Note: This is not the first time I've written about this particular topic. During last year's playoff series against the Ottawa Senators, I broke down Dale Weise's overtime game-winner and there are some strong similarities to what you are about to see here.
It's natural to wish for good things to happen when you step on the ice. Stanley Cups have been won and lost off of fluke bounces, and it sure helps to be lucky when everyone around you is so good. But the problem with getting lucky on the ice is the same as when you get lucky at the craps table: it sometimes leads you to draw the wrong conclusions.
Take a look at Tomas Fleischmann's goal against the Washington Capitals on Thursday night:
On the one hand, the goal was a sweet finish off a faceoff win, which any coach would love to show to their team during a video meeting. On the other hand, very little of this play is repeatable. Trying to run it in the future is, in all likelihood, a really bad idea.
It's like hitting on 18 in Blackjack and being dealt a Three of Clubs. It's dumb luck, you should just move on pretend it never happened.
Faceoffs until your face falls off
Most coaches will hate me for saying this, but despite how much they love to teach set plays off the draw, faceoffs are possibly the most overrated part of the game. Stats professor Michael Schuckers ran the numbers a few years ago, and came to the conclusion that, at the NHL level, it would take about 75 additional faceoff wins to produce one goal. When you compare it to the one-in-eleven odds of creating a goal off of any type of a shot, and the values of controlled versus dump-in entries, you may realize that coaches already spend too much time going over something that doesn't matter all that much.
But whatever. Hockey is played on the ice, not on spreadsheets. Here, David Desharnais (not a great faceoff guy by any means) wins it cleanly back to P.K. Subban. That's a good thing.
Double or nothing
Subban gets the pass from Desharnais and starts backpedaling, drawing Washington forwards toward him while his partner Andrei Markov mirrors. Subban then goes D-to-D, moving the puck from his side of the ice to Markov in order to buy his teammates some time for a regroup.
Markov is gliding backwards and the play now looks like this:
This is not good.
Markov has little time (the Caps forecheck is bearing down on him), no options (the other Caps forechecker has cut off Subban), and no support (all three Habs forwards are outside of the D-zone). A guy like Subban, Erik Karlsson or Duncan Keith may be able to hit the brakes and shake & bake past the Washington forward, but Markov is a 36-year-old with bad knees. Looks like a dump-out is going to be in the cards here.
To recap, the Habs managed to win the faceoff, but are about to give the puck right back to their opponents.
Hand of God
Markov flips the puck out of the zone. It's the safe and sensible thing to do, even if doing it on a consistent basis is not conducive to a team posting a Corsi For percentage greater than 48%.
But the Habs catch a break here, courtesy of Capitals defenseman Dmitri Orlov (#9, the guy who looks like he is hailing a cab in the screencap below).
Instead of going down the rink for an icing call, the puck hits the tip of Orlov's glove and bounces straight up, allowing Fleischmann (next to Orlov) and Desharnais (far blue line) to get back into the play. Not only is Desharnais back in the play, but he has control of the puck at the Washington blueline and spots Dale Weise coming in at full speed as a passing option.
By the way, this is the first time that Weise comes into the frame since the neutral-zone faceoff. When Markov had the puck, Weise could have been providing a viable passing option in the middle of the ice instead of chilling out on the far side of the ice. But being out of the play allows him to pick up speed and cut through the middle unchecked here.
Desharnais gets a friendly bounce off the puck, which is bobbling like crazy, and somehow connects with Weise despite Jason Chimera (WSH #25) getting a stick in the passing lane. Now, it's a clear-cut 2-on-1 and Fleischmann does well to bury the Weise cross-slot feed.
Even though the play ended up in the back of the Washington net, I'd suggest that the Habs got seriously lucky to not be hemmed in their zone the entire time. As previously mentioned, getting a lucky bounce on a goal is okay, and even occasionally necessary at this level. However, it would be a big mistake to expect this play to happen regularly, and an even bigger mistake for the coaching staff to take this clip and show it as an example of what to do.
When you win a big hand at the casino, it's usually best to take your winnings, run out of the building and never come back. Because after all, the house always wins.
Jack Han is the Video & Analytics Coordinator for the McGill Martlet Hockey team. He also writes occasionally about the NHL for Habs Eyes on the Prize. You can find him on Twitter or on the ice at McConnell Arena.