As we all recover from a rather fun Super Bowl game let’s start the work day by rolling the clock all the way back to Saturday night. The Lightning shut out the San Jose Sharks to finish off their West Coast road trip and for the second night in a row Nikita Kucherov provided a third period insurance goal. He did it with his usual subdued flair.
Tampa Bay is playing with a tremendous amount of confidence these days, and when they do, they pull off goals like this routinely. It’s the type of goal, that if they’re in a bit of a rut, they might not pull off. There are moments on this rush when decisions have to be made, and when they are rolling it seems they make all the right choices.
As a reminder here is the goal:
It starts off innocently enough. The Lightning have the puck in their own zone and it starts with a clean breakout pass along the boards by Victor Hedman. Nikita Kucherov taps it to Brayden Point. Now the Lightning are off to the races. Few teams would want to see a trio of Point, Stamkos and Kucherov racing down the ice. They are able to race through the neutral zone because Kucherov puts the pass in front of Point, allowing him to skate into it without breaking slide. Any type of stutter or delay would have allowed the Sharks forwards to engage in the play sooner.
Still, the Sharks defense is in pretty good position. They haven’t pinched too far up and have space and time to retreat back into their blueline without Point blowing by them. Steven Stamkos is drifting wide in case Erik Karlsson (Sharks defender at the top of the screen) drifts towards Point too quickly.
Karlsson does drift to the middle of the ice as Point crosses the center red line. He is, however, in position to defend any passes to Stamkos, who has slowed a bit to stay on side. This is a moment of decision for Point. Does he drive the blueline hoping the defenders back off and not swat the puck off his stick or does he make the safe play and dump it in and chase?
If he dumps it in, the Lightning will have numbers and speed and most likely win the puck along the boards. It wouldn’t be the wrong play, but it would be the safer play. Sometimes that’s what a team that is scuffling along does. Point chooses to trust his skill and speed and attacks the blue line. Karlsson and Brent Burns back off and allow him into the zone. As they collapse on him, Point flicks a backhand pass to Stamkos.
How many times earlier in the season did we see this pass drift back over the blueline leading to an offside play by the Lightning? I’m not really sure, but at least a few times. Point keeps driving to the net while Burns and Karlsson ignore him. Not a bad idea when you have one of the league’s best shooters with the puck on his stick heading to the top of the circles.
Karlsson pulls up to keep Stamkos from going wide where the defenseman would be on an island by himself. He also avoids getting picked by Point (something you’ll occasionally see on similar plays in overtime). At this point Stamkos kind of has limited options. He can try and shoot through Karlsson or pass it to a streaking Kucherov who is covered by a backchecking Evander Kane. Stamkos chooses to pass.
That’s not bad coverage. Karlsson and Kane both could have deflected that pass, but they didn’t. Kucherov is coasting with a little more speed than Kane, who is towards the end of his shift, and gets inside position on him. The Russian forward does a great job of using his right arm to knock Kane’s stick away from the puck (a little blurry in the screenshot below).
Still, the Sharks are in a pretty good defensive position. Kucherov is surrounded and getting forced to his backhand. Aaron Dell has a pretty good view of the puck. Stamkos is pretty much out of the play and it would take a heck of a pass to get the puck to Point.
This is where Kucherov’s skill takes over and things break down for the Sharks. Burns goes for a sweep check and misses. Now he’s in trouble, because Kucherov isn’t slowing down.
Burns is leaning the wrong way, Karlsson is a step too slow to react, Kane is left in the dust, and Dell has to quickly retreat in his crease because now Point is a threat. If Kucherov slides a pass over to him, it’ll be an easy tap in.
Kucherov breezes past Burns, who makes one last desperate attempt to kick at the puck, and now has space, and a partial screen by point to shoot the puck. Dell doesn’t leave him much room.
You could argue that Dell dropped down to his left pad a little early, but there is a good reason for that. The chances of Kucherov beating him high on a backhand from that far out is unlikely. He has a better chance of flipping it over the net if he goes high. Dell has to worry about a low backhander along the ice, or Point deflecting a shot down in front of him.
Kucherov makes the goalscorer’s shot by putting it over the glove and under the bar. Just a remarkable display of skill that he does so smoothly that it belies how difficult it was. The goal is a great showcase of how the Lightning use their speed and skill to score off the rush. When they’re rolling like they are now, it’s tremendous fun to watch.
All eyes were on the football world as the Kansas City Chiefs came back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in an entertaining Super Bowl, 31-20. The real winner in the commercial wars came in the fourth quarter as Bill Murray reprised one of his iconic roles to help Jeep sell their Rubicon:
Helmets on furry animals works all of the time.
There was actual hockey played on Super Bowl Sunday:
Pittsburgh 4, Washington 3 - Brandon Tanev scored the eventual game winner with less than three minutes to go while Lars Eller had two tallies for Washington.
Columbus 4, Montreal 3 - Pierre-Luc Dubois had two goals and an assist while Elvis Merzlikins made 27 saves to pick up his tenth win on the season.
Carolina 4, Vancouver 3 (SO) - Justin Williams had the deciding goal in a shootout as Carolina moved to a record of 3-1 since he returned from his super long offseason.
Congratulations on being born today! You share your birthday with former Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jim Campbell. The veteran forward was signed as a free agent following the lock out and appeared in one game for the Bolts. He played 8:47 in the Lightning’s 1-0 overtime win against the New York Rangers. Campbell had no points and no shots, but did pick up a holding penalty at the end of the first period.