The Carolina Hurricanes took part in another dreaded back-to-back scenario on Friday and Saturday evenings. On Friday they welcomed the 25-15-3 Vancouver Canucks into PNC Arena. After an unsuccessful one year stint for John Tortorella in Vancouver in which the team suffered a rare postseason miss (they also had an identical record to the Hurricanes), the Canucks have seen a resurgence under rookie head coach Willie Desjardins. The 57 year old has his team in 3rd place of the tough Pacific Division, and solidly in a playoff spot. His team is back to being a positive possession team, with a respectable 50.6 even strength score-adjusted corsi share. On Friday however, they ran into a Carolina team who would produce drastically more shot attempts and scoring chances than they would manage. Here are a couple graphs to illustrate the advantages the Hurricanes held in these respects, courtesy of the fantastically helpful war-on-ice.com. I highly recommend this website for all of your hockey analytics needs.
As you can see, the Hurricanes held significant advantages in both shots attempted and in terms of converting those shot attempts into legitimate scoring chances. Why, then did the Hurricanes fail to score a single goal? And why did Vancouver waltz to a 3-0 victory? The answers to those questions are, unfortunately, rather simple. The Hurricanes were done in by uncharacteristic mistakes from their top players, as the usually fantastic Justin Faulk had one of his tougher games this season. His failure to play the puck in a couple situations led directly to high quality chances for Vancouver on which they were able to beat Cam Ward and convert upon. Ryan Miller also turned in a fantastic performance for the Canucks, as he made save after save to hold the Hurricanes scoreless.
Usually I use frame by frame breakdowns to illustrate what happened on various plays, but these are simple enough to see what went wrong for the all-star Justin Faulk in real time.
Everybody has off game, even Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Shea Weber. Faulk certainly had an off game against Vancouver, but those are to be expected sometimes. It's a part of the learning curve and the development process that is necessary to make it as an elite player in the National Hockey League, which is something that I firmly believe that Justin Faulk is well on his way to accomplishing.
Lurking around the corners of those aforementioned off games are plenty of opportunities ripe for players to redeem themselves. That is exactly what Justin Faulk did in Canada's capital city against the Senators on Saturday night. While the Hurricanes dominated Vancouver on Friday night but lost, the exact opposite was true in Ottawa on Saturday. The Senators manufactured an impressive 38 scoring chances, while the Hurricanes could only muster 16. In terms of shot attempts, the Senators held a 61-39 advantage at even strength. The Hurricanes had no business winning this game, but they managed to do so on the backs of two of their most important players on the roster. Anton Khudobin was absolutely spectacular. He stole the show on this night, and utilized this performance to leapfrog his counterpart Cam Ward in both save percentage and goals against average. Khudobin has had a number of solid outings this season, and this was certainly one of his best, in my opinion only being topped by his effort in Madison Square Garden in the third game of the season against the Rangers. Back to Saturday however, where only three Hurricanes were in the black in terms of on-ice shot attempts, and they were Justin Faulk, Eric Staal, and Jiri Tlusty. The team struggled mightily territorially, but these three were certainly bright spots in an otherwise rough night. Staal and Tlusty were +1 in this regard, but Faulk was even better +3.
Here are the charts for this one:
In addition to leading the team in shot differential, Faulk also scored a goal and had an assist on Nathan Gerbe's game winner. Producing two points and being the best possession player on the team is what you expect from your All Star defenseman. I fully expect to see more of what we saw against Ottawa than what we saw against Vancouver from Faulk down the road. And, as beat writer Chip Alexander so boldly proclaimed recently, the Carolina Hurricanes should probably not trade Justin Faulk. A sizzling hot take, to be sure, but probably one with which we could all agree.