The Red Wings salvaged their fathers’ & mentors trip with a win in Nashville on Tuesday night. It wasn’t a particularly pretty victory, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it was stolen either. For this Key Play Breakdown, I’m going to focus on the first goal of the game because it works pretty well as a microcosm for how the whole game went: Detroit worked hard and took advantage of the luck that seems to go your way when you put in that work.
The play starts as Anthony Mantha steps in front of a Kyle Turris zone entry attempt and forces him to dump it, allowing the Wings to gain possession and start working on transition. This transition comes as Danny DeKeyser passes to Trevor Daley, who rims it up the boards back to Mantha. PK Subban steps up and deflects Mantha’s attempt to tip it out of the zone, but a hard-charging Luke Glendening coming in to help cover picks it up in the middle and immediately heads up ice with speed.
The speed of Glendening gets him into the Nashville zone while the Preds are trying to change behind the play and allows him time to rag the puck and allow the Wings to change. As two Predators players converge on Glendening at the half-wall, he finally dumps it behind the Preds’ net where Filip Forsberg knocks it down. Here, Forsberg bobbles the puck, which gives Andreas Athanasiou time to get in on him and deliver pressure that makes the young forward throw the puck past AA up the boards where Christoffer Ehn is the first man on it.
Under immediate pressure from Ryan Johnasen, Ehn pushes the puck back to Nick Jensen at the point. With nobody closer to Jensen than the aforementioned Johansen, Jensen has space to pull it off the boards to the middle and take a half-windup slapper that gives his forwards time to create traffic in front of Rinne.
This delay pays off as Glendening is in good position in front to tip the puck into the net off Rinne to give the Red Wings a 1-0 advantage.
Credit Where Credit is Due
If you live in a black-and-white world where you can only either credit one team for a great play or blame the other for a screwup, then the weight of Nashville mistakes would reasonably lead you to not give any credit to the Wings for scoring here. If you look back at the screenshot of the play right before Forsberg turns it over, you can see he has the easy play to Subban to turn it up the middle (and that he shouldn’t have bobbled the puck in the first place).
You could also argue that Subban doesn’t help by kind of lollygagging on this play - same with Roman Josi. Maybe you want to blame the only Predator hustling on this play, Ryan Johansen, for hustling TOO much and giving Jensen too much space.
All those are valid criticisms of the Predators’ breakdowns, but I want to spend a moment and highlight the work that both Glendening and Athanasiou do to establish good positioning on the turnover that ends up leading to the goal but which also has them set up to prevent any sort of clean transition in the event the Jensen shot doesn’t end up going into the net.
Take a look at the behind-the-net cam of how Glendening bumps into Josi to establish his position in the net-front and how Athanasiou slides in front of Forsberg and sets his feet:
The key to this is the Red Wings either beat their men to the spot or they outwork the guy in the spot they need to be in. What’s more is that both players are positioned between the Predators player and the Wings’ zone. It may not seem like much and it may not seem that important almost 200 feet from their own net, but this is the kind of “good defense” I want to see the Wings playing. Both Glendening and Athanasiou are in position to take advantage of Jensen’s room to shoot and both players are in position to keep the man they’re responsible for covering from being able to join a potential rush the other way cleanly.
Hockey is a game where you will often see a team having to take risks in order to score goals. After Detroit’s recent struggles filling the net, you might expect that those risks would increase (and to be honest, they kind of did in this game), but this simple play shows that good fundamentals and attention to detail can lead to good results. The Wings don’t do anything particularly flashy or risky on this sequence; they play it in a way that can lead to only two results: either they score, or nothing of note happens. It may not be the most-exciting thing, but a coach will take his team limiting things to those two options any day.
Finally, I’d be remiss to not say that Mantha breaking up the zone entry and Glendening’s hustle on the transition out of his own zone are big reasons for this play developing as it did. I also can’t help but think that Athanasiou’s speed is part of why Forsberg made the mental mistake of passing the puck straight to Christoffer Ehn rather than taking an extra half-second to realize he has a better play.