On Sunday afternoon the Wild gave up the game winning goal to the Los Angeles Kings after what Michael Russo of the Star Tribune described as "an overall breakdown in coverage".
That's exactly the kind of description I hope for when looking for plays to analyze, so I thought we might take a closer look at what led to the Tanner Pearson goal.
The Wild generally play man to man defense below the top of the circles with the wingers positioned near their respective defenseman. It is the wingers responsibility to take away the opposing defenseman as passing options as well as offering support in front of the net when coverage down low breaks down. That's mentally a tough assignment because they have to be aware of what's going on behind them at all times. In the first screenshot we see that the puck has been moved by Pearson from the side wall to behind the net where Marco Scandella and Tyler Taffoli are positioned. The Wild are in good defensive position here, as everybody down low is attached to a man, and the wingers are taking away the defenseman.
As the puck is moved around the boards to behind the net, Jeff Carter follows it in order to help out Taffoli, who is hoping to win a puck battle with Scandella. Ryan Carter identifies Jeff Carter as his man, and begins to follow him behind the net. The problem here is that Jeff Carter is actually Christian Folin's responsibility, and Ryan Carter should be shading to the front of the net where Tanner Pearson is headed. With the puck moving towards Scandella, Matt Cooke anticipates a possible breakout opportunity and heads to the boards in hopes of receiving a pass.
Unfortunately for the Wild, Taffoli not only pokes the puck off of Scandella's stick, but he knocks him to the ice as well. Jeff Carter does a great job swooping in and gathering the loose puck. He then makes an incredibly deft pass back to Taffoli that is so sneaky, even the camera operator is completely fooled. Fortunately for the Wild, by marking the wrong player, Ryan Carter has put himself in a good position to help defend Taffoli who would otherwise be open due to Scandella having fallen. Pearson, being the responsible two way player he is, has circled to the high slot area to eliminate any odd man rush opportunities for Minnesota. Cooke is just out of frame here, but upon seeing the turnover and his defenseman fall, he should have immediately collapsed to Pearson in order to eliminate the numbers advantage for the Kings.
Now is when we see everybody react to the turnover behind the net. Zucker and Ryan Carter are now the only two defenders left against three King's players. Zucker identifies his original responsibility, Martinez, and uses his stick to take away that passing lane while also attempting to keep himself in position to defend Pearson. Pearson does a great job circling into a spot where Taffoli can find him. I do not think Ryan Carter realizes the dangers behind him because while he does a good job defending the wrap-around from Taffoli, he does an extremely poor job defending a possible pass to the front of the net. Cooke now sees his man and begins to collapse to the front of the net, but he's way too late and he knows it. Scandella is still gathering himself behind the net. I have no idea how he doesn't make it back above the goal line before this goal is scored. I guess this is why they make you do the fall over-get-back-up-really-quick drills in mites hockey.
Taffoli puts the pass right into Pearson's wheelhouse who makes no mistake and one-times the puck past Backstrom.
Like most goals, it was not one glaring error that led to this, but multiple smaller mistakes. Defensive systems are designed specifically to be able to recover from individual errors. It's multiple successive breakdowns that generally lead to operating space for opposing offenses. The key element is that not only does everyone have to be on the same page, they have got to be reading the same book. Cooke needs to react immediately by collapsing to the front of the net when the play breaks down near the Wild goal. Ryan Carter needs to do a better job of not getting caught puck watching. He followed the wrong man deep and then failed to identify the danger behind him in front of the net. Perhaps a more skilled defensive center would have been able to defend Taffoli's pass more effectively. You know, like, maybe, Kyle Brodziak.