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How Did Barabanov Beat 4 Devils with 1 Pass?

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Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

NEWARK, N.J. — San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner laughed when I asked him about Alexander Barabanov’s pass to Erik Karlsson last night.

“He’s pretty talented,” Boughner said.

This Karlsson goal made the game against the New Jersey Devils a laugher too, giving the Sharks a 4-0 lead, en route to a 5-2 victory.

So how did Barabanov almost beat FIVE Devils with one pass? The Russian winger was kind enough to join me after practice today for an exclusive breakdown of his highlight-reel assist.

Ty Smith (24) gets in the way of the first Barabanov (94) attempt to feed Karlsson (65). Smith’s block gives the Devils the chance to collapse. That should be good news for New Jersey.

But nobody crowds Barabanov — neither Smith nor Dawson Mercer (18), the closest Devils to the Russian winger. Barabanov wasn’t surprised by New Jersey’s passiveness.

“No, because it’s not easy for the defense. Because first time I wanted to pass, but it was blocked. And I have a nice chance to shoot [now],” he offered. “Maybe they think I’ll shoot?”

Whatever the reason, Barabanov has all the time in the world to pick apart the Devils’ defense.

Notice the positioning of Karlsson’s blade — he’s telling Barabanov where to put it, to keep it away from Dougie Hamilton (7). Barabanov confirmed that Karlsson didn’t call for the pass vocally — likely to not give away his position. Now, it’s for Barabanov to deliver the puck through enemy lines.

“I’m waiting for the lane to open,” he said. “Just wait. A little pause. Then the lane will open.”

The lane to Karlsson’s blade is through Andreas Johnsson (11) — so Barabanov is waiting for Johnsson to open up. The lane isn’t open yet — look at Johnsson’s feet.

“Yeah, I’m watching for his feet,” Barabanov confirmed.

For New Jersey, it’s a bad combination: A skilled San Jose Sharks forward has all the time in the world, and at some point, Johnsson is likely to open up.

Before we get to the killpass, let’s give Barabanov credit for his deceptiveness too. He held this tightened-up position for seconds, telegraphing nothing.

“I’m just waiting,” the San Jose Sharks winger explained coolly. “Maybe some guy comes at me or the lane opens up.”

Barabanov is both a shot or pass threat in this position. The word we agreed upon — Barabanov is still working on his ability to converse in English, which has, by the way, grown a lot since last year — is “neutral.”

So what’s a Devil to do?

Nothing, apparently. Finally, Johnsson opens up — Hamilton’s stick is still defending the wrong side — and the two-time Norris Trophy winner Karlsson does the rest with a spectacular finish of his own.

“They’re a tough line to play against below the tops of the circles,” Boughner said of Barabanov’s partnership with center Tomas Hertl and Rudolfs Balcers. “They probably had the most chances of anybody last night.”

Two guesses on how much head coach Lindy Ruff loved how the collapsing Devils collapsed here?

 

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Zeke

I’d also note how EK65 moves outward. That was a big part of the play. He’s at the edge of the paint, a good spot for a rebound. But after Barabanov’s shot gets blocked, EK65 moves back a bit. Since all the defenders are looking at Barabanov, EK65 is able to find a lane for Barabanov’s pass. And the defenders can’t adjust because they never see Karlsson move.

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