Carolina Hurricanes: Breaking Down the Final Play Against the Capitals

Mar 15, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) scores the game-winning goal on Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack (31) in overtime at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 15, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) scores the game-winning goal on Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack (31) in overtime at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /
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A game that ended in controversy between the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals could have been avoided, and no, I’m not talking about the offsides non-call.

The Carolina Hurricanes traveled to D.C. and put up a great effort against the NHL-leading Washington Capitals.

More from Cardiac Cane – The Future Looks Bright in Carolina

Unfortunately, the effort was just not enough, and the Canes fell to the now playoff-bound Caps by a final score of 2-1 in overtime.

The big story from this game was less about the outcome, but more about how the outcome came to be. A controversial offsides call, or lack there of, on Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov is what’s being talked about the day after, but this goal could have been avoided with more solid defense.

Here’s how it all happened.

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Here is the start of the play. Evgeny Kuznetsov prepares to cross the line with the puck. Alex Ovechkin will slide across and be the trailer.

Pesce (blue circle) plays tight on Kuznetsov, which is the right move, especially with O.V. coming over. Playing tight will make it easier for him to move over and be able to contest a shot from one of the game’s best shooters.

Victor Rask (black circle) will switch onto Kuznetsov as he comes across the ice and switches positions with Ovechkin.

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Here is the controversial non-call. Kuznetsov appears to lose control of the puck as it falls behind him, and his skates cross the line before the puck. My stance is still that this should have been an offsides call. He lost possession for a brief moment of time, but it was long enough to make a big difference.

Despite this, the Hurricanes still could have and should have prevented a goal.

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Kuznetsov drops the puck to Ovechkin. Being the natural scorer that he is, it is fair to expect him to drive the net and look for the shot. Pesce does an admirable job switching from Kuznetsov to Ovechkin on the rush and applying pressure on him, like we will see.

Kuznetsov will go wide to the left side boards, and we also saw Noah Hanifin (green circle) entering the defensive zone as Carolina’s third skater.

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Ovechkin wants the shot here from the top of the slot, but Pesce does a great job getting his stick out and in the shooting lane. He also gets his body out of the way so that goalie Eddie Lack will have a clear look at the shot.

Pesce will ultimately force O.V. to hesitate and take it out more inside the right circle.

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Ovechkin drags the puck into the circle, and Pesce follows him with his stick while keeping his body away from the vision of the goalie. Again, Pesce is covering Ovechkin very well. The only thing he really could have done better is get his stick a little closer to the puck, increasing the chances of him getting a piece of the shot.

Rask continues to skate along with Kuznetsov as the play wears on.

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Remember when I said the only thing Pesce could do better is put his stick more in the shooting lane? Well, he did just that as O.V shot the puck.

It isn’t clear if Pesce got his stick on the shot, but he certainly played a major factor in that shot not getting on net.

Kuznetsov is prepared to corral the puck along the far side boards.

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After Ovechkin’s shot, the puck takes an odd bounce off the boards, and it could have been extremely beneficial for the Hurricanes, but Rask loses his edge and is momentarily taken out of the play. Hanifin will have a clear path to the puck, which should lead to a breakout with Brett Pesce by himself behind the net.

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As expected Noah Hanifin gets to the puck well before anyone else. He has multiple options here. He can try to pass it down low to Rask who just got back on his feet, but he would have Kuznetsov right in his face.

The safer option is to dish the puck over to Brett Pesce who is all alone in front of Eddie Lack and appears to be gaining speed and ready to go up the ice for a scoring chance or, at the very least, a clearing attempt.

Unfortunately, we will never know what Hanifin decided to do with the puck.

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Hanifin simply overskates the puck. He can’t control the puck, and it bounces right over his stick. Granted, the puck did just come off of an odd bounce and the puck was on its edge, but that’s certainly a play that Hanifin is skilled enough to make. It just didn’t happen here.

Kuznetsov is alert, and he picks up the puck following Hanifin’s mistake.

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Skipping ahead roughly 10 seconds, we see Ovechkin carrying the puck along the wall. He just attempted to pound it in from right beside the net, but it was handled by Lack.

O.V. picks up his rebound and starts to wrap around the boards. Pesce, who has been covering Ovechkin admirably throughout the shift, is draped all over the Russian super star. He is giving him very little room to work with, and given how big and strong Ovechkin is, that is an impressive feat for Pesce.

