[Video Breakdown] Gliding, Bad Play Read Lead to New York Rangers Game Winner Against Dallas Stars
A very bad shift from an individual gave the Rangers the late win over Dallas.
Sometimes in hockey, a whole bunch of little mistakes add up to a great goal against, and sometimes everyone does everything right, but a brilliant offensive play leaves no option for the defense and goalie.
But other times, there's an individual who makes a series of mistakes ranging from execution to recovery and who is the largest reason the puck ends up in the back of the net. The New York Rangers game winning goal appears to be one of those times.
Here's the play in moving pictures:
Be aware there are a couple minor things you can criticize on this play, which I will try to point out as I go along. But for a goal that's not simply one player getting turned inside out, this is as easy to pin on an individual as we've had in a long time.
Simply put, this is not a play Jamie Oleksiak is going to put on his personal highlight reel.
We start with a relatively simple late-game scenario, with the puck going to the wall and a defenseman on his way to clear it.
Everyone is positioned pretty well. Jordie Benn is providing backup coverage in front of the net, Oleksiak is pursuing the puck, Cody Eakin is low center support and left wing Jamie Benn is busting to the wall to be the outlet option.
Oleksiak has clearly won this race and is ready to push the puck up for the breakout. Everyone else is still in good supportive position, as Eakin is back for 2-on-3 coverage if there is a turnover. But that's a low probability at this point.
Except that lead Oleksiak built with his stride is disappearing as he takes an oddly long time to get the puck loaded on his stick. Even in this shot, though, he has time to make a good saucer up pass up the boards before Jesper Fast gets his stick in play.
With the time and situation, this needs to be a relatively hard pass. But as we'll see...
The pass is weak and relatively flat, giving Fast plenty of time to pick it off.
This is a bad pass, but things are still very recoverable. Eakin is in good position to put pressure on Fast, giving Oleksiak plenty of time to recover to the more dangerous area in front of the net. Take note that there are only two Rangers players in the picture, indicating the rest are up high and will likely be cutting back low soon.
Fast has enough time to collect the puck and turn, with Eakin coming up to provide pressure. Fast could get a shot off here, so Eakin is trying to cut that angle (which is more clear in the next shot). He doesn't get there, but it's not a bad read of the play since he's close enough to provide that pressure. Ideally, though, you'd like him to not allow this very dangerous pass to a streaking player in the slot as well.
What is really not helpful is what Oleksiak is doing offscreen, which will become clear below:
Instead of recognizing the numbers of the situation (remember, there are no Rangers in the corner or behind the net, so the puck going back that direction is both low risk and low likelihood), Oleksiak has glided out to double Eakin's coverage of the passing lane. The problem is, as you can see, Kevin Klein is entering the picture with no coverage, and that has become Oleksiak's man after Eakin's switch to Fast.
Oleksiak doesn't have an ideal angle, but with a strong push, he does have time to get out on Klein and at least pressure him, allowing Jordie Benn to take the far winger and play this as a straight 2-on-2. For the best chance of getting there, he would need to stop and re-accelerate forward in the new direction, as his curl out of the corner puts him at a bad angle.
So the situation is now far from ideal, but it's going to get worse because of instead of stopping in the corner after the turnover and accelerating to pick up the coverage, Oleiskak is taking a slow (some would say lazy) option of continuing to glide through his turn and heading back to the net, away from the puck and the danger.
This is where that decision really shows. In motion, it's clear Oleksiak turns to his right (toward the net), then crosses over to go to his left once he's below the face off dot. But by this time, Klein has taken advantage of the time and space available, and Benn is left playing a very deep, very narrow 2-on-1. He's in good position to deal with his original player, but he's way too far from Klein (Oleksiak's man) to be useful there.
Now everyone converges on the puck. Benn is trying to provide a block, Oleksiak is finally taking forward strides and not gliding (far too late) and everyone has gone into red-alert mode. What's notable is the Rangers actually don't play this that well, at least in my option. The far winger could have made life tactically a lot more difficult if he went low and to the far post for a rebound rather than parking in the slot. As it is, Benn can almost double-cover them.
But the Rangers won't care about that on replay because...
Benn can't close all the way because fear of the rebound. Oleksiak is still covering no one, and the screen surely doesn't help Kari Lehtonen as the puck goes back against the grain a bit.
I don't think Jordie Benn helped on this play, but I'm not sure he could have done much else other than bailed and allowed Lehtonen a clear look at the shooter (which goes against every shot-blocking defenseman's instinct, especially with the other Ranger on the play standing about five feet away). Neither he nor Eakin get demerits in my read of this, but they probably won't be happy with how they handled this play.
Oleksiak's problems on this play go far beyond "won't be happy with it" though. The turnover was not ideal and shows a fair lack of situational awareness (which is fairly common among some of the defensemen), but the attempt at a recovery was much more concerning. There are multiple points of failure there, from the gliding instead of striding to the decision to go back toward the net and away from the danger in the slot.
Stills give you the sense of how those decisions created the space Klein needed, but the moving pictures make this look worse rather than better.
This is the type of play that is concerning on a number of levels, not the least of which is that it's a low-effort type mistake happening with three minutes left in a tied game. If there are times an athlete's urgency will be naturally up, it's here. And beyond that, the tactical recognition failure is a pretty basic one. There are no complicated crossing patterns with picks here, just a simple switch off a turnover.