There is nothing random in the fact that when describing odd-man rushes, hockey coaches and fans and announcers usually refer to them as “allowed.” That kind of language accuses. It assigns responsibility and attributes blame. The word “allowed” credits the rush not to the attacking team but the defending one. After all, stationing two defencemen at the blueline and leashing a forward to the high slot in the offensive zone douses most odd-man rushes before they start. Math.
But they still happen. That fence on the blueline occasionally cracks. The plug in the high slot sometimes pops loose. And when counterattacking teams breach these usually solid walls, replays can often help us trace the leaks to specific defensive miscues and miscalculations that forced their opponents’ own retreat.
In their loss to the Winnipeg Jets last night, the Calgary Flames offered not one, not two, but three such replays of odd-man rush goals that they themselves indisputably “allowed.” A needless pinch here, a reckless pass there, a careless bobble piping the final rosette on the proverbial cake—Winnipeg won because certain Flames players made certain sloppy decisions in certain unforgiving situations.
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) May 6, 2021
The 3-on-1 that nabbed the lead for the Jets within the first 70 seconds of hockey emerged from a total lack of communication and accountability from the Flames in the offensive zone. As the Flames cross centre ice, Nikita Nesterov vaults himself alongside Johnny Gaudreau and joins the rush. He sees the gaping lane, revs his engines and motors into the zone to chase the dumped puck… without anyone covering him. Anytime a defenceman acts as a hard F1 is a gamble. It forces a forward to cool his stride and hold the blueline—maybe even skate backwards, heaven forbid—until the defenceman returns to his post. Only no Flames stay back. Nesterov rockets past Gaudreau, and Gaudreau tails him anyways. Nobody thinks to patch the gap at the blueline that a forechecking defenceman inevitably represents. Nobody hollers for someone else to do it. Once Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm also seep below the goal line, there are four Flames stranded behind the Jets as they counterattack. Blame whomever you wish for the ensuing goal—Nesterov for blazing past the forwards, Gaudreau for coasting into the corner too—so long as they sported a red uniform on the play. Calgary “allowed” that rush.
Ouuu that’s cheeky, Adam Lowry. pic.twitter.com/UJ8SQmqk7E
— NHL (@NHL) May 6, 2021
As they did preceding the second goal of the night. Again, Nesterov finds himself entwined in a sloppy sequence. Quarterbacking a zone entry on the power play, Nesterov shovels a hasty pass to Andrew Mangiapane just as he approaches the blueline. The puck bounces from his skate blade to a Jets stick blade. Disaster follows. Now, Andrew Copp is already shadowing Mangiapane quite closely. Mangiapane is also beelining towards a hive of Jets defencemen parked at the blueline. That pass was risky from the start. Factor in the power play zone entry fad of the last few years that positions the puck carrier as the last line of attack? Risky passes become fatal. Especially when they fail to sniff the mere orbit of the intended recipient’s tape. There are no reinforcements, and the lack of bodies coupled with the lack of caution “allowed” the breakaway, too.
Blake’s putting the WHEEL in Wheeler. pic.twitter.com/HrkHpT3g98
— NHL (@NHL) May 6, 2021
Finally, Juuso Valimaki fumbles an easy dump back into the offensive zone to “allow” Blake Wheeler’s breakaway. Though the above clip fails to show how much time and space Valimaki had to whack that puck back into the corner… it was plenty. He could have cradled and controlled it for a moment. He could have swung it to his partner, even. But Valimaki just swats the puck like he’s chipping a golf ball from a bunker. It plops into Wheeler’s grasp, whose forward momentum blisters past Valimaki. For the third time in the game, a defensive mishap grants the Jets the odd-man rush on which they easily capitalize.
So, what can the Flames do to minimize these costly mistakes? Hedge their bets and hold their horses. A lack of teammate support behind Nesterov as he pursued and propelled the puck played parts in allowing the first two goals. Hurried and impulsive decisions with the puck sealed the middle two. In either case, the Flames need to infuse their style and strategy with more caution. Otherwise, they’ll surrender, concede, “allow” odd-man rushes until Jakob Markstrom tears his hair from its roots.
Oh, and as for the fourth goal? Not an odd-man rush, but an absolute circus nonetheless.
— anar-flaamee (@albiisopa) May 6, 2021