After an impressive stretch that saw them build considerable amounts of momentum and excitement, the Carolina Hurricanes have hit a wall in a big way.
Over the past eight games, the Canes have won four straight and promptly lost four straight. They scored 21 goals in the four wins, and five in the four losses.
Obviously the difference in level of competition is worth consideration—the four losses came at the hands of the top three teams in the stacked Metro division—but their inability to take advantage of the opportunities afforded to them has been puzzling.
Of course, lackadaisical defense and goaltending certainly jump out as primary reasons for the Canes being blown out recently, but the lack of offensive production on the powerplay has also been one of the more frustrating phenomena of the past week.
Now a shell of its former self, their man-advantage system has fallen from as high as 6th in the League to now 21st with a 16.8% conversion rate—2% behind the League average. Granted, they have improved lately in the form of two goals on the power play in the last two games, but in both cases that was one conversion out of at least five opportunities. Plus, these goals were the only two PPG’s in the aforementioned eight games.
Given the drastic change in their numbers, one would have to assume the same would be true for strategy or personnel. The players chosen by Bill Peters’ staff to play on the PP units have come mostly from the same pool of top-6/top-4 forwards/defensemen, just in some different combinations—nothing that would dramatically throw off the chemistry of the group.
And as for the setup itself, the Hurricanes haven’t altered the way they want to play, but their execution has left much to be desired. In order to explain, let’s start with what they look like when they are executing:
See how easy they made that look? It was a short clip, but even from a few seconds it was easy to see that the players knew what to do and when to do it.
Noah Hanifin makes the smart play to Sebastian Aho, who continues to skate to find a lane to either shoot or pass.
Elias Lindholm deserves credit for wisely becoming a passing option by leaving the front of the net, and again moving to find a lane to Jordan Staal, who showed awareness by shifting to help open the lane.
If you haven’t picked up on the theme here, it’s this: the power play that Carolina runs is built on constant movement and readjustment. The more fluid and unpredictable they are, the more options they open up for one another.
But for some reason, the Hurricanes have failed to play in this style; the way they have run for much of the past month or two has been stagnant and easily defended against. For example, imagine that video clip with poor execution.
Aho and Hanifin probably stay on the blue line and one of them tries to fire a shot through three bodies because Lindholm doesn’t pop out into the corner.
If Lindholm does get the puck in the corner, he likely tries to force a pass to Staal without moving away from Karl Alzner’s block attempt.
Nobody moves, but everyone still wants the puck, which leads to turnovers and a wasted power play. It shouldn’t be hard to imagine, because it’s been happening in most games in recent memory.
When a coach at any level teaches or assigns positions on a power play unit, he or she will give players a point in the zone as their position (lower left, lower right, top, front of the net, etc). The Hurricanes seem to have those positions locked in mind sometimes, and refuse to move away to create a better opportunity for themselves.
The other key issue with Carolina’s power play is their collective patience and awareness, or lack thereof. On that video clip, you saw Lindholm receive the pass from Aho and, while already knowing what he wanted to do with the puck, hold on to it for a second to increase his chances of success.
In cases which the Canes have faced pressure, they have been quick to either shoot directly into the defender’s shin pads in front of them or make an ill-advised, often blind, pass to an unsuspecting teammate who then faces pressure of his own and panics.
This vicious cycle of self-inflicted failure is a direct result of being unaware and unwilling to wait and analyze all options. Of course, holding on to the puck for too long is a certain disaster, but a player taking a look before the puck comes to them will help them realize their next move before they even have to make it, instead of figuring it out on the fly.
The Hurricanes power play unit can be great—their place in the top-10 of the League rankings for the first quarter-plus of the season can attest to that. But if they want to take the next step and take advantage of their opportunities, they must return to the fluid style that had been their staple this year. With that will come more time with the puck and more freedom to do what they want with it.