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Systems Analyst: Jeff Skinner’s Bad Break

The Hurricanes’ prolific point-producer has struggled lately—this segment from the loss to Dallas epitomizes his plight.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes may be on a bye week, but they’ve still left us with plays to break down. Of course, most of those plays have not been goals in the past week, so let’s have a look at why that is.

Probably the most heavily relied upon scorer this season, Jeff Skinner has hit a bit of a wall lately. His one goal in the past 11 games does not pass muster by his standards or the team’s, but that does not mean he isn’t creating—just that he isn’t finishing.

Check out his first-rate chance from the loss to the Stars last Saturday:

Nine times out of 10, Skinner puts that puck into a high corner of the net for an easy goal. Sadly, this time was the tenth. But it’s important to note the events that occurred that allowed him to have so much time and space, so let’s dissect.

Skinner never gets his chance without the hard forechecking of Lee Stempniak here. In the far corner, you can see him taking on two Dallas players.

This is an altered, more aggressive form of a 1-2-2 forecheck, with Stempniak being the “1,” Skinner and Victor Rask being the middle “2,” and Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce filling in as the final “2.”

In most cases, the middle “2” of that formation will be a bit higher and a little further apart so as to snuff out any wraparound passes for a weak-side winger. Here, Skinner and Rask are low and ready to support at a moment’s notice.

Above, Stempniak has won the battle against both Stars defensemen, and the puck (just below the Lexus sign, inside the face-off circle) is on its way to the awaiting off-screen Slavin.

But the most important part of this frame is Skinner—remember how he was around the bottom of the face-off circle in the first picture? He’s actually skating backwards in this one, and by going behind the net, he has stayed out of the periphery of the defending Dallas forwards.

Now we come to the part where it’s important to have smart teammates. And as teammates go, Slavin is one of the smartest. Most defensemen would be thinking to shoot the entire way here—they may not even pick their heads up.

But Slavin can see Skinner looping around the net completely unguarded, and fakes a shot as he fires an on-ice pass towards Skinner.

I apologize for the blurriness, but you’ll see a white blur standing far away from the other green ones, and right in front of their net. Slavin’s pass has found Skinner’s tape, and the winger is all alone for an easy chip in over Lehtonen’s pad.

Skinner even gets two whacks at the puck, but puts both into the outstretched leg of the Dallas netminder. And even worse, he’s out of time as Jordie Benn rushes in to correct his mistake in coverage.

Obviously this is an incredibly athletic and fairly ludicrous save from Kari Lehtonen and his actual rubber-band-legs, but Skinner’s inability to lift the puck here is staggering.

Well, maybe not inability, but perhaps lack of acknowledgement that it was the better option. More than anything, it seemed like Skinner may have actually thought he could beat Lehtonen wide—which is confusing, given that Lehtonen’s stick and blocker are out of the equation and a shot 15 inches off the ice will easily sail in the net.

There’s also the issue of his slump—he may have been too excited to get the monkey off his back, so to speak. He could have seen the chance unfolding and instead of slowing it down in his head to make the play, it’s possible that he was too eager and failed to see Lehtonen flash his pad across.

When a player of Skinner’s pedigree goes cold, their confidence takes a hit. The best players rebound and keep their focus—which is something Skinner has struggled with in the past, but has shown signs of improvement during cold stretches this season. And while this play shows that he is still creating opportunities, missing a golden opportunity likely won’t help much.

Still, with the players around him like Slavin and Stempniak driving and competing as they did above and Skinner still going to the front of the net, it won’t be long before 53 finds his name in the goal column of the scoresheet more consistently.