The final game before the bye week can be a revealing time for NHL teams. Teams that are “for real” won’t have much trouble staying focused for one more game before a vacation.
Teams that maybe still have some work to do, however, end up with a result kind of like what the Carolina Hurricanes produced last Sunday.
The Canes will certainly look at, and learn from, the game tape before ideally pushing the dud performance out of their minds forever. But what they find upon revisiting the defeat might surprise them. Poor defending, a lack of speed in transition play; it just wasn’t the way the Hurricanes have found success.
The first goal Carolina gave up is a prime example of the kind of haphazard defending the Hurricanes are generally good at avoiding. Curtis Lazar carries the puck into the Canes zone around Justin Faulk.
Faulk could back off and just stay goalside of Lazar, but he goes to cut off Lazar’s rush at the blue line. It’s a fine play if well-executed, but it’s anything but in this example.
Faulk is about a half-step behind to really get to Lazar, which does him no favors, but the real issue is that his feet stop moving once he moves forward. A skilled forward will have no problem working around a statue defender; if Faulk continues to skate with Lazar, he may not win the puck immediately, but he at least avoids giving up an odd-man rush from his own blue line.
Lazar moves in on goal, with Jaccob Slavin and Lucas Wallmark back in defense.
Faulk bit too hard and left his partner out to dry a bit, but the Canes’ coverage here is fine. Wallmark does well to stay with Michael Stone, and Slavin paces himself, waiting for the right moment to charge Lazar.
Then...this happens. Slavin, like Faulk, commits a bit recklessly and Stajan pockets the loose change.
We’ve seen Slavin execute perfect poke checks before, even while sliding like this. But here...his slide is poorly timed (too soon) and poorly placed (too far from the puck). Lazar has no trouble holding the puck out wide to plow through Slavin’s last-ditch effort with his stick. It’s an uncharacteristic mistake by Slavin, and one that cost the team an early goal.
Then we have Lee Stempniak. When defending a rush like this one, the first forward back (Wallmark, here) follows the puck carrier or immediate passing option through the zone. The second (Stempniak), picks up the trailing opponent. He, uh, doesn’t do that.
Take a look at how Matt Stajan trails the play way behind Lazar’s initial rush; he almost gets lost in the shuffle.
This is where Stempniak needs to look around and find a mark. Especially here, with two defenders back already, he needs to scan the play behind him and pick up the most dangerous threat. Puck-watching can kill defending teams on rushes like this one, and it does so here. Stempniak goes after Lazar and misses the puck entirely, whereas sticking with Stajan would have allowed him the chance to tie up the eventual goal-scorer.
Chances are that this game was an anomaly, and not the new norm for the Hurricanes. They’re still a stingy defensive squad with good coaching. But seeing this team make fundamental mistakes like these is fairly stunning, to say the least.