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Systems Analyst: How to Play for Bill Peters

The Hurricanes’ coach often looks to have his team locked into a specific style of play...but what exactly does that entail?

Jamie Kellner

The NHL is a wholly different landscape than it was even just 10 years ago. The days of chipping and chasing are thinning out, and the puck-possession era has begun for many teams, including the Carolina Hurricanes.

But what does Bill Peters want to see differently out of his system on the ice? The Canes have been highly dedicated to holding onto the puck under Peters—as evidenced by their possession stats across the past two or three seasons—but they also tend to live and die by looking to force turnovers and make quick transition plays.

Last night was no different. For example, here’s a look at a defensive zone breakout after a forced turnover. McGinn picks up the loose puck, and looks for options.

Some players—particularly those late in their shifts—would chip this puck off the boards and go for a line change. But McGinn and the Canes know there are better options. With his head up, he can scan the ice to make a play that keeps the puck on a Carolina stick, rather than giving the puck up for free. It’s harder work, but it’s a method that usually pays off at the other end of the ice.

McGinn finds Hanifin, and heads off to the bench for fresh legs. Now Hanifin’s head is up and searching.

Notice, too, how most of the forwards have fled the zone. In most breakouts, teams will have their forwards lower to provide easier passing options for a defenseman behind the net.

But Carolina flying the zone early does two things: it gives the defensemen targets for a stretch pass if they can keep moving through the neutral zone, and it also draws their opponents back, freeing up space for the defensemen to skate the puck themselves. With several forwards changing and heading to the far blue line, Hanifin can push the puck ahead a bit.

Hanifin wheels around his man, but doesn’t like what he sees. The Canes still have forwards changing, and he doesn’t have numbers ahead. So he circles back to maintain possession, instead of getting the red line and dumping the puck.

This is the moment that sticks out as a representation of hockey’s new style. In past seasons, the goal was to get the puck into the other end as quickly as possible. Now, it’s about choosing your moments. The Canes have been quite good at not throwing the puck away under Peters (though they did get away from that during their recent losing streak), and great-skating players like Hanifin, Slavin, Pesce, you know the rest are the reason why.

Buying some time, Hanifin throws it over the Trevor van Riemsdyk, who then surveys his own options.

D-to-D passing is the straw that stirs the puck possession drink. Rather than forcing a pass that may or may not work out, defensemen can take their time to find the right option. Lateral movement can be frustrating for fans to watch, but it forces movement from the forwards and from the opponents, which opens up more lanes.

van Riemsdyk, not liking what he sees, gives back to Hanifin, who now has the entire middle lane to himself to skate or make a pass.

Hanifin doesn’t have this room if Foligno doesn’t change, and Foligno doesn’t change if the Canes don’t force him to work on the forecheck by being patient with the puck. It’s a perfect example of why you want to pick your time to press forward; now, the Canes have numbers ahead.

In reality, I’d like to see Hanifin keep it here and dish to Nordstrom in stride. A centering pass to Teravainen isn’t a bad idea, but Hanifin’s skating is his greatest advantage and his option through center is pretty well-covered. But again, without patience in his own end, Hanifin never even gets the passing option.

Carolina also thrives on transition play. Jaccob Slavin is one of the best in the League at forcing turnovers and getting the puck to forwards going the other way (check out a perfect example of that here).

In this example, it’s Justin Faulk making the play. Columbus tries to break through the neutral zone, but a quick stick from Faulk sends it back towards Sergei Bobrovsky.

This may just look like a poor passing attempt from the Blue Jackets, but Faulk deserves credit here. His gap control (distance between him and the oncoming attackers) allows him to still be active in the play, rather than passive and waiting for them to come to him.

By pressing high, he doesn’t give them any room to work and easily breaks up the play before it can begin. From there, it’s a 2-on-1 for Staal and Teravainen. All from a simple pass deflection.

Another great example of how the Canes want to attack the neutral zone came on Jordan Staal’s eventual game-winner. Sebastian Aho carries the puck through two Columbus defenders and finds Teravainen with a slick pass.

The zone entry is the focus here. Most of the time, a player in Aho’s position (stuck between two defenders, with another ahead) should dump this puck in. But Aho’s skill allows him to make a play with this scenario, plus he has support from Teravainen, as well as numbers behind him. There isn’t any risk of counterattack, and Teravainen is there to pick up a loose puck should it be stripped.

Confident plays like these will make a difference for the Canes, as seen last night. The more patience they have with the puck, the more chances will open up, and the more their high volume of shots and “analytics darling-ness” will show up in the standings.