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X's and O's - The perfect shot

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
During his time as a member of the Anaheim Ducks, Nick Bonino made a name for himself as a clutch postseason scorer. It took him until Game 5 of this series to make his playoff mark as a Canuck, but his offensive contribution couldn’t have come at a better time.

Down 1-0 with potentially just 26 minutes left in their season, the Canucks were desperate to beat a razor-sharp Jonas Hiller. Bonino utilized his quick release and managed to pick the top corner before Hiller was set. But the goal wasn’t all Bonino – in fact, the key to it may have been something that had helped the Flames take such a commanding series lead before last night – a pinching defenseman.

The goal:

And now let’s take a closer look:

There’s that pinching defenseman I was talking about (although you can’t really see him). Alex Edler looks like Todd Bertuzzi on this shift – using his size to shield the puck from an opposing player.

Edler drops the puck back to Bonino while Radim Vrbata skates behind the net to give Bonino an outlet on the cycle. Dennis Wideman makes the choice to play up on Bonino while Hudler continues to cover Edler in the corner. Kris Russell is holding down the fort in front of the net – so far so good for Calgary.

It didn’t stand out in real time, but it was interesting to see the impact that Edler’s positioning had on this goal. I made the point a few days ago – Vancouver has really missed Christian Ehrhoff’s ability to create something out of nothing from the back end at even strength. Edler’s play on this goal is a great example of what Ehrhoff used to do – move around and confuse opposing defenders (or forwards).

In this case, Hudler and Wideman are momentarily confused as to who to cover. Edler also sets a subtle pick on Wideman in order for Bonino to get open for a potential shooting opportunity.

There are now four Flames watching Vrbata, who isn’t exactly hiding where he wants to send the puck. Edler may not be a threat to receive a pass right now, but he pulled Hudler high enough so that Bonino could have a clear shooting lane on Hiller. Wideman probably didn’t need to play so aggressively on Vrbata here, as Russell is still in decent position. Making aggressive reads is part of Wideman’s game though – often times it works out for him. In this case, it didn’t.

A lightning-quick release, and the puck ends up in the back of the net.

After getting burned in the regular season by forgetting to cover for a pinching defenseman, Sven Baertschi makes a smart play to slide back to the point after Edler pinched down to keep the puck in. Sven looked tentative at times last night, but his skill is obvious.

Hudler is not Shea Weber or Zdeno Chara, but Edler still made a strong play to find Bonino – especially for a defenseman on his backhand.

Keep an eye on the four Calgary players in this frame (it’s pretty easy since they won’t move much). Bonino and Vrbata, between this shot and when the goal is scored, don’t move at all. Edler’s skate back to the blue line creates enough confusion for a simple give-and-go to work perfectly.

No more Edler, four Flames, and an absolutely perfect shot from Bonino.

In addition to scoring this very important goal, Bonino played almost three minutes on the penalty kill and won some very important defensive zone faceoffs. The adjustment of moving Chris Higgins off of the second line in favour of Sven Baertschi seemed to wake up a few Canucks forwards too.

Although the Canucks only found the back of the net twice against Hiller last night, they could have very easily had another two or three. The amount of scoring chances generated was very encouraging.

Back to Calgary we go. Buckle up, Canucks fans.

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