For four periods of play across two games, the Carolina Hurricanes showed their potential. Perhaps it was the insertion of Eddie Lack into the goal crease, or maybe the puck just bounced their way for a while, but they were a different team from the one that finished the game against the Calgary Flames yesterday.
Part of why Carolina fell yesterday is certainly due to the Johnny Gaudreau dynamic—the speedy forward certainly took over the game in the form of two goals and an assist after the early Canes goal—but they gave more than they took after what was a promising start. Let’s talk about why that happened.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” You also miss 100% of the shots that you put into an opponent’s shinpads. It honestly surprised me to find that both teams had 11 blocked shots, but maybe that’s just because one of Calgary’s felt a bit more important as it led to a goal:
Everything about this is beautiful. #CGYvsCAR pic.twitter.com/meWcUewin3— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) February 26, 2017
Johnny Hockey is good at hockey, by the way.
But even with the level shot block total, watching Carolina’s defensemen wind up and fire one-timers or the forwards trying to shoot through the Flames’ legs was frustrating and a preventable ailment, to say the least.
If you’ve read our Systems Analyst columns before, you know about “walking the line” when shooting from up high. It’s a useful skill to open up a shooting lane with a blocker in front of the shooter, but the latter has to have their head up, which Carolina’s shooters too often do not.
Instead, they stare at the puck, say a prayer, and send it careening off a defender. Sometimes they may look and still try to go through the player. Neither option is a good one. With a simple scan ahead they can tell when they do and don’t have a shooting lane.
For a puck possession-centric team, the Canes sure did a lot of not possessing the puck.
Rask pointed to turnovers as an issue tonight. The #Canes had 10 giveaways, while the #Flames registered 24 takeaways. #CGYvsCAR pic.twitter.com/R58dlvn8o5— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) February 26, 2017
Obviously those numbers are a bit of an anomaly for the Canes, as they usually do a fine job with Bill Peters’ puck control teachings. Generally speaking, their passes are smart and their team speed relies on quick passing through the neutral zone.
But yesterday gave us the Earth-2 Canes who make bad decisions with the puck, and at highly inopportune times. Many giveaways occurred in the offensive zone, when a scoring chance would begin to slowly materialize. We saw Ryan Murphy make a great play to stop after entering the zone, look up to find the best option, and float a tape to tape pass to a backchecking Flames forward for an easy breakout the other way.
We saw it in the defensive zone too, when a breakout pass went too far in front of a center or streaking winger and onto the tape of the awaiting Flames defenseman to be rifled back in on Eddie Lack.
Are these turnovers a deeply rooted issue within the Canes roster’? No, absolutely not. But the lack of crispness and acuity on display yesterday does little to inspire confidence. Next game should feature a tighter passing attack throughout the Carolina lineup.
On a positive note, the first period was all Carolina, particularly during their first powerplay. Jeff Skinner once again performed Jeff Skinner voodoo on the half-wall, freezing multiple defenders before sending a no-look pass across the zone, directly to the tape of Victor Rask who—wait for it—scored!
Yes, for the first time in a month and a half, Rask tallied a goal, and in no subtle fashion. Here’s his laser over Brian Elliott’s glove:
[HIGHLIGHT] @VictorRask beats Elliott glove side for a #Canes power-play goal. #Redvolution #CGYvsCAR pic.twitter.com/5SbvxmxPuS— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) February 26, 2017
Beyond the obviously perfect pass and shot, that short clip shows a lot about what Carolina does when they are on top of their game, specifically on the power play.
The puck movement is stellar, from Skinner to Noah Hanifin, back to Skinner and over to Rask, but the player movement is even better. Rask is in constant motion on the play, making him impossible to cover from a penalty killer’s perspective. Phil Di Giuseppe is firmly planted directly in front of Elliott, which is crucial to scoring from distance as Rask did. Lee Stempniak circles about in the lower corner, making himself available as a passing option and preparing to attack any rebound that comes out.
The execution by the very young unit is a credit not only to their coaching staff, but also to the players’ willingness to adapt and take pride in all of their successes, even when the ultimate goal of making the playoffs is slipping out of reach.
For a homestand that was supposed to be a resurgence into the playoff picture, it’s safe to say things couldn’t have gone much worse. A loss to a beatable Calgary team makes it four losses in five games since the bye week, and six losses in seven total games. The playoffs are getting out of hand, and fast.
With the Hurricanes now entering “seller” mode, will there be a change before Tuesday’s matchup in Florida?