Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Xavier Ouellet: Patrolling The Blue Line

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOuellet Photo Credit: David Guralnick/Detroit News

Trying something different today.  I had planned on doing an analysis of Xavier Ouellet's first NHL goal, because that's kind of my thing. However, that hasn't happened yet and with Ouellet being back in Grand Rapids for now, that post will come in the (very near) future.

Michelle asked the amazing Sanjay (@Weallbleedredd on the twitter and on the YouTube device) to upload Ouellet's shifts against the Jets so we could break them down and give an honest assessment of Mr. Ouellet's performance.

Let's take a look, shall we?  Let's watch the first video and break it down:

First shift (0:00-0:34):

Ouellet (we'll shorten to XO for every possible reason) starts on the right side (he's a left-handed shot) paired with Lashoff (also a lefty).  Andersson wins the faceoff to Lashoff who quickly gives the puck to XO.

XO turns up the ice and notices the Jets are in the following defensive position:

The lanes to all three forwards are blocked by Jets players.  XO has some ice in front of him, and with no passing lane, does the smart thing by getting to the red line and dumping the puck in.

The puck comes back to XO at the right point.  He has no direct pressure, so he fires a shot with the Wings crashing the net.

The puck then comes up Lashoff's side coming into the Wings zone.  The puck bounces over Lashoff's stick and it looks like the Jets player might have the edge on it:

 XO recognizes that there are no additional Jets players skating in, so he comes over to help Lashoff and make sure there is no angle to the net.  Once XO sees that Lashoff has forced the Jets forward wide, he quickly checks the front of the net because that's what a smart player does:

See that stick at the left of the pic?  Yeah, that's another Jets player coming in.  XO recognizes this and peels back to block the lane, which is important because *spoilers* the puck may be going in that general direction:

Thanks, TSN, for changing camera angles AS SOON AS HE PASSES THE PUCK, making for a not-as-good angle for us to see what happens.  But we get what happens, XO blocks the lane and deflects the pass.  No shot on goal.  Puck in the corner.  XO FTW.

The shift isn't over yet, however.  XO collects the puck in the corner and quickly leads the rush up the ice.  The Jets have four players within range of him:

It's way too dangerous here to go backwards to Lashoff.  Plus, the worst place for a turnover is just inside your own blue line as the rest of your team is transitioning up the ice.  XO tries to hit Sammy with a pass off the boards.  He doesn't have enough angle, but he at least gets the puck out of the zone.  The Jets knock it down, but Andersson passes back to Lashoff as XO gets back into his defensive position. 

I'd say that's a solid shift.  This is fun.

Second Shift (0:34-0:44):

The puck is in the offensive zone.  XO is on the right point with Kindl on the left.  XO gets a pass from Bertuzzi and quickly slaps one on net with traffic in front.  The puck bounces around then gets covered.  Not much to break down here, had an open lane to the net with traffic in front and got the shot off.  I'll take that play.

Third Shift (0:44-1:12):

I suppose Mr. XO couldn't be flawless forever.  XO is playing right side with Lashoff on the left.  Andersson wins the faceoff to Lashoff (hooray rhyming!) who plays the puck to XO behind the net.  XO gets pressured behind the net, so he skates it out front and tries to pass to Lashoff.  Yeah, about that...

As you can see, XO missed Lashoff with the pass.  He has that first instinct of "OH I DONE FUCKED UP GOTTA GO GET AND PRETEND NOTHING HAPPENED" but thinks better of that.  XO get back to the front and covers his guy.  The puck gets moved around the Wings zone, but the entire time, XO stays between the Jets forward and the net.  There is quite a bit of scrambling done on this play, primarily because of XO's turnover.  The Wings eventually clear the zone and no harm comes. 

Even though XO turned it over and did briefly panic, he did the smart thing and covered the front and whichever guy he was matched up against.  Good thing it's the only mistake he'll ever make...on that shift.  Ahem.

