Why It Worked: Crossover At The Point
Last night, Thomas Vanek’s first goal came on a 5-on-3 toward the end of the first period. It was a tip-in with assists given to Pominville (who fired the one-timer Vanek tipped) and Connolly (who gave the puck to Pominville for the one-timer). I’m going to break down how it worked and why.
(key: Blue numbers represent the Sabres, green numbers represent the oppostition, and the black dot represents the puck)
The Sabres are lined up in the face-off circle with a five-forward unit: Pominville at the dot (filling in for the tossed Connolly), Stafford at LW, Ennis at RW, Connolly at the left point, and Vanek at the right point. The Lightning have Moore opposite Pominville at the dot, Thompson opposite Stafford, and Ohlund on the goal line.
Pominville wins the faceoff and knocks the puck backwards, where Vanek moves up to collect it. Stafford begins his arc towards the far side of the goal, Pominville drifts back toward the point vacated by Vanek, Connolly moves further out on his point, and Ennis shifts slightly closer to the blue line. Moore moves up to try and pressure Vanek, Thompson moves in a similar arc to Stafford’s but stops close to his goal, and Ohlund shifts from the goal line to right in front of the crease.
Vanek immediately dishes the puck off to Ennis, who slaps it right to Pominville at the right point. At this point, Vanek has already made his way to his customary position on the power play – right on the crease. After passing to Pominville, Ennis moves opposite Stafford down low. Moore retreats pressuring Vanek to play the right point of a defensive triangle with Ohlund down low and Thompson off to the side.
Pominville passes the puck to Connolly and both point men rotate positions. Vanek is jostling in front of the net with Ohlund, while Stafford and Ennis remain mostly stationary. Just like the players they’re covering, Moore and Thompson rotate as well. At this point, Vanek and Ohlund battling in front of the crease has left Roloson completely screened.
We know the rest of the story already. Connolly passes to Pominville, who fires a one-timer at the net that Vanek tips home to tie the game at 1. But why did Connolly and Pominville switch sides, and for that matter why did Drew Stafford line up at LW on the faceoff?
Sabres fans know all too well that the team blows plenty of scoring chances by having off-handed players in position to shoot that have to settle the puck before doing so instead of being able to fire home a quick shot. Connolly and Pominville swapped places so that they would have Pominville in position to fire off a shot without settling the puck. The same goes for Stafford, who would have been in position to fire a rebound at the net without having to corral the puck.
It’s better decision making like that that has helped the Sabres climb from the bottom of the NHL to 7th in the Eastern Conference with a chance to clinch their spot while idle.