On the Carolina Hurricanes’ recent three game road swing, there seemed to be a common theme running through the contests in New York, Boston, and then New York again against the Rangers for the second time in five days.
On Tuesday night, the Canes took a 2-1 lead into the third before goals by Rick Nash and Jimmy Vesey lifted the Rangers to a 3-2 win. The third period was the only one in which the Rangers outshot the Canes.
On Thursday, it was a similar story. Carolina took a 1-0 lead into the third after Noah Hanifin tallied in his hometown, but Teuvo Teravainen accidentally kicked the puck into his own net during a scramble at the net mouth with less than a minute remaining. Then, in the shootout, a Jaccob Slavin tally was not enough, as Cam Ward was beaten two out of three times and the Bruins emerged victorious. The Hurricanes were outshot 12-9 in the third in this one.
On Saturday, the Rangers looked asleep at the wheel for the first two periods, but a strong performance by Henrik Lundqvist kept the score at 1-1 heading into the third. The Rangers woke up completely heading in the final frame, and they ended up taking home a 4-2 win as they completely blitzed the Hurricanes with a goal by Michael Grabner and two from Chris Kreider in the final period. In this one, the Canes could only muster three shots on goal.
So what was the underlying theme that caused the Hurricanes to falter when all of those games were on the line?
One thing that certainly didn’t help was the absence of Jordan Staal, who offers Bill Peters a virtual guarantee to win whatever matchup he takes on.
There’s also the potential explanation of the home/road factor. When the Canes play at PNC Arena, where they have won six consecutive games, they show little difficulty in finishing out games where they’re ahead or finding ways to win games in which they’re tied.
There’s no way, to my knowledge, to separate underlying numbers by period, but the Hurricanes do look a little bit differently statistically home and away.
According to corsica.hockey, at home, the Canes are good for a 53.16% shot attempt share and a 53.85% expected goals share. On the road, the shot attempt share drops 52.77% while the expected goals share drops to 52.71%.
Obviously those are very marginal differences, but I’d be willing to bet that those gaps are more pronounced in third periods.
It may simply come down to Peters having the advantage of last change at his disposal at home. Being able to pick your match-up in every third period face-off is a big deal, especially as the leverage of every match-up grows as the game situation dictates.
Speaking anecdotally, when I watch games it sometimes feels as though the Hurricanes just come out in different modes in third periods. This was a topic of discussion early in the season when the team was regularly squandering third period leads, but going into a shell as a young team with what is at times questionable goaltending is never particularly conducive to winning games.
I can remember off the top of my head a few instances in which the Hurricanes have carried possession while having a lead in the third period and have drawn a penalty in the last few minutes to force the other team’s empty-net advantage to be a 5-on-5 situation instead of 6-on-5.
That happened last Sunday against Florida, when Vincent Trocheck took a tripping penalty to seal the game with 1:55 left. It also happened when the Winnipeg Jets were in town, as Patrik Laine’s high-sticking penalty led to Hanifin putting the game away on the power play with his first of the season. Same when Andrew Shaw of Montreal took a hooking penalty with :12 left during the winning streak.
Those types of things only happen in when teams put themselves in situations to draw penalties. That usually means having the puck, and if the Hurricanes can completely eliminate their occasional tendency to go into a shell with a lead in the third, they may find themselves closing out those games and converting those leads into wins more often.