Hockey has long been a game of ebbs and flows. Even the best of teams will have their rough stretches. In 2009-2010, the Chicago Blackhawks lost nine consecutive games. They went on to win the Stanley Cup. Even the worst of teams will have stretches of play where they look legitimately good. In November and December, this year's horrid edition of the Buffalo Sabres once found themselves on the brink of a playoff spot. This Carolina Hurricanes team is no different. After an excellent road swing last week, the Hurricanes got some time off. They had four days off from Sunday to Wednesday to recover before a home contest against the Anaheim Ducks. After that would be a trip up to the State of Hockey for a Valentine's Day date with the Minnesota Wild. The Hurricanes thoroughly dominated the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday, but were unable to pick up the win due to the stellar play of Anaheim's young American goaltender, John Gibson. Gibson was not the only reason the Hurricanes lost on Thursday. Defensive breakdowns at key moments and against the wrong opponents allowed the opportunistic Ducks to capitalize and ultimately claim a 2-1 win in Raleigh. The Hurricanes followed this performance up in Minnesota with what was almost certainly the worst showing this team has had since their dreadful winless month of October. The defense was atrocious, and Anton Khudobin was not much better. On the positive side, Justin Faulk tallied two more points; while Jeff Skinner scored for the second consecutive game. He's continuing to show signs of breaking out of his long slump. While last week's post focused heavily on the positives to be gleaned from the season, there really isn't a whole lot nice to say about the team's performance from this past week. This is especially true in a feature that aims primarily to break down film and X's and O's, as I do with this column. Here's a look at some of the key mistakes from the two defeats the Hurricanes suffered at the hands of Western conference opponents this week.
With the rise of the influence of analytics on the game of hockey in recent years, one of the nuances of the game that has been highlighted has been zone entries. Intuitively, it makes sense that it is better to carry the puck in when possible than to dump it in and hope to regain possession with a battle, but now we have the numbers and statistical data to support that idea. Conversely, it makes sense for defensemen to make it as difficult as possible for their opponents to enter their zone with control of the puck. The easier it is for your opponents to gain the zone, the easier it is for them to produce shots on goal. The easier it is for them to produce shots on goal, the more shots on goal they will produce. The more shots on goal they produce, the more likely they are to either score a goal cleanly or have a bounce go their way and have the puck end up in the back of the net. That is exactly what happened on Anaheim's first goal, which tied the game. With all that in mind, take a good look at how Brett Bellemore defends Corey Perry's zone entry here.
This is way too much space to be giving someone like Corey Perry. Perry's an above average skater, an above average passer, and a well above average shooter. Bellemore, for all of his faults, is usually a very solid positional defender. Here, however, he is denying Perry exactly zero of his three options. Anyone who is familiar with Corey Perry knows that the guy loves to drive the net and cause chaos in front of the other team's goalie. That's exactly what he'll do here.
Bellemore finally steps up on Perry as he approaches the faceoff dot, but it's too late. Perry's generated too much momentum already.
Aaaaand he's by him. Perry walks around Bellemore and is in all alone on Cam Ward. As I said before, easy zone entries lead to increased likelihood of getting a nice bounce into the net. That's exactly what happens for the Ducks here.
And just like that, after all the good work the Canes had done to this point (see the shots on goal margin), the game is now tied.
Victor Rask was arguably Carolina's best forward on this night. Unfortunately, excellent play was overshadowed by his unfortunate mishap in front of Cam Ward which led directly to Matt Beleskey's game winning goal. Overall, there really wasn't much wrong with how the Hurricanes played against Anaheim. The dominated possession and shots on goal. They made Anaheim's defensive groups look foolish way more than the opposite happened. Unfortunately, John Gibson turned in a fantastic performance that Cam Ward was unable to match. It happens in this league, and it's one of those things where as a team you have to put it behind you and move forward.
That is not what the Hurricanes did on Saturday against Minnesota. Before nine minutes of game time had ticked by, Thomas Vanek had already struck twice to generate a 2-0 lead for the home team.
This screen grab pretty well sums up Vanek's first tally, as both Tim Gleason and Victor Rask opted to chase the puck instead of being sure to properly mark their men.
On Minnesota's third goal, from Jordan Schroeder, I'm going to again look at the gap control from the Hurricanes defense. In this case, Justin Faulk was the guilty party. Watch how much space Schroeder has to enter the zone, create time and space for himself, and fire a solid shot at the net which would ultimately beat Anton Khudobin.
It's now 3-0 before the first intermission. All three goals were due to defensive lapses by the Hurricanes. It's simply not good enough.
The Hurricanes would make a rally in the second. Andrej Nestrasil, Jeff Skinner, and Elias Lindholm would each score to make it a 4-3 game. Minnesota would respond in kind with two more goals of their own to lift themselves to a 6-3 win on home ice. As a bubble team in the wild Western Conference playoff race, they picked up a huge two points to improve their positioning in the standings. That's great for them. Minnesota's a likable team. It would just be nice to see the Hurricanes make things a little more difficult for the bubble teams they'll be facing down the stretch than they did on Saturday.