Each week, using the highlights of the week before, Chasing Dragons will attempt to break down what went wrong (or right) for the Blaze that home game, in an attempt to highlight factors and plays that a lot of fans may miss in the rough and tumble of the game. This week, we break down the key points of a 7-4 loss to the Belfast Giants. Thanks to Pete Ballinger of Clean Cut Sports for permission to cut, screenshot and edit the highlights as I needed.
The Blaze had a tough one this weekend, in a game that started like a dream with two goals in the first few minutes and ended like a nightmare against Belfast. Let’s take a look at some of the key moments of the game and try to highlight what went wrong (or right).
Blaze 1, Giants 0 (Kevin Harvey, 1-0)
After taking some stick from Blaze fans for his performance so far this season, Blaze forward Kevin Harvey was a force in this game, scoring twice and provoking the Giants at every turn. He had his first impact on the game early on, as he put home his own rebound to put the Blaze 1-0 up:
On the face of the video, this looks like a fairly routine Blaze goal, but if we look closely we can see that it’s thanks to some great play from Harvey to find space in front of the net that gets him there in the first place, along with some excellent vision from Mike Henrich.
As the puck comes out to Henrich, Harvey has seen that there’s a lot of space left by the Giants D in front of the net, and more to the point times his arrival to move into it just as Henrich looks up, so he’s providing a completely open option for a tip-in in front of the net just as Leigh Salters did so effectively for Nottingham last week-here’s a pic of the moment just as Henrich receives the puck-you can see Harvey (circled) is just crossing towards the front of the net and has been completely unnoticed by any Giants D:
This means that when the puck is passed to him, he’s got plenty of time to open up his body and redirect the puck just the way he wants completely unhindered by the defence:
As you see in the video, Murphy makes the first save, but Harvey does a good job of reacting quickest to force the puck into the unguarded net:
It would get better for the Blaze as Ryan Ginand and Adam Henrich combined beautifully for 2-0, but then the Giants began to come back into the game, and their first goal was a combination of some great play by Rob Sandrock and at the same time some painful Blaze defending. Let’s look at it now:
Blaze 2, Giants 1, (Peacock, from Sandrock)
Here we have a goal that’s a result of great work from Sandrock and a good finish from Craig Peacock, but it could have been stopped way before Peacock applies the coup-de-grace. Here’s the situation when Sandrock receives the puck:
Right now, Sandrock has the whole Blaze team between him and Zacharias’s net. The first man, Adam Henrich, though, elects to already be turning away as Sandrock receives the puck-he’s perhaps worried that he’ll be easily beaten and then be badly out of position if he misses the pokecheck, so is turning to get back into the play confident that one of the five players behind him will do their job.
By now, Sandrock has got up some speed and is crossing the red-line. He’s faced by Mike Henrich and Kenny Kallstrom-Henrich is going backwards so elects to simply provide a barrier-however, the Giants forward next to him is already flying by and with Adam Henrich (right) out of the play, Sandrock suddenly has a lot of space to skate into. It’s OK, though, as Kenny Kallstrom appears to have the situation well in hand and there’s still four Blaze players between Sandrock and the net.
Now things are beginning to get a little bit urgent. Sandrock has been allowed to skate into the zone and Kallstrom has let the Giant get inside him rather than forcing him out to the boards. James Griffin has to get a pokecheck in here or at least force Sandrock away from the net-however Ashley Tait is cutting off the pass to a lurking Craig Peacock. But now, with no Henrich to be seen, suddenly the Blaze D has to do something quickly.
Griffin has managed to force Sandrock behind the net, but in the process has slightly lost his bearings and got tangled up with Zacharias. Meanwhile, Ash Tait has been caught puck-watching, allowing Craig Peacock to sneak in behind him. However, with 3 to 1 in numbers all it needs is Kenny Kallstrom to stop the pass….except he doesn’t. And just like that, thanks to Blaze being a little passive when the puck is down in the Giants end, little errors have snowballed to allow the Giants a gilt-edged scoring chance-which Craig Peacock takes. And the Giants are back in the game:
OK, so we’ve pointed out the Blaze’s faults. Let’s point out something they did well (with that man Harvey getting his 2nd goal)
Blaze 3 Giants 1 (Harvey, (Tanaka, Ginand)
This is just a nice play by the three Blaze forwards, passing perfectly in a triangle. I’m not sure Harvey is shooting (I think he’s trying to feed this back across to Tanaka) but his awareness of where the puck is to have another little jab at it and force it under Murphy is the mark of a good forward-also shows the reward that persistence and following your rebound can get you.
Giants 3, Blaze 2 (Brookwell)
This, on the other hand, isn’t so great.
The key here is that, once again, Blaze players all get sucked into a group together in front of Mike Zacharias. When Cody Brookwell hits his shot, this is the situation in front of net…
As you can see, in the ring there are three Blaze players and only one Giant, yet somehow that Giant has been allowed to get to and then stand in front of the Blaze goalie and block any vision he has of the puck, forcing him to stretch to see and leave a crowd for Brookwell to (quite correctly) fire the puck into hoping for a ricochet or for it to find its way in clean . It sneaks in low-down on the near post, but arguably if the Blaze (particularly the two on the right post) hadn’t bunched together and the Giant hadn’t been allowed to settle in front of the net and restricted Zacharias’ movement and vision, then the shot may have been saved. Instead:
Blaze 3 GIANTS 3 (Szwez, (Whitecotton).
