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Micro Analysis: Canadiens’ lack of defensive awareness cost them versus Lightning

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Some simple rules of defending were abandoned, and the result was a disappointing loss.

Montreal Canadiens v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

Sometimes a game comes down to the basics. When those are not executed properly, they cost you wins. Basics habits, like shoulder-checking, need to consistently be reinforced, otherwise they slip the mind in pressure situations.

Three Montreal Canadiens defenders failed to turn their heads to scan the defensive zone on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first goal of the game.

Attackers on the side opposite the puck cleverly snuck away from coverage. A forward moved up to the blue line and a defenceman exchanged with him, gliding down on the wall behind the backs of Tomas Tatar and Shea Weber. The veteran defenceman didn’t locate the threat, and instead raced to take away a tip attempt in front of the net that never came, double covering in the process.

Ben Chiarot quickly switched with Weber, but didn’t see Ryan McDonagh now moving to the front of the net from the wall. He just inferred the positioning of the next pass by reading the Lightning player at the point — not enough to stop it.

The next three goals were bad rush defences. On some of those goals, players again failed to shoulder-check to adequately identify threats behind them, and that allowed the Lightning to hit trailing shooters. Or they stopped skating before they had defensive positioning on the attacker they were responsible for.

There were also breakdowns when players didn’t adequately read off each other. One defenceman chased the play; another played too aggressively, pressuring the puck-carrier when the attacker had a nearby passing option. It unexpectedly moved him out of position and enabled the rest of the Lightning’s plays.

Defence is rarely set plays. It’s about catching up and identifying the right stance to take. The earlier players make the right decision, the easier it is to neutralize the opposition. After being assertive and thwarting the Lightning’s offence at its inception in the first 15 or so minutes of the game, the Habs let up. Tampa caught momentum and moved the puck faster than defensive sticks could stop it. It became anyone’s game, and with a dose of luck, the Lightning came out on top.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s deceptive shooting

Max Domi’s goal was arguably the better shot, but it simply came down to pinpoint precision. Andrei Vasilevskiy was set for the release, but it didn’t matter. Domi found a tiny bit of space above his glove.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s release was more complex; a throwback to some of the goals he scored in his draft year.

He attacked the space in front of him off of the turnover. As his stick was about to meet the defender’s, he kept his blade extended, presenting a target for the pokecheck, but dragged it laterally inside at the last moment to avoid it.

It opened a firing lane between the legs of the defender. The dragged motion and the opposing body masked the release, and it flew to the top of the net short-side. Watch the goalie’s reaction; he had no idea where the shot was aimed.

The goal was a great reminder of Kotkaniemi’s skill and ingenuity. It took him only a second to plan his goal, and his execution was flawless.