How Martin St. Louis created the space he needed to bury the Canadiens

Justin Bourne
Brad Penner / USA Today

There’s no shortage of ways to score goals in hockey. Sometimes it goes off your throat, sometimes you score from center, other times it’s a pretty little tic-tac-toe. All you can do as an offensive player is repeatedly put yourself in the best position to score, and make your best shot. Two parts.

Naturally, then, it makes sense that some players are better than others at creating their shot, just like some players are better at shooting.

On Sunday night, Martin St. Louis scored the overtime winner on a shot (his team-leading fifth of the night) from an area of the ice he’s familiar with, because he’s shot the puck from there a zillion times throughout his career. What’s really impressive though isn’t how many shots he’s taken from there, it’s how open he is when he takes them.

St. Louis excels at finding himself that time and space by moving away from the play to go lurk in an offensive soft spot. He senses when the puck can be used like a magician’s misdirection (ALL EYES ON PUCK is a common defensive mindset whenever there’s anything remotely chaotic happening) and he slinks away to a spot where, if his team gets possession and sees him, he’s going to get a pretty good look.

It’s a similar goal scoring style to the one employed by Teemu Selanne in his later years, and the same one that makes you go “How, at that point in the game, do you lose track of Sidney Crosby?” after he’s tapped one home from the back doorstep.

Dustin Tokarski has had St. Louis’ number from that spot in this series, but if St. Louis gets enough chances with time to fire, the below will inevitably happen:

So yes, St. Louis does that goal-scorer thing by kissing the crossbar with a shot. But remember, if any NHL player has time and space, they’re capable of something similar. Hell, Francis Bouillon put one over Henrik Lundqvist’s shoulder in the second because he was afforded the time to make his best shot. It’s the shot creation that’s special.

One of the iso-cams on CBC highlighted how St. Louis found himself so open, and I thought it was a pretty cool route. Excuse the shoddy Vine video, but here it is:

He inhibits David Desharnais from being able to get the puck out, then he turns on offense. He sees a yawning, undefended zone, as both d-men are mesmerized by the battle to get the puck out. It’s a slim chance, but if - if his team comes up with the puck, he’s going to be alone with the goalie.

But they don’t, Andrei Markov gets it on his stick as you can see in the top video, and St. Louis starts to turn on defense. But as he’s turning, he seems to catch Markov semi-flub it, so he opens up. Offensive mindset, reactivate.

This is when it gets super goal-scorer-ish. As the play unfolds, he doesn’t just head to the net like your average plug. He wades back higher into the zone, so if his team does get the puck, he’s not right on top of the goalie. If he gets it up there he’ll have time to settle the puck down, get his head up, and shoot. He goes to where he’s the farthest distance from any player instead of skating himself into traffic as so many average players do.

I don’t know how many times St. Louis beats Tokarski clean on that shot - maybe 25-35% of the time or so - but if he can create that look often enough, a few are bound to go in.

With the game on his stick in Madison Square Garden, a composed man who’s shot that shot a zillion times before just happened to make a good one. And while burying the puck is still a special skill, finding yourself opportunities to try might be more special.