We've spent some time in the past few weeks (and seasons) breaking down what has gone wrong for the Dallas Stars on some fairly baffling goals against. So how about a good change up today and we break down exactly what went right (and where the Anaheim Ducks went so wrong) on John Klingberg's game-tying goal Tuesday night.
We pick the play up just after an icing call with 3:09 left in the second period. The Stars have cut the lead to one on the strength of a Cody Eakin shorthanded goal and are definitely buzzing. Then in the span of ten seconds after an offensive zone faceoff, Klingberg loses every Duck on the ice and Tyler Seguin him finds him streaking down the back door for a slam dunk tying goal.
Here's the entire sequence in moving pictures:
We start on a faceoff in the Ducks zone after an icing. The forward line of Tyler Seguin, Cody Eakin and Jamie Benn are out along with the franken-pair of John Klingberg and Jamie Oleksiak on defense.
Klingberg, Benn and Seguin are circled to give an idea of where they start out on the play. This is a pretty standard faceoff alignment in the offensive zone with the ability for the puck to go up to Klingberg on a one-timer for a clean win.
But the faceoff isn't a clean win, it actually goes laterally to Seguin and Kevin Bieksa, one of whom chunks it into the low corner. Benn either reads or anticipates this and takes off like a shot toward the trapezoid behind the net.
Now, I am highly suspicious that this is a set play, or at least works off the bones of one, for a few reasons I'll detail later. Given that this is technically a faceoff loss, it's probably not a faceoff play, but it could be a cycle play, or it could be a moment of brilliance by everyone involved.
The three main players are circled again, with Benn beating Hampus Lindholm by a full stride to the puck (pretty impressive from where they started the race above), Seguin still tied up with Bieksa and everyone starting to spread out for the play.
Of note here is Klingberg, who is making himself available if Benn wants to rip it up the wall to the point but who is, more importantly, slowly disassociating himself from the pile. That will be really important here shortly.
Benn is carrying the puck around the boards with Seguin following him in support (and using the net as a pick to create separation from both Bieksa and center Rickard Rakell. Oleksiak remains an outlet option.
Eakin gives me my first hint of set play here by staying up a little higher than I'd expect - instead of making himself available in the slot, he is providing the role of distracting (intentionally or not) weak-side winger Andrew Cogliano. At the same time, Klingberg has disappeared into the abyss instead of rotating to the traditional weak-side defenseman slot.
Things don't look all that confused yet, but here is who the Ducks are "tasked" with at this point in a traditional matchup zone style defense:
Wherefore art thou, Klingberg?
This is one thing that makes me think set play, or the bones of one. Klingberg has taken himself out of the play at this point, I believe intentionally, to lose his coverage by Cogliano (who has instead mentally grabbed onto Eakin, which will become increasingly clear as this develops). There's not a whole lot of other reason for him to loop that far north on the play - he's got gap problems if the puck gets turned over, and he's not a great passing option for Benn or Oleksiak if the puck comes up the boards.
I guess you could argue he's making himself available in case Benn wants to rim the puck all the way back to his point, but that would take so long it's not a great option right now.
Meanwhile, in the low corner, Benn continues to bring the puck up the wall with his new buddy Lindholm.
And then he dumps the puck off to Seguin, who has been picked up well enough by Rakell.
The Ducks are actually okay in coverage at this point if they've all correctly identified their man. Rakell on his back keeps Seguin from turning to the net. Lindholm is with Benn. Oleksiak's lane to the net is blocked by Tim Jackman, and Bieksa can recover to Eakin if he needs to.
But note that instead of driving the slot, Eakin continues to fade up higher, much like a weak-side defenseman would. This really draws the attention of Cogliano, who is locked onto Eakin in his periphery and the puck in the corner. He's lost count of the men on the ice and taken the guy in the traditional weak-side defenseman area, not realizing the Stars have actually stacked three guys high.
Seguin is just about to show off the skating skills that make him one of the NHL's elite, but before we get to that, notice again Cogliano. He's tracking Eakin as Eakin fades higher and to the north - his hips are entirely closed to Klingberg, and he's moving nearly parallel to Bieksa. That's not ideal if you're from Anaheim, and given that Eakin is a little far away for the traditional low triangle offense, it points to possible play design.
