Tim Stützle has one strip of tape that runs horizontally along the middle of his blade from the toe (which is taped) to about the center. Beyond the toe and that strip, there’s no other tape on the blade. The pattern is about deception and style. But maybe there’s also an element of grip.
For his fifth goal of 2020-21 and the fifth of his young NHL career, Stützle rushed up the left side after beating a pinching defenseman, got a step on the covering forward, and rocketed the puck off that single strip of tape past Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Michael Hutchinson’s ear on the short side. Hutchinson was playing well, and the Maple Leafs were in control of the game, but Hutchinson slowly stood up after the shot went in and took off his mask, analyzing it with a look of bewilderment.
There wasn’t much space for that puck to get through, so many fans were likely feeling the same sense of amazement. On the other hand, even though Stützle is still very early in his career, Senators fans might not be surprised because they have seen his display of speed, skill, and shot awareness before from the youngster. It’s almost becoming his signature move out of necessity (Ottawa doesn’t spend much time in their opponent’s end) and because he has the tools to excel at it. With five strong goals to start his career, here’s a closer look at those goals from Ottawa’s purest shooter.
Off the Rush
Stützle’s speed is a key part of his play. Three of his goals have come while busting into the offensive zone on the left side. Before the memorable hand-eye swing to meet the puck on the ice and slap/swing it past Toronto’s Jack Campbell (Stützle has scored on two of Toronto’s three main goaltenders this season), he is using his legs to create space from the hard pressing defender and cycle the puck across the blue line to Thomas Chabot, and get back to the open ice to meet the fluttering airborne puck. It’s his speed in all four cases that gave him the room to create space to lean into a strong shot.
Ottawa’s young group have shown flashes of sustained offensive zone pressure, but through this early part of the season at least, scoring off the rush has been Stützle’s best opportunity. On his second goal, the Senators were on the power play but caught in their own zone. Once they gained possession, Stützle immediately started building speed from the left faceoff circle in his own zone. His legs didn’t stop moving until just before he took the shot on the Edmonton Oilers’ Stuart Skinner.
Stützle gained speed without the puck (with a quick tap to Colin White) and, once he received the puck, was moving much faster than the defender, and forced an awkward pivot by the defender in an attempt to cut off the angle. With the 6’4” goaltender already down, Stützle put one of his increasingly dangerous and familiar wrist shots top corner on the far side.
In his three goals off the rush, Stützle gained speed before he even reached the offensive blue line. This allowed him to pass the defender as he entered the zone, catch the Oilers’ defence on a bad change in the next game (third career goal) and beat the covering forward on defence against the Maple Leafs for his fifth goal. His speed shortens the available response time for opponents and opens up opportunities when slower skaters in a similar situation might have to cut back or chip the puck around and potentially surrender the scoring opportunity.
His fourth goal is the outlier here, in a good way. His shot makes him a scoring threat on the power play and the main reason why the Senators seem to want Stützle in Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos’s office space (just above the faceoff dot on the left side).
Stützle is a left-handed shot, however, and, on this one sample power-play goal with the offence set up, he used Auston Matthews’ approach where he received the pass across his body, quickly adjusted to face the net while gathering the puck and loaded the shot or moved in a step or two, and then fired it by the goaltender. Ovechkin, Stamkos, and Matthews’ quickness and variance of release time will come to Stützle with more experience, but his shot is already on its way.
Stützle’s flexibility and shot selection skills were on display with these five goals. He quickly read that the goalie was already down or going down and hit the top shelf against Skinner and Hutchinson. He also read the angle as he approached in both cases. Skinner had the short side covered and is a taller goaltender, while the approach angle on his fifth goal was much tighter to the goal line, and he had to find space on the short side (successfully).
The goals on Campbell (first) and Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (fourth) didn’t need to go top shelf. He placed them about stomach-level on the goaltender when they were in the butterfly position. Both goalies were moving laterally and had time to get set for the shot. His goal against Price was more standard, but the deception of his shot in both cases is clear. The goaltenders were ready and facing the shooter, but Stützle’s release masked the intended location like a pitcher trying to hide the release point of a pitch.
This was clear on his third goal as well. He was moving in on Edmonton’s Mikko Koskinen, essentially on a breakaway, and Koskinen stood tall. Perhaps Koskinen made the quick decision based on scouting information, but Stützle read the goaltender and kept the puck right on the ice. The ability to read the play at such high speeds and at such a young age is impressive and worth recognizing.
Reviewing the Tape
It’s been exciting to watch Stützle score great goals so early in his career. Beyond a double arm swing after his first and an air punch after his fifth, his celebrations have been subdued and serious. This isn’t a call for him to turn up the celebrations or turn them down. It’s an acknowledgment that he looks like a competitor and will likely put up excellent numbers in the league. (from ‘Tim Stuetzle Leads German Hockey’s Next N.H.L. Influx,’ New York Times, 08/26/2020) But he wants to win like the rest of the best.
There are elements to his defensive game that coach DJ Smith and his staff will want to help Stützle develop, but the offensive display so far has been some of the best highlights of the season and are worth celebrating. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more sticks in the Ottawa area over the next few years with a taped toe and one strip coming from the toe across the middle of the blade.
Sports and music writer, covering the Ottawa Senators for The Hockey Writers. Lecturer at King’s University College. Journalism degree from UKC, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Loves a good day at the outdoor rink.