Last night the Washington Capitals took the ice at First Niagara Center looking to build off of the weekend's losing-streak-snapping 5-0 drubbing of the Montreal Canadiens. Standing in their way were the Buffalo Sabres, a team that has been a doormat to every team in the NHL except the Caps thanks to a pair of 2-1 shootout victories earlier in the season. And after a great start spotted the Caps a 2-0 lead, the shoddy defensive play we've all come to know and love returned, and it was off to yet another overtime for the Caps and Sabres.
While many of his teammates had mixed results, one Cap was having a great game: Mike Green, who entered the extra frame with a goal (the 100th of his career) and an assist in regulation. He'd cap the night off in style, picking up the game-winning goal on an odd-man rush.
First, the video:
Alex Ovechkin's pass and Mike Green's shot are the obvious stars of this highlight, but it was a great team effort all around. Just before the NHL highlight starts, Dmitry Orlov collects the puck in the defensive zone and quickly fires a pass up ice to Martin Erat, a quick and accurate pass that is crucial to the start of this rush.
The pass gets to Erat at about the red line, and the quickness of the play prevents Tyler Myers from being able to step up on Erat at the blue line (see the video starting at ~:29). This gives Erat an easy zone entry, allowing him to drop the puck to Ovechkin just inside the offensive blue line. Ovechkin is then able to skate towards the net with all the time and space he could need; he wasn't even challenged by a Sabres defender until he was inside the faceoff circle, well within his danger zone. Everyone in the building and everyone watching on TV knew Ovechkin was going to try to seal the hat trick, and the win... everyone, that is, except Ovechkin.
Green uses his speed to get up ice and turn the two-on-two rush by Ovechkin and Erat into a three-on-two rush, ultimately distilling to a two-on-one between Ovechkin and Green against Mike Weber. Jhonas Enroth, like the rest of us, is expecting yet another Ovechkin bomb, and comes out to cut down the angle.
(Aside: maybe this goal is exactly the kind of play Olie Kolzig was thinking of when he started tinkering with Braden Holtby's game...)
At the point when Ovechkin is cocked to fire the puck, Enroth is outside the top of the crease. Unbeknownst to us viewers, Green is screaming down the ice (literally and figuratively) and Ovechkin is able to take advantage of the aggressive plays by Weber and Enroth to give Green a chance to win the game. And Green makes no mistake, burying the puck just inside the near post before Enroth could slide across the crease:
Ovechkin is known as a shooter, and that has led to NHL fans and media underestimating his passing ability for seemingly his entire career. He'll never drop 100 assists in a season, of course, but he's more than capable of finding the open man and making teams pay when given the opportunity (see also: the pass to Erat on Troy Brouwer's power-play goal). Ovechkin had a bit more to say about the play after the game:
"Me and Oatesy talk about it; you freeze the goalie if the goalie want to play aggressive you have to wait and see if the ‘D’ going to do something. My partner who is going to be on the different side have to be ready for the pass."
Ovechkin is the best scorer in the game right now, so no one expects him to stop firing pucks... but it's nice to see him take advantage of teams that overplay his shot. Ultimately, making opponents respect his teammates is the only way to continue to get Ovechkin open looks, so switching things up every once in a while, like on this play, should help keep teams honest going forward.