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Connor Zary’s NHL debut: a retrospective on a great performance

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Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Middleton
5 months ago
A note of excitement was in the air as the Calgary Flames entered the Saddledome to play against the Dallas Stars, who they will be playing two more times towards the end of November to finish up the season series.
Connor Zary would be making his NHL debut after being called up from the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers after being called up on Halloween.
The Flames were trying to break a five-game losing skid, and even though they weren’t able to do that, there were some things to be positive about that we didn’t see since this streak started, and Zary contributed to that. As far as what head coach Ryan Huska thought about his debut, here is what he had to say via the Flames social media:
“I thought Connor was excellent tonight. He played with confidence, he played with courage, and he was one of our better forwards tonight for sure. He had impact tonight when he was on the ice. There were a few things on the defensive side of the puck that you could work with him on, but I thought when he was on the ice, he skated, he wanted the puck, and he made plays when he had it, and he didn’t do it in a risky or unreliable way, so I thought for his first night he had a very good night.”
Everything that Huska had to say in his press conference about Zary was true. The game started and he was immediately noticeable with and without the puck. Heck, he scored his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot. (there was some luck involved, but who cares? A goal is a goal).
Not only is it great that Zary scored his first NHL goal, but how he did it is super important. There was some luck involved, but the fact that he had the urgency to use his skating and crash the net in a wide-open back door seam after opening up as an option for Chris Tanev, who was at the point and inevitably shot the puck that made its way through, is a perfect representation of smart fundamental hockey. He adapted to the play as it moved, and that involved getting to the front of the net for a rebound chance, which worked in his favor.
Not only was Zary’s goal a highlight of the night but there were glimpses of his development in other areas of his game as well, like this gorgeous rush up the ice from his defensive zone that almost resulted in his second goal of the night.
He gets harassed from behind through the neutral zone by a veteran player in Tyler Seguin, and the real highlight is making the defenseman bite on a smooth toe-drag play. No doubt that the Saddledome would have gone nuts if he managed to pull that off. He waited for just the right moment to pull the puck into his body, and it worked to perfection.
The numbers were in Zary’s favor by the end of the night as well. He led the Flames in individual expected goals (ixG). He was the second-best forward (sixth overall) in expected goals plus-minus at even strength, which is plus-minus, but instead of goals for and goals against, it uses expected goals for (xGF) and expected goals against (xGA). He also finished the night with a 62.21 expected goals for percentage (xGF%) at even strength.
Despite the tough loss, it was a game to remember for Zary and for Flames fans alike. Not only did the young forward manage to get on the scoresheet with his first career NHL goal, but he didn’t take the rest of the night off after scoring that goal either. He worked hard for the kind of chances he earned while being able to flash the skill everyone knows he possesses. If he keeps playing games like this, it will be hard to justify sending him back down to the AHL.

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