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Systems Analyst: Finns and Forechecking

The opportunistic Hurricanes thrive on turnovers, and have a line that has mastered the art of forcing them.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this season, the Carolina Hurricanes’ line of Jordan Staal and his adult Finnish sons wingers Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen united to form the closest thing to a top line the Canes had had since EStaal/Tlusty/Semin tore up the NHL a few years ago.

Sure they put up points and even managed to shut down opponents in the process, but it was their work ethic that (rightfully) garnered the most attention. Primarily, it was their forechecking ability that stood out above all else—they even earned honors in this series not too long ago.

Now, Aho and Teravainen sit at the top of the Canes roster in point totals because they continue to put themselves in the best positions to succeed. Last week against the Capitals, they swung momentum in Carolina’s favor with another impressive display on the forecheck.

The play starts, as you can imagine, behind the Capitals goal. Washington’s Madison Bowey holds the puck as the Caps break out.

This is already a departure from what we’re used to—in the previous post about the TSA line’s impressive forecheck, they’re running a 2-1-2; two players aggressive on the puck while one hangs high as a sweeper. Here, it’s a 1-2-2 trap scheme meant to take away passing lanes, not quite as likely to choke the defense into a mistake.

Bowey has all the time he needs, and probably comes out a bit too soon. He tries to fake Aho to the right side but fails to wheel out with enough pace to take advantage of the brief window he gave himself. With no passing lanes readily available, Bowey needed to either skate the puck out of the zone himself or continue to hold and let the forwards circle back towards him. He did neither.

Bowey gets caught between trying to force a pass up ice and making a last-ditch D-to-D pass behind the net, and hesitates. The tenacious Aho pounces and strips the puck.

The 1-2-2 may not be as aggressive as other forechecking layouts, but, when facing young defensemen like Bowey, can be just as dangerous. Bowey’s indecision costs him, and Aho plays it perfectly.

But the key here isn’t actually Aho winning the puck, it’s the response from his linemates when he does. Look at Teravainen at the bottom of the frame stop immediately to come back into the zone. Staal rejoins the fray as well from his post on another would-be passing option. Any hesitation from these two and the potential scoring chance is dead in the water—Aho is outnumbered and has no angle on goal without some help from his friends.

Now with reinforcements incoming