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Key Play Breakdown: No Snip Show in the Basement Battle

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The Wings earned their first shutout of the season on February 2nd as they blanked the Senators 2-0 in a Larkin-less game that, let’s face it was pretty boring.

But hey, they won and we got goals! Both of Detroit’s markers came in the first period just 39 seconds apart. Outside of these, you could also list some of Jonathan Bernier’s 35 saves as key plays of this one, but to be honest, most of those were pretty garden-variety and the best one I can remember came with about ten seconds left in the game where a goal likely wouldn’t have affected the outcome anyway.

Here’s the eventual game-winner, set up by some good forechecking, passing, and good body work:

The Setup

The sequence starts as a defensive zone faceoff win for Frans Nielsen that Danny DeKeyser collects and dumps up the boards for Luke Glendening to settle and push up to Nielsen jumping into the zone with speed for a scoring chance that Craig Anderson stops. As the puck goes behind the net, Nielsen is bodied off by Maxime Lajoie, who makes a pass to Ryan Dzingel, but the Ottawa forward delays with it and Nielsen’s hustle allows him back into the play to cut him off and steal the puck back.

With control now in the corner, Nielsen tries a pass back to Nick Jensen at the point, but the puck bounces over the stick and out of the zone, forcing the Wings to reset. Jensen-to-DeKeyser-to-Vanek tips the puck back in and sets up the forecheck for Mantha to win a race against Lajoie to the corner on Anderson’s right.

From here, Mantha takes up body position and simply outmuscles Lajoie up the boards until the defender is forced to back off and hand over coverage to Matt Duchene. Mantha beats this coverage with a nifty move and backand pass across the blue line to Vanek in the middle

The Finish

Vanek now has the puck at the top of the zone in the middle lane and is supported by Nick Jensen on the right side and Mantha covering back up high. As Vanek moves down, Danny DeKeyser comes up from the net-front area to switch back off. While this is happening, Vanek hands it off to Jensen at the top of the circle to get around Bobby Ryan.

From here, Vanek keeps himself in good shooting position in the slot while Nielsen battles in front of the net. Jensen waits until he clears Bobby Ryan’s stick right around the dot and sends the return pass back across the middle. This pass is slightly behind Vanek and the shooting lane is now occupied by the stick of Dzingel. Instead of trying a move that would have exposed the Wings to a very likely odd-man rush against if it were to fail, Vanek immediately pushes the puck back up to DeKeyser in the middle about halfway between the circles and the blue line. DK collects it, changes the angle to get around Ryan, and blasts a slapper that Andersen doesn’t see through Frans Nielsen and Cody Ceci.

Credit Where Credit is Due

I really like this sequence because it features all five skaters factoring into the play (six, if you count Glendening before he came off for Vanek) and also features the Red Wings simply outworking and outmuscling their competition. Of course, anywhere you can lay credit for one team, you can also lay blame for the other, so we’ll say that Ottawa fans can’t be happy with Dzingel hesitating with the puck, Lajoie getting shrugged off by Mantha like a fly, Duchene’s weak coverage on the pass at the point, Ceci losing the position battle to Nielsen in front of the net, or Ryan chasing lanes and covering neither Vanek nor Jensen effectively, but Ottawa fans have enough to be miserable about so we won’t harp on those things and instead we’ll focus on all of those things as well-executed plays by the Red Wings.

I especially liked Frans Nielsen on this shift. I don’t think he had a terribly effective game overall, but this shift was a very good reminder what he’s capable of doing. His hustle and positioning help the Wings keep possession and find the lane to the net for the ultimate goal.

Anthony Mantha is a treat to watch when he’s using his reach and his size as the advantages they can be. He’s been really good lately at using a slight delay to let defenders get close enough to him for him to be able to use his hands to escape them without getting trapped along the boards. It’s something you see Abdelkader try a lot too, but Mantha is way better at it. The little shrug pass to Vanek was a dandy as well.

Speaking of Vanek, he’s another guy I can’t say had an overall good game, but showed his upside very well on this sequence. He’s very much got a scorer’s sense of how to make things happen and the way he moved to create the lanes on the end of the play and also to avoid the unnecessary extra risky move showcases that high hockey IQ he has.

Jensen and DeKeyser both make good reads to know when they need to jump lower in the zone and when they need to get back and hand coverage back off. The Wings are much harder to defend when they activate their defense and this sequence is a near-perfect showcase of how such activation should look. DK is playing net-front at one point, but crosses over exactly where he should when the play dictates it. Jensen knows he can pinch with DK coming back because he also knows he has Mantha as the last man back after the pass to Vanek, allowing him to help create the danger that makes room for DeKeyser’s shot to materialize.