Paul Byron is a player known for his gamebreaking speed. When he gets loose on an opposing defence, any little misstep is a chance for him to burn them and put the puck in the back of the net.
That same quickness comes out in more than just his goal-scoring, as Charlie McAvoy found out this past season. With Jonathan Drouin on the injured list, it was Byron who stepped into a role at centre alongside Max Pacioretty, and the duo connected for a fantastic opening goal, primarily set up by Byron’s defensive wit and quick feet.
After losing the puck to McAvoy (black arrow) behind the Boston Bruins’ net, Byron (red arrow) pursues him up the right-side boards. The Bruins have numbers going forward as McAvoy leads the rush out of the zone, while Max Pacioretty and Charles Hudon try to get back into the play.
As McAvoy hits the neutral zone, there are just two Habs defenders back (blue arrows): Jeff Petry and Jakub Jerabek. They’re preparing to defend a four-man rush (black arrows), while the Canadiens forwards (red arrows) attempt to catch up. However, as McAvoy moves to cut slightly toward the middle of the ice, he begins to lose control of the puck as Byron closes in on him.
Byron jumps into the play, knocking the puck off of McAvoy’s stick, picking it up and beginning the transition back into the Bruins’ zone. This abrupt change to the flow of play leaves the Bruins vulnerable as they have just one defender back, and four players forward on the halted rush. Montreal can now turn into the offensive zone with three forwards thanks to Byron’s puck thievery.
Now Byron has control of the puck and is turning to bring it over the blue line. Pacioretty has crossed back into the neutral zone, and will begin his path back opposite Byron, while Hudon is cutting toward the benches to swing wide into the zone. Behind these three forwards are four Bruins players scrambling back into their positions, providing Byron with ample time to enter the offensive zone.
Byron and Pacioretty have entered the zone now, with Zdeno Chara (black arrow) being the only defender back. The two forwards begin to widen their paths a bit to create a passing lane. The difficulty here is that Chara must also contend with Hudon, who is unchecked at the top of the zone, and has to make the choice to either try to minimize the passing lane, or focus on taking out Byron entirely.
Chara makes the right play, trying to cut the passing lane between Byron and Pacioretty using his massive reach. Unfortunately for the giant Slovak, the puck makes its way through him across the zone to Pacioretty, who in uncontested.
The backhand from Byron beats Chara by the narrowest of margins and with all that space, and Chara unable to recover, Pacioretty uncorks a snapshot from the top of the faceoff circle that beats Tuukka Rask for the opening goal of the game.
It’s clear the person who makes it all happen is Paul Byron. His hustle to pressure the puck-carrier defused a potential four-on-two rush for the Bruins, and turned it into a three-on-one goal for his own team.
Quick feet and a deft stick aided him well, and it’s a trend that he showed quite a bit this past season. With smart stick positioning on the ice, Byron is able to turn plays around in an instant with his speed, and that serves to only benefit Montreal going forward.