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Cody Franson's poor gap control, Bernier's weak stick lead to Henrik Zetterberg's game winner

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The Maple Leafs were 10 seconds away from a shootout in Detroit before some overly cautious defending gave up the winning goal.

Editor's Note: This post got eaten by our story editor so I am trying to re-make it from memory. It won't be as magnificent as it was last night but I think I'll still get my point across.

The Leafs rebounded from a pretty poor game on Friday night in which they were brutally outchanced in the latter stages of the game to put together a quite creditable performance in Detroit. I thought that they had some luck in that the Wings missed putting together some good chances from strong positions - either missing the net or fluffing their shot - but otherwise it was the kind of effort that I'm sure Friday night's jersey tosser appreciated.

Having said that, it's a shame that the game was lost just before the game went to a shootout on a play that, for all of it's fluidity - likely should not have resulted in a goal except for a couple of individual mistakes by players that had otherwise quite strong games. The video of the goal is above and I'll try to pull what I think are a few defining screenshots that will illustrate what I think went wrong.

Zetterberg 1

The build up after the face-off can be seen late in the clip when they use some tighter cameras but essentially the Leafs have lost the offensive zone face-off and the Wings are breaking out of the zone with Jonathan Ericsson in possession of the puck after Tyler Bozak pressured Henrik Zetterberg and forced a pass back to the defenceman. Bozak is then going to force Ericsson to move the puck down the side of the ice thereby protecting the middle.

The sequence that isn't captured here is, I think, quite illustrative of the two coaches' approaches to hockey. Randy Carlyle, as we saw in Tyler Dellow's now dearly departed work on the topic, is supremely cautious on lost offensive zone face-offs. While Kessel is simply trying to take away passing lanes, he doesn't actually pursue Niklas Kronwall who is able to hit Zetterberg with the puck coming across the ice. And here is where we see Mike Babcock's desire to hold on to the puck as much as possible come into play as Zetterberg, with the clock winding down, could just have easily chipped the puck almost to the Leafs' zone as Carlyle had his defence retreat almost to their blue line. Instead, he makes a pass back to Ericsson.

Update: JJ from Winging It In Motown wrote up the play as well and he captured the entire play. You can see what I'm talking about right at the beginning as the Leafs' passivity allows for Detroit to exit their zone in control and with a lot more speed than they might have otherwise been able to achieve.

Great Breakout

Zetterberg 2

Kessel tracks his man here but a simply fantastic pass by Ericsson finds Kronwall. This was a tricky play because Kessel probably would have had a better chance of breaking up the pass if he'd skated backwards but it would have risked a 3-on-2 if he missed. As it stood, he was undone by a perfect pass.

There's Zetterberg just slyly gliding up the wing with nothing but open space between him and the Leafs' zone.

Replacement

The Leafs are in good shape here as Morgan Rielly can pick up Kronwall, Kessel is free to pick up the newcomer, Gustav Nyquist, and Cody Franson patrols the middle of the ice with an eye on Zetterberg while Bozak can return and either pick up Ericsson or the open space.

Zetterberg 4

In the video, you can see Franson's head is on a swivel tracking Zetterberg. However, I think I picked the exact moment when he realized that he was too far away to disrupt any play involving Henrik. Rielly has kept his man to the outside and denied him a shooting angle but he wasn't close enough to break up the pass. Kessel didn't jump in to chase Kronwall because, rightly, he had to pick up Nyquist.

Franson's best hope here is that Zetterberg will fluff the shot or Bernier will make the save as he's failed to prevent the shot attempt.

Zetterberg 5

Game Over. While Zetterberg didn't quite get a perfect shot off from an unstoppable position, he did get a good shot off from a good position and a little luck. That luck came in the form of Jonathan Bernier's move across the ice.

Zetterberg 6

You can tell that the Wings' broadcast didn't feature any goalies as they were the ones that actually pointed out that Bernier had deflected the shot over his own pad and in off of the post. Bower Power, Chemmy, or some goalie can probably breakdown how Bernier slid across and whether his push off or slide had a part to play in his stick positioning but that little hiccough turned a few suboptimal plays into the worst possible result: a goal against. It's a shame because he had read the play well otherwise.

This reminds me of something Dellow wrote about "The Big Mistake":

If someone asked me what I think the biggest failing of the eyeball test is, I'd respond that it's the emphasis on the big mistake. There are gigabytes of information contained in a hockey game. So much information that I think it's difficult for anyone to take it in and organize it rationally. The way that our brains deal with that is by focusing on the big mistake.

There are no errors in this breakdown that are so glaring that you'd say that the goal against was to be expected. What we have is a number of marginally less than perfect plays that have culminated into a goal. Rather than this play being chalked up along with the rest of the shot attempts in the game and examined within the larger context of those, this play is now partitioned off as a "big mistake". If Kessel looks back at the right time maybe he can breakup the pass to Kronwall, if Franson is a little bit tighter to Zetterberg then maybe he can disrupt the pass or block the shot, and if Bernier positions his stick a few degrees more upright then he doesn't deflect it past himself. Instead, this will go down, to a certain degree fairly, as a big mistake by Franson.

A lot of the good that Franson did last night will get washed up by "another glaring defensive error". On the flip side, I've yet to see anyone suggest that Bernier had anything to do with the goal against despite the fact that it couldn't have happened without his error. I hope that this breakdown was a good example of why it's important to try to use as much information as possible when evaluating players and why trying to assign culpability on any particular play can be so difficult.