Benn has rotated off the wall to give Seguin space to work. Seguin, being the elite player that he is, makes a check over his left shoulder to survey the ice (and again, if this is a set play, to see if it's still on). And what does he see?
Hi there, Klingberg and the entire half of the ice in front of you with no Ducks players.
Look how far over Cogliano has been sucked. In recent years, NHL coaches have emphasized that weak-side wingers should be low and available for help, but this is beyond that (and that's even before you consider that Klingberg has literally half of the ice to himself). He's nearly in the face off circle he's been sucked so far over by Eakin.
Bieksa is also signaling for Eakin and clearly thinks that's his man. The Stars three-high offense has now sucked three players (nearly four) above the face off dots and all to one side of the ice.
Seguin has made his cut, losing both Rakell and Jackman, who had stuffed his nose in to help cut off the route to the point. Benn is making his stick available for a pass if necessary, starting to move back to the net and drawing Lindholm's attention. Eakin keeps drifting north and pulling guys with him.
And for the first time, Cogliano has realized there just might be a double coverage situation. I'm not sure if he recognized Bieksa for the first time, heard Klingberg call for the puck or something else, but he's starting to cut in the right direction finally.
Anaheim goalie Frederick Andersen, however, is clueless that there are nine players on one half of the ice and one very open guy on the other side.
Here's the back view of that play, just a tick before the prior screenshot. Cogliano has finally turned his hips (but crucially not his head). You can see how he's really in Eakin's shooting lane at this point rather than actually picking up his defenseman.
Bieksa looks wary of getting sucked up too high by Eakin and he's been caught puck drifting as well, but it's not the worst offense on this play.
Cogliano has gone full red alert here, and for the first time in several frames, there's someone other than Klingberg on his half of the ice. The other four Ducks are in decent position relative to their check (though locked onto the puck rather than looking around), but Seguin is an elite player for a reason.
With the glance he made earlier, he almost certainly realized Klingberg was free to streak down that open wing, set play or not, and now he's double-checking over his right shoulder to size up the pass. This has suddenly become a 3-on-1 behind the strength of Seguin's cut to lose Rakell, how far up Bieksa tracked Eakin and how badly Cogliano misidentified his man.
Lindholm might be able to get a stick or body on this pass if he reads the play is about to go across, but that would require a commitment to abandon Jamie Benn, of all people. I'm also not entirely sure he or Andersen realize the back door play being set up even now.
Benn prevented Lindholm from even thinking about that by dropping low behind the net, taking the defender with him. Rackell has body but not stick position and can't prevent the pass, which leaves Seguin's stick in the frame above.
Andersen is still clueless and glued hard to his post, thinking this might be a sharp angle wrister. Cogliano is wishing he could burn this tape.
Both Andersen and Bieksa realize there's a guy on the back door right about now. Cogliano is already dying inside.
Here's that final glance and pass from Seguin in GIF form. It really is an elite setup play on his part, starting from the cut and ending with a perfect backhand pass that allows Klingberg to one-time the puck in stride.
Just for giggles, you can also see Bieksa's exasperated glance at Cogliano at the very tail end. This really is mostly his fault:
Like I said, to me this reads like a set play, from Klingberg's very deliberate decision to get lost at the far point to Eakin's high route without venturing into the slot. Whether it's designed for a face off loss, a face off win and dump to a corner or simply the cycle is up for debate and how much of it is set versus how much is read and react is as well.
Regardless of how they got there though, this is beautiful design and execution from the Stars.
Yes, Cogliano should have done (much) better to identify the correct man, even when Klingberg went off to wander out yonder, as my grandfather used to say. He almost certainly got the rolled up newspaper on the nose treatment in video review.
But the Stars play design doesn't make it easy on him. Klingberg does a lovely job getting lost, and Seguin and Benn cycle to perfection. Eakin provides defensive backup in case this puck gets turned over, and his initial drift after the face off provides a nice weak-side defenseman decoy that likely played a big role in distracting Cogliano.
And no one on the ice gives away the really, really open guy on the weak side. At least half of the Ducks on the ice don't know Klingberg is there until the puck goes into the net.
This is a wonderfully designed and executed play by Dallas that shows off exactly the type of high end skill and playmaking ability that makes them so dangerous.