After being held scoreless through 40 minutes in Edmonton last Sunday evening, the Canadiens hadn’t scored in 5 straight periods. They had been dominated by the Calgary Flames in a 5-0 loss on Thursday, and found themselves trailing 1-0 entering the third period at Rogers Place. The Habs desperately needed a goal to tie the game, and give themselves a chance to regain the Atlantic Division lead over the Ottawa Senators.
With under 6 minutes to go in regulation, Paul Byron gave them just what they needed. Byron’s typical goals usually come off of odd-man rushes or breakaways. Often, he springs free on a counterattack or penalty kill, when his blinding speed gives him a decided advantage in a footrace to a loose puck.
This goal is different. Byron shows some quick thinking to go along with his fast feet, and he, Philip Danault and Brendan Gallagher show a nice combination of skill and trust as they turn a loose puck below the goal line into a momentum-shifting scoring chance.
Brendan Gallagher chips the puck in deep, then fights to retrieve it below the goal line with Edmonton’s Kris Russell (4), Benoit Pouliot (67), and Andrej Sekera (2). Byron moves into a support position above the goal line, and Danault moves in from behind the net.
Gallagher knocks the puck toward Byron.
Byron passes it back below the goal line to Philip Danault, then quickly changes direction and heads toward the net.
Danault protects the puck, and with his back to Byron, threads a brilliant backhand pass through the challenges of Pouliot and Russell.
Byron, having changed direction to now be on his forehand, receives the puck in position to shoot. Talbot is worth a look now as well. He faces toward Byron, shoulders square to the threat in a Reverse V-H position.
As Byron drives across the top of the crease, Talbot shifts his weight off of his post pad, dropping his anchor leg to seal the ice. However, he’s underestimated Byron’s speed, and he’s already in trouble.
Talbot’s error is that he doesn’t prepare to actively push across once Byron commits to a move across the crease. He could engage his left skate, allow his stick blade to cover his five hole, and extend across the goal line on a shallow angle (black arrow below). Instead, he allows his momentum to take him on a passive slide diagonally (red dashed arrow) toward the top right crease.
Had Talbot pushed across the shallower angle, the shorter distance would have enabled him to cover the far post more quickly, and negated Byron’s speed. Talbot then would only have had to worry about Byron being able to sharply elevate the puck from a difficult stick angle.
Even with his diagonal path, it’s possible that with a more active push, Talbot might might have been able to cut off Byron’s move to the far post.
Instead, Talbot’s passive slide allows Byron’s speed to carry the play. Byron beats him across the angle, and the far post is open.
Now back to Byron and his linemates. Gallagher begins the play by chipping the puck deep and then, as he usually does, out battles three Edmonton defenders to get the loose puck to Byron.
When Byron initially receives the puck as a release for Gallagher, he is on his backhand and moving toward the corner, where he would be able to be challenged by Sekera.
Byron sees Danault in position below the goal line, and even though the three Edmonton defenders are also low, they are facing away from Danault, so Byron chips it back to his center (black arrow). Former Hab David Desharnais (13), clearly anticipating a release back to the right point, moves to cover that option (orange arrow), and takes himself away from Byron. Zack Kassian (44) is also clearly not expecting the play to come across the middle, and remains unengaged.
When Byron passes back to Danault, reverses and drives the net, the two essentially run a simple give and go that allows Byron to free himself from 4 defenders at once, and change his role from puck protector to attacker. Danault, for his part, shows strong awareness and stick skills. He draws the defense while protecting the puck, and finds a lane to get the puck back to Byron where he has the option either to shoot, or outmaneuver Talbot with his speed.
At no point in the entire sequence do Gallagher, Danault, and Byron risk an Oiler counterattack with their short passes. The three Habs forwards occupy three defenders deep in the offensive zone, and position themselves in such a way that they have high and low puck pressure that can disrupt any easy defensive outlet should they lose possession.
This is aggressive, low-risk, offensive hockey in which three teammates optimize their own play and trust in their teammates. Philip Danault and Brendan Gallagher help put Paul Byron in a position to force an outstanding goaltender into a small mistake, and Byron is able to use his greatest asset, his speed, to score a late goal that changes the course of an important game.