Avalanche

Avalanche Film Room: Teamwork makes the dream work

The debut of Avalanche Film Room breaks down some beautiful team work by the Colorado Avalanche.

CREDIT: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

As we’ve hit the bye week for the Colorado Avalanche, it’s time to introduce something the other teams here at BSN have been doing for a while: Film Room! In these pieces, we’ll be breaking down tape and showing off different things, some good and some bad.

To start off with, I’m going to look at what I think has been the goal of the year so far for the Avalanche. While you can make plenty of solid arguments for the many one-man efforts put forth by Nathan MacKinnon, this breakdown is more about an entire line coming together. All five position players on the ice played a role in this particular goal in the New Year’s Eve beatdown of the New York Islanders.

Breakout

Here we see Avalanche defenseman Sam Girard going back and retrieving the puck. I slowed this one down a bit because Girard is able to accomplish so much in such a small amount of time. With Islanders forechecker Anthony Beauvillier closing in on him, Girard makes a subtle fake with his stick like he’s going to take the puck on his forehand. This buys him just a half-second of time and he backhands the puck into the corner away from danger, where he quickly retrieves it himself.

From there, Girard, his eyes up the entire time as he watches Carl Soderberg’s line step onto the ice, and he waits for the lane to open up. He then makes a strong pass to Soderberg and while the puck appears to be touched by one of the Isles players, it makes it through to Soderberg.

Controlled Zone Entry

From there, we see Soderberg corral the puck with Blake Comeau on his right and Matt Nieto on the far wall to his left. The spacing is picture perfect as the Isles have no choice but to back off and allow Colorado to freely enter the zone as the defenders wait for their forwards to finish their line change.

Upon entering the zone, Soderberg hits Comeau with a pass, who immediately fires it cross-ice to Nieto, who uses the opportunity to get a shot on Jaroslav Halak. Up to the task, Halak turns away Nieto’s offering but Soderberg and Comeau each get rebounds and shot attempts of their own as the forwards won their puck battles. Halak makes a big kick save on the final attempt by Comeau and the puck squirts to empty ice, setting up another fifty-fifty puck battle.

Good Old Fashioned Hard Work

Were New York to corral the puck and exit the zone, this already would have been a quality shift. Instead, Nieto sees the puck squirt away and hustles to get to the puck first as he was swinging around behind the net. Nieto beats Islanders forward Anders Lee cleanly to the puck and makes a heady move to buy himself some space as Lee put his stick on the ice to block any centering pass. His head up, Nieto dropped it to defenseman Erik Johnson, who took advantage of the chaos in front of New York’s net to jump into the play on his own.

When Johnson’s shot was stopped, Halak’s fourth save of the sequence, the Avalanche finally lost a puck battle and New York transitioned into their breakout. Comeau was having none of that, however, as he picked the pocket of defenseman Nick Leddy as Leddy tried to use the net as an extra defender and get to open space with the puck. Comeau’s brilliant strip landed right on the stick of Soderberg, who had been following the play behind the net to give Colorado a two-on-one situation as Leddy looked for an escape.

Soderberg grabbed the puck, made a sharp cut to the front of the net, and found Nieto, who was watching the play the entire time and had stopped his own progression towards Leddy and went to the front of the net. Nieto put the puck behind Halak on the line’s fifth shot on goal in the sequence and put Colorado ahead 2-0.

Matt Niet-whoa

On the initial camera angle, it looks like Nieto just dropped his stick in the right place at the right time to deflect Soderberg’s pass into the net. With a closer look from the other side of the ice, however, we’ll see some truly brilliant stick work by Nieto.

First, Nieto’s read to stop and change course to stay in front of the net is excellent and one he can only make because his head is up and he’s watching the play develop. That’s hockey IQ on full display. Once there, you see him lift the stick of Isles defenseman Ryan Pulock to prevent him from deflecting the pass away. Not quite done showing off yet, Nieto then reaches his own stick in between Pulock’s legs for the deflection.

The entire sequence took about 20 seconds in real time but the teamwork on display was something we very rarely have seen in recent years, especially from a line not consisting of the team’s stars. After Colorado’s win over Minnesota last Saturday, Mackinnon referred to this Soderberg-led trio as “sneaky good offensively” and this breakdown is a perfect example of their ability to work together and create offense. Five players touched the puck and created five shots on goal in just 20 seconds. Sneaky good, indeed.