Jeff Szwez will show as the scorer of this goal, but it’s a perfect example of why an assist gets the same number of points as a goal does, and is all down to Dustin Whitecotton’s play (and awkward play from Sean Erickson).
Here’s the situation as Whitecotton picks up the puck in his own zone and skates it down the right side:
Here, with Ryan Ginand watching the play, Whitecotton has the choice of looking to skate hard into the white space along the boards or try to cut inside, while Erickson’s job is to stay between him and the centre and keep him skating down the boards into the corner by narrowing the angle…but not too much-because if he does, then the Giant can cut inside him and be away into the prime scoring territory in front of the net.
However, Whitecotton has other ideas:
This pic is taken a second afterward. Erickson has found himself cutting the angle too sharply, and Whitecotton has timed his movement well (the arrow shows the direction the Giant is trying to go). Meanwhile, Ginand is still relatively serenely following the puck back, unaware of Jeff Szwez off-screen using his puck-watching to gleefully skate into the space behind him. But all is still rescuable as long as Erickson can hold up the Giant and let the puck run free:
Uh-oh. With Ginand now way behind the play and Jeff Szwez hammering into the slot off screen, Erickson has seen Whitecotton beat him all too easily, and now the puck is on the Giant’s stick with an option of either a shot (although Zacharias is committed to his near post) or, far better, a simple cross-ice pass to Szwez, who has the advantage both of speed and a supporting Blaze defenceman whose attention now HAS to be focused on Whitecotton. This is the play at full speed and, as you can see, it doesn’t end well for Blaze-all because Whitecotton beat Erickson one-on-one:
BLAZE 4, Giants 3 (Venus (McMillin))
This is a video clip of what otherwise might be a fairly run-of-the-mill Ross Venus strike, but it’s not him you need to watch-it’s Brian McMillin. McMillin’s got a fair bit of stick from Blaze fans almost consistently this season, but he’s a player who does the quiet things needed for others to score. Keep an eye on him in this clip and you’ll see that while Venus finishes, the goal comes from McMillin first forcing a turnover along the boards and then firing a great pass across the net for Venus to finish. This is the kind of thing that often gets forgotten in the lead-up to a goal, so we’re highlighting it here:
Blaze 4 GIANTS 4 (Sandrock)
The fourth Giants goal is another example of a moment’s mistake from a Blaze D-man costing the team dearly. Here’s the situation as the Giants enter the zone and Rob Sandrock lays a pass off having done so:
As the Giants come in, all five Blaze players are bunched together and in disarray trying to set up their defensive coverage. Rob Sandrock is looking to lay a pass back to Craig Peacock (71, but with the Blaze bunched in a line he has the whole of the shaded area and more to skate into if he gets a return pass…however, Mike Devin is aware of Sandrock and watching him-in fact he follows him some of the way back after the pass is made. The problem is, as Sandrock changes the angle of play just as Devin turns to follow him, the Blaze D-man now has a decision to make-does he cover the threat behind the net in his zone, or turn to pressure the puck?
This is the decision Devin makes:
However, in not waiting that extra half second to watch where Sandrock’s going after the initial pass, puck-watching and and making the decision to leave him be in favour of pursuing the pass, Devin has left one of the Giants’ most dangerous offensive players on his own deep in Blaze territory and with a clear path round the back of the net.
As a result, with the Blaze scrambling to get back into position, this happens:
Proof that when Sandrock is on the ice, you can’t lose sight of him for even a second, even if he appears to be out of the play.
Blaze 4 GIANTS 5, (Mason, Saurette, Peacock)
This, again, is an example of Blaze players all being drawn into the puck and allowing the opposition to exploit it. The puck is worked behind the net by the Giants, and eventually, as Jeff Mason pinches in from the point, both Mike Devin and Kenny Kallstrom are caught going for the same player behind the net, leaving the Blaze D turned around looking the other way and Giants top scorer Kevin Saurette all alone in front with a free shot off Peacock’s pass:
This is what happens as a result:
It’s Mason who puts the puck home, but the Blaze D are once again all caught looking the wrong way at a crucial moment thanks to the Giants executing the “behind the net” system perfectly.
Finally, the moment the Blaze D might as well have been elsewhere.
Blaze 4 GIANTS 6 (Saurette, Peacock, Brookwell)
This one is just ugly. Watch the Giants break fast into the zone. Mike Henrich goes flying across the zone as he races back and tries to take a desperate whack at a puck, but with the Blaze desperately hunting for it without finding it as the defensive coverage breaks down in utter confusion and the Giants queue up to hit it, this one’s ugly. Especially as Saurette is again left all alone on the back post to tip the puck in…
The seventh was an empty-netter, so isn’t worth covering except to point out that Szwez won’t have many easier finishes.
This week’s game tape will make fun viewing for the Blaze for the first ten minutes or so, but with Matty Soderstrom himself saying that the Blaze breakdown was “horrendous” in the third, there’s once again a lot to work on for the Blaze squad this week. Unlike the Panthers game, though, there are a few more positives to take from this one, not least the play of Kevin Harvey.
With a double-header against a team in seeming disarray off the ice next week in Cardiff, this week would seem to be the ideal opportunity to get the Blaze set and ready. There’s still work to do…and Soderstrom and the team know it. But there are signs that effort is beginning to pay off again up front…it just needs to do so without the team pressing the self-destruct button defensively.
We shall see.