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Breaking Down Habs Film: Controlled zone exits lead to scoring opportunities

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Players get praised for the 'simple play' way too often in the NHL, because it generally leads to giving away the puck. In this case, Sekac didn't make the simple play, he instead chose the right play.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Tomas Plekanec's game-winning goal on Tuesday night was pretty, but as per usual with most hockey goals the play started 150 feet away, in the defensive zone. Let's take a look at how a simple play led to a fantastic goal.

Seems pretty simple. Sven Andrighetto finds a streaking Tomas Plekanec, who makes no mistake and buries the puck behind Ryan Miller.

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Sergei Gonchar does a good job with his defensive coverage, and manages to shuffle the puck over to Jiri Sekac, who's supporting his defensemen properly. This support seems to be normal occurrence on most hockey teams, however the Canadiens have struggled with the concept in the past.  Instead of cheating up high, Sekac gives Gonchar an easy pass option.

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Sekac is instantly pressured by the Canucks defender, which leaves him with two options. He can flip the puck up into the neutral zone, and immediately lose possession, almost guaranteeing no offensive opportunity will arise. The other option, available to Sekac due to his high hockey IQ and vision, is to attempt to get the puck into an area on the ice controlled by the Canadiens.

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Sekac uses his body to protect the puck, and pivots towards Plekanec. A simple maneuver? Yes. But one that allows the Canadiens to immediately counterattack the Canucks, who now find themselves with four men deep.

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Short passes are key when trying to leave the defensive zone with control of the puck. Sekac's original pass is a little off, although Plekanec's quick thinking allows him to push the puck to point man on the break, Sven Andrighetto. Instead of giving the puck away, the Canadiens now find themselves with a legitimate scoring opportunity.

Tomas Plekanec plays a trick on Alex Burrows, who's clearly out of his element covering for Luca Sbisa. Plekanec's first strides give Burrows the impression that he's going to attempt to beat him on the outside, however Plekanec quickly changes his trajectory during Burrows' pivot, and gains the inside lane.

Sven Andrighetto has two options. Dump the puck in deep, lose possession and attempt to re-establish puck control, or use his play making abilities to gain controlled access to the offensive zone. Fortunately for Andrighetto, Tomas Plekanec decides it's time to shed his coverage, and by doing so gives Andrighetto a passing option once he enters the offensive zone. Plekanec's speed forces Bieksa to back off Andrighetto, because if he decides to challenge him, Andrighetto could simply flip the puck to Plekanec for an easy breakaway.

Plekanec's speed & trajectory pays off, as he finds himself ahead of both Alex Burrows and Luca Sbisa. Andrighetto feeds him with a perfect pass, and the rest is history.

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The Canadiens struggle when it comes to both controlled zone exits, and controlled zone entries. This is often blamed on the defencemen, but the truth is without the help of forwards, the theory of maintaining the puck while exiting the zone is impossible to apply. Jiri Sekac's refusal to treat the puck like a hot potato, and his ability to find an area on the ice controlled by his linemates is the main reason this goal got the chance to see the light of day.

Tomas Plekanec's ability to shed his coverage, and Sven Andrighetto's patience with the puck put the finishing touches on what ended up being the game-winning goal, but the play started 50 feet away from Carey Price.

Hockey is a fast game. Often times small details get lost in the shuffle, yet it's these small plays that can lead to counterattack scoring opportunities. Considering the Canadiens are a skilled team, they probably shouldn't struggle with controlled exits and controlled entries as much as they do. Players like Andrighetto and Sekac can help them buck the trend, as long as they're not ordered to stifle their creativity in favour of the 'simple play', ie: losing control of the puck voluntarily via chipping it out of the zone, or dumping it behind the net.

In this particular case, Sekac didn't make the safe play, he made the right play.