Every now and then, a hockey player will let a shot go that they do not expect to get past the opposing goalie. Whether a backhand from a nearly impossible angle, or a wrist shot from the blue line, some attempts on goal are worse than others. In the Islanders’ opening three-game winning streak, they have been able to optimize their chances, leading to early success.
As coach Jack Capuano‘s team fell behind 2-1 against the New York Rangers, things were not looking up for Long Islanders invading Madison Square Garden, the home of the Rangers. Yet, after a careless Blueshirt turnover in their defensive zone, Nikolay Kulemin ended up with the puck behind the net. Like any smart player would, captain John Tavares followed up on the play and found open space in the slot, which is between the face-off circles right in the center of the ice.
Once Kulemin found Tavares in the optimal scoring zone in hockey, there was nothing Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist could do. Tavares knotted the score at 2-2, and the Islanders would never look back. Tavares had the easiest shot in hockey, putting himself in the perfect spot to do so. It is not the first time that the Islanders have done that this season.
After a back and forth start to the Islanders home opener against the Carolina Hurricanes, two attempts from prime shooting space led to not only the breaking of a 2-2 tie, but the eventual winning goal. First off, after a mess in front of the net while the score was still knotted up, Johnny Boychuk, one of the Islanders’ new defensemen, tracked a puck to the top of the slot and simply let it go on net, right at the crowd. Doing so not only forces the opposing goalie to find and track the puck with a bunch of big bodies in front of him, but gives those bodies a chance to alter the direction of the shot, which is nearly impossible to stop. Brock Nelson, the leading point-getter in the NHL did just that, putting Long Island’s team up 3-2.
“There is nothing more appealing in the sport than the puck on your stick ready to launch, right in front of the goalie.”
The same hockey intelligence provided for the A-plus opportunity that would pad their lead and end up being the difference in a 4-3 Islanders win. As Frans Nielsen took the puck up the right wing, where did Josh Bailey go? Straight to the slot.
There is nothing more appealing in the sport than the puck on your stick ready to launch, right in front of the goalie. That was exactly the chance that Bailey got, burying it stick-side to put the game out of reach.
So, what exactly makes the slot, or the center of the ice such prime shooting space? When a centering pass comes across the ice, the goalkeeper has his focus on whoever has the puck on the wing, meaning he has to shift his body positioning to re-focus on who the shooter will be. By the time he is back in the center of his crease, the shot is let go, and whoever may be taking it has his choice of location. It could go top shelf, five hole, under the glove, anywhere really. When somebody takes a shot from a wing, the goalie has more control in taking away shot choice. If he should protect the near post, all the shooter can do is force it top shelf on the near side or attempt a much more difficult shot on the far side, which is further away, giving the goalie more time to react.
The more the Islanders continue to skate through and to the middle of the ice, the more prime opportunities they will get, and the better their chances of continuing their hot start to the season will be. One thing is for certain: no shot is a bad shot, but anything from the slot will give the Islanders a better opportunity to make it count.