Meanwhile, Kuznetsov sets up shop behind Eddie Lack, which will end up playing a big role in the final goal. Noah Hanifin is camped out in front, as he should be. He is able to keep an eye on Kuznetsov while also covering the front of the net for a potential rebound or another skater flying in to the backdoor.

Rask is the high forward here. He is keeping tabs on the defenseman at the point.

At this moment, there are no complaints here with how the Hurricanes are playing defense.

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This is where things get iffy. Pesce continues to do his darndest to pin Ovechkin along the boards, but the big forward continues to evade it and keep control of the puck.

Hanifin leaves his spot in front of the net to get in the passing lane between Ovechkin and Kuznetsov or get the puck from Ovechkin. This is a more aggressive play than staying in front. If he stays in front, he has the net protected, and Kuznetsov is still behind the net, so he would still be well within range to make a defensive play on him if he gets the puck.

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Ovechkin keeps control of the puck along the boards. Hanifin is now in the middle of nowhere. He isn’t covering the passing lane to Kuznetsov, he isn’t attempting to get the puck from Ovechkin (which is a far too aggressive play, so that’s good for Hanifin), and he’s not in front of the net. He is in the passing lane to the point man, but Victor Rask is currently right in the lane, so that is needless.

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Ovechkin makes the right decision and gets the puck down low to Kuznetsov. Hanifin is still in a bad position. Kuznetsov could have quickly corralled the puck and went for the wrap around. Fortunately, that’s not what happened.

Hanifin does start to move back in front of the net to guard Kuznetsov.

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Kuznetsov gets the puck behind the net, and Ovechkin skates around him and out towards the front of the net.

The positioning here is good. Pesce is covering the far side post, and Hanifin is in a great position to force a turnover from Kuznetsov or at least eliminate the chance of a scoring opportunity.

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Here, we see Ovechkin switch to the back skate as he heads to the front of the net. This is a clear giveaway that he will be setting up for a one-time opportunity.

Hanifin and Pesce continue to stay in position at either goal post, and Rask is still watching his man at the blue line.

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Here’s the breaking point. Hanifin gets too aggressive with Kuznetsov, and he goes to poke the puck off of his stick. As he does this, Kuznetsov is able to get a pass through to a now uncovered Ovechkin, who is set up for the one time opportunity.

It would have been far wiser for Hanifin to simply just put his stick in the passing lane in between Kuznetsov and Ovechkin. In that case, Kuznetsov would risk a turnover to pass the puck, or he holds onto it and has to reevaluate the situation with Pesce still covering the far-side post.

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By the time Ovechkin makes contact with the puck for the shot, Noah Hanifin is under the goal line and almost out of the trapezoid. This gives Ovechkin, the big man on campus amongst NHL snipers, a golden opportunity with time and space to end the hockey game.

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\_(ツ)_/¯

That goal gave the Capitals an important second point, and a 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

To recap, there was a lot of good from Brett Pesce throughout the play. He forced an early scoring chance from Ovechkin wide of the net with a great stick play, he was tough on Ovechkin along the boards, and he covered the far side post while Kuznetsov set up shop behind Eddie Lack. It would be nice to see him get the puck from Ovechkin in that board battle, but given how strong and elusive Ovechkin is, perhaps that’s just asking for too much.

Victor Rask was a non-factor overall in the play, though not to his fault. He was covering Kuznetsov on the initial drive into the zone, but when Hanifin got back, he switched to his proper high forward position to guard the defenseman.

Noah Hanifin struggled here. He squandered an opportunity to clear the zone well before Ovechkin attempted to pound it home and grind along the boards, he wandered out of position a bit (thankfully, this wasn’t detrimental to the play, overall), and he attempted to make an aggressive stick play on Kuznetsov when it was much wiser to stay put and get a stick in the passing lane.

Hanifin also looked tired on the shift, which likely played a role here.

This wasn’t a good shift from the rookie, but he is a rookie. Noah Hanifin’s future isn’t defined by a shift in game 67 of his rookie season. He will be a super star in this league. His composure, poise, and talent is remarkable for a 19-year-old.

Next: The Good and Bad of the Hurricanes' Season

Would it have been nice for that play to get called offsides in the first place? Yes, but it wasn’t. The Hurricanes couldn’t clear the zone, and ultimately it was one mistake too many as the Capitals picked up the win.

All images are screen captures from CSN’s broadcast of the game, replayed on NHL.com.