Forward Alex Killorn is a polarizing figure for Lightning fans, at least during the regular season. Some think he’s a perfectly fine role player who enhances Tampa’s offensive depth. To others he’s all that is wrong with the salary cap era — an overpaid, underperforming forward who spends too much time on Instagram and not enough time putting the puck in the net.
One thing both sides can agree on: Playoff Alex Killorn is a very good player. He showed his importance to the team in the third period of Game One against the New Jersey Devils as he ripped home the Lightning’s fourth goal of the game and gave them a bit of breathing room in a game they dominated for the majority of the night.
The goal, his 16th career playoff goal, is the subject of today’s video breakdown.
It starts in the Lightning defensive zone. Coach Jon Cooper’s philosophy is that solid defense creates offense. When Tampa is following that mantra, their transition from defense to offense takes a blink of an eye. A prime example happened with just under eight minutes to go in the game. Patrick Maroon of the Devils is trying to pass the puck over to Mirco Mueller, but he is being rushed by Killorn. That forces a quick pass that Yanni Gourde blocks with his skate.
Mueller was drifting toward the Lightning net awaiting the pass, is caught flatfooted as Gourde speeds past him. Killorn keeps skating and is right behind Gourde. Anthony Cirelli is also racing down the ice. As the Lightning burst into the zone with a numerical advantage, each player plays their role perfectly.
Gourde stays along the boards with the puck, Cirelli (highlighted in yellow) races to the front of the net while Killorn drifts in behind the two of them. As Gourde chased after the puck into the Devils’ zone, Mueller could have tried to erase him with a check along the boards, but he must have sensed that he didn’t have enough speed to cut off the Lightning rookie so he retreated to the center of the ice to eliminate the direct pass to Cirelli.
Cirelli is key here. He isn’t even thinking about getting the puck. His role is to draw a defender, in this case John Moore (#2) with him to give Killorn space. The rookie’s secondary role is to set up a screen in front of goaltender Keith Kincaid.
Killorn now has a decision to make.
As his momentum carries him to the center of the ice he can either take a shot or pass it back to Gourde who is open. The first option carries the risk of a blocked shot as he has to thread it through two players and past Kincaid. The benefits of shooting the puck are that a) It’s never a bad idea to shoot and b) Cirelli is in position for a deflection.
The pass option also carries a few risks, the pass to Gourde could be off or deflected by Mueller who is in decent position or Gourde could miss the shot. The benefits aren’t as great. At best, Gourde has a clean shot at a slightly out of position goaltender. The better play is to shoot the puck.
Killorn shoots it past a leaping Cirelli and it goes over Kincaid’s glove, off the bottom of the crossbar and in.
With all of the traffic in front of him, including a leaping Cirelli, it would be hard for Kincaid to see the actual shot.
In fact the behind the net angle indicates he never saw it all.
Killorn delays the shot until Cirelli and Moore (as well as Mueller partially) are in line and then wrists it towards the net. In the snapshot above you can see the puck (circled in yellow) is already past Kincaid but he’s still looking at where Killorn shot the puck from. His head hasn’t moved which indicates he never saw the puck leave the stick.
Was there a little luck involved? Yes. The puck could have hit off any number of things or people in front of the net. It could have caught a little more of the iron and deflected away. However, even if the puck had been knocked down by one of the players in front of the net, or if Kincaid had stopped it somehow, the Lightning still would have had an advantage with the rebound.
They would have been able to attack a loose puck from three angles - Cirelli in front of the net, Gourde (completely unmarked) to the goaltender’s right and Killorn, who has better position after the shot than Muller, to Kincaid’s left.
The Lightning work on rushes like that in practice so that everyone knows exactly what their role is and against the Devils it worked to perfection.