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Systems Analyst: Power Play Renaissance

There was a time when the Canes had the 6th best power play in the League—probably because they regularly did things like this.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Just over a week ago, I wrote about the substantial fall from grace for the Carolina Hurricanes’ power play. This week, while still very much imperfect, they showed the effort and execution that yielded their earlier success. This particular play had the added bonus of being Sebastian Aho’s hat-trick goal.

Seems like he’s adjusting to the NHL just fine. But he certainly owes his linemates for the opportunity, too.

Aho actually starts the play in a puck battle by the boards at the top of the above frame. Notice, too, how Elias Lindholm is supporting him, even though there is just one Flyers player.

This concept of outnumbering the penalty killers in puck battles is something Carolina’s PP has not done well since the beginning of the year. It should be second nature—the Canes have the man-advantage, so the Flyers can never outnumber them. If Philly has two guys on the puck, Carolina needs to have three. They executed this well on their power plays Tuesday night.

After Aho won the battle, he made a pass to the open Justin Faulk on the blue line. Now comes another key to a successful power play—movement away from the puck.

Teuvo Teravainen has found himself a very open patch of ice and is easily available for a pass. Lindholm peeled away from Aho as he won his battle and has taken away a defender down low. And Jordan Staal looped around up high, perhaps preparing for a set play with 86.

Each of these players made a decision to move to the best available space for the play, making the Flyers’ defense work twice as hard to keep track of everyone.

Staal’s loop has given him a clear lane to the net, as Teravainen feeds him a pass. The Flyers seem lost, and no one really knows who they are supposed to be responsible for because of the Hurricanes’ player and puck movement.

Staal gets the pass and immediately shoots, but sacrifices accuracy for a quick release.

Here’s another prime example of the tenacity of the Hurricanes in their puck retrieval. Staal is following his shot that went wide instead of standing still in front of the net, and Teravainen did not waste a second following suit. Meanwhile, the Flyers only have one man headed towards the loose puck.

Now Teravainen has won the footrace, but see how Lindholm has slid in behind the net. If 86 simply gets the puck and then picks his head up, he likely doesn’t see Lindholm available. But Teravainen makes himself aware of his surroundings before he even gets to the puck and draws a defender to him before dishing around the boards to his open teammate.

Also, take a look at Aho in the far face-off circle. He’s out of the play right now, but he is in a position to make a quick adjustment if the puck comes near.

Guess what? The puck came near. Lindholm has his head up as he gets the pass and Aho has shifted a bit higher in the circle for a better shooting angle. He has also positioned his body to be able to lean into a one-timer or get the most torque out of a wrist shot.

Also, the added benefit of having two guys on the puck is that the Flyers have guys out of position who tried to even up the numbers in the puck battle. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare got caught up chasing Staal and Teravainen almost into the corner, leaving Aho all alone for an easy shot.

Sticking with the theme of preparedness, as Aho receives the pass, he is already loaded to shoot. Making the decision of what to do with the puck before he ever gets it allows him to catch Steve Mason moving across the crease and put it past his shoulder.

This is a quality still frame. 4-0 Canes.

The Hurricanes still have a long road ahead of them in this year’s playoff push, but an offensive showing like the one they had Tuesday night may be a crucial jumping-off point for a young team looking for confidence.

Of course, they did still leave five out of seven power play opportunities goal-less, but on this one, they made it count and showed just how dangerous they have the capacity to be.

Seeing players relentlessly win puck battles and constantly move to open space without the puck is a wonderful scene for Canes fans, and it’s a safe bet the coaching staff have keyed in on plays like this one to build off of too.