force the defenders Dimitri Orlov and John Carlson to give space at the blue line.

After gaining the zone, Nyqust pulls off to the boards while Hronek charges the net front and Larkin trails in on the far end. Goose threads a pass over to Larkin in front of Kuznetsov’s stick which gets to him at the top of the circle along the right wing boards. Larkin wastes no time immediately one-timing the puck to the front of the net where it meets Hronek’s stick on the back door to give the Wings a 2-1 lead in the game.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate how gorgeous this play is.

All set? Good.

The reason it’s so gorgeous is because it highlights how well a five-man unit can perform when all five guys do the right thing at the right time. We’ll start with Jonathan Ericsson’s zone entry coverage on Ovechkin. That’s not an easy man to cover on a rush, but Ericsson keeps exactly the right gap and is able to force Ovechkin off to the side boards and then get a piece of the pass attempt. This good gap control is made possible by Hronek and Bertuzzi supporting right where they should be as well.

Once the puck is turned over, Bertuzzi and Hronek continue the good work by first getting the puck up ice quickly and then in recognizing that Hronek is in much better position to support this rush than Bert is. They complete the full transition of coverage responsibility in the neutral zone as Bertuzzi hangs back for Hronek’s rush.

Dylan Larkin positions and paces himself well as the puck is turned over and then up-ice away from him. He’s part of why Orlov has to give up so much room at the blue line, but also stays in front of the back-checking Kuznetsov, then doesn’t hesitate to get the puck to a dangerous slot when it gets to his stick.

Finally, Gustav Nyquist’s neutral zone hitch to make sure his linemates were setting up appropriately to take advantage of the transition is some masterful work. Pressing too quickly ahead leaves him unsupported, while waiting too long gets Kuzenetsov back in time to break up the play. His pass to Larkin is perfectly-placed as well.

This is the prettiest passing play I can remember the Wings doing this season and I’m going to enjoy watching it on loop for a while still.