Fourth Shift (1:13-End):

Here we go.  XO is playing the right side again with Lashoff on the left.  The play starts with the puck in the offensive zone but transitioning towards the neutral zone.  The Jets LW (the player the right side (XO) is responsible for covering) goes to the right wing to play the puck.  XO sees this, along with no other Jets forward coming up the ice, so he follows his guy and hits him.  Visual evidence:

Lashoff collects the puck and the Wings successfully break out.  XO stays on the left side while Lashoff is on the right.  XO moves with the play and Miller hits him with a perfect pass.  XO skates up and doesn't have much room:

Once again, XO doesn't have much of a play here, so he makes the smart decision to get the puck in deep.  While the forwards are working down low, XO stays on the left side while Lashoff covers the right side.  The puck eventually works its way to Lashoff who sends it over to XO, when things get interesting:

XO passes to Miller here. Not a great play since Miller has guys around him, but not a horrible play.  Miller quickly backhands the puck on net.  XO's guy isn't watching him, so this allows XO to sneak in and wait for a pass or a rebound.  Again with the spoilers...

Sadly, XO did not bury this rebound.  But his ability to read the play and get a scoring chance is awesome and could easily result in plenty of future goals.  Yay positive thinking!

And now, another negative.  I've mentioned before how XO needs to get quicker.  He's not slow or anything, but his skating needs to be improved.  He's 20, I think I'll let it slide for now.  Here's a couple of shots showing this.

Thankfully, this didn't come back and hurt the Wings.  XO is decently far behind Thorburn, who is not exactly an offensive dynamo in the NHL.  Hopefully a little work in the minors and some summer training will help XO increase his skating and then he will be even more awesome.

As far as the rest of the shift, nothing too fancy happened.  XO had a guy one on one and kept him to the outside and did the same thing as the puck cycled down low.  Even at the very end, with the Jets d-man pinching down, XO slightly loses his man for a second, but still works to block the lane and works his way back to his original guy as the puck gets covered in front.

To summarize the first video: XO is very strong with positional play.  His only "major" mistake was turning the puck over on his third shift.  Maybe it's a play he used in Grand Rapids and expected Lashoff to be there?  Who knows.  But he didn't get flustered and still was in position after the mistake. 

Can you handle some more? Here...we....GO!!


And the second video:

First Shift (0:00-0:52):

Lots of things happened on this shift for XO.  The play starts off in the Jets zone. XO is on the right side per usual, with Lashoff on the left.  As the Jets transition up the ice, it looks to be a 3 on 2 with Datsyuk just trailing behind.  Notice what XO (and Lashoff) are doing:

Communication.  I know Michelle has pointed this out, but XO has solid communication skills.  He's very vocal on the ice, which is very helpful, trust me.  Here, both Lashoff and XO have their hands pointing to the middle player.  I'm not exactly sure what they are saying here, but what ends up happening is XO takes the player in the middle of the ice while Datsyuk ends up lifting the stick of the Jets player on the bottom of the pic.  It would make sense that XO was saying "I got him" so Pav knows who to cover on the backcheck.

The puck transitions back to the Jets zone.  XO does a good job of slightly trailing the play as the Wings go to the Jets net - he heads to the top of the circle to see if the puck comes out, but it doesn't, so he quickly retreats back to the blue line.

Things then start to get interesting.  The Jets gain control and come into the Wings zone on a 2 on 2.  Lashoff and XO do a good job and force the Jets to take a bad shot from way down low.  XO gains control behind the net with a Jets forward chasing him:

If you watch the video, you can see that this is a broken play (aka: not a thing that regularly happens). Also, Andersson is now on the ice (he didn't start the shift).  I don't see the 5th Wings skater.  I'm guessing Pav changed for Andersson since they are both centers.  Hank is taking the center role here.  Bert is out of frame, but with control, he's probably going for a change, so there's no other forward for an outlet pass.

What usually happens on a set break out is one d-man is behind the net with the puck.  The other d-man will go to one of the corners.  A forward will then almost skate around the opposite circle, from the inside to the boards.  The d-man from behind the net, usually with pressure, will pass the puck to either the d-man in the corner or the forward in the opposite corner.  This....does not happen.

What happens?  XO has no one to pass to in the corner he's skating towards, so he tries to cut up the middle....yeah:

Xavier and Henrik, sitting in a tree....  Here's my thinking on why this happened.  Lots of times when a team is in the middle of a change, the d-man will wait until the rest of the team makes the change until he begins the breakout.  However, since the Jets had pressure, XO had to move the puck and had no one to pass it to.  You can see above how Lashoff did eventually go to the corner to wait for a pass.  Andersson is skating up the ice, thinking the rest of the team will be breakout with him.  Basically, just a giant fustercluck happened at once.  I would have preferred XO skate to the outside and not to the front of the net.  But, he does recover diving and, along with Andersson, getting the puck out to safety.  And just because, here's XO diving:

Awesome.  And that's the first shift of the second video.

Second Shift (0:53-1:22):

Much less interesting of a shift for XO.  He handles a 2 on 2 like a champ, the puck goes into the Jets zone.  The puck does eventually come to him at the point.  As we learned earlier, he's not afraid to shoot the puck, which makes this play that much better:

XO has a couple of options here.  He can shoot, but he has a Jet player in the shooting lane (which is blocked, can lead to a Jets breakaway) and no Wings player out front.  A shot here would serve no purpose.  He can dump it in the corner, but the lane to the right corner is blocked.  The best option he has is to go to the other d-man on the point.  This will buy some time for a Wings player to get in front and the other two at the top (Sammy and Andy) to get back into the play.  Great work by XO here.  Make the simple and smart play.  That's what I like from my d-men.

Nothing else significant happened for XO on this shift.  The puck eventually was covered by the Jets.

Third Shift (1:23-1:46)

The play starts in the Jets zone and slowly comes back towards the Wings end.  Just to show that the earlier point on communication wasn't an oddity:

Doing the point again.  I'm assuming he's telling Lashoff to watch the guy coming up that side while XO is going to go back to the middle of the ice to watch for additional Jets forwards.  I love seeing this.
Nothing else spectacular happened on this shift.  XO  had some good coverage in his own zone but Lashoff ended up taking a tripping penalty. 

Fourth Shift (1:46-end):

XO's final shift of the video :((((((((((((((((
The puck goes into the Wings zone.  XO and a Jets player are chasing after it and XO has a step.
This is a tough play for any d-man.  He has a guy right on his back with no support from his teammates.  It would be a tough for him to try and backhand the puck all the way around the boards and shooting it forehand blindly up the close boards would be very difficult.  As a d-man myself, I would probably just try and keep skating with it behind the net, but XO is much, much, much better than me at playing hockey.  He does the following:

I'm not 100% what the Jets forward was doing here.  He may have thought XO was going to continue to go behind the net, so went there to lay on a big hit.  He may have been at the end of a shift so he was just putting pressure on XO to get his teammates enough time to change and was going to go for a change himself.  Regardless, XO realizes that the Jets forward has peeled towards the center of the ice, so he stops and turns to relieve the pressure.  He takes his time, skates up, and hit Bert in stride as Bert skates towards the Jets zone.  Having the poise to do that?  Awesome.
What did we learn about Ouellet in the second video?  I learned that he seems to communicate very well, especially for a 20 year old rookie d-man.  He usually makes the smart and simple play.  These plays won't make the box scores, but trust me, they are just as important as making the big hit or scoring a few more goals a year.  A lack of communication or a mistake under pressure can lead to a goal against, so to have those abilities (especially at this stage of his career) is amazing.
Ouellet mostly played sheltered minutes against 3rd and 4th line competition in his 3 NHL games.  That's to be expected.  He did get a couple of PK shifts, but was not a regular.  This is what is to be expected from a rookie d-man.   He will eventually make a few brain farts and cause some goals against.  It's not to be expected that he's this calm and smart this early in his career.  I'm guessing he won't be a regular in Detroit for two more years, but who knows.  If he stays this solid and gets a few more call-ups, he may make the top 6 next season.
That's all for now.  To further educate yourself on Mr Xavier Ouellet, check out the following links:

And per usual, yell at me (@KevinN37) on the twitter if you have something else you want me to break down.  While you're there, say hi to Michelle (@SlapshotG0al) and the @BlueLinePatrol account for some random hockey things.
Until next time...GO WINGS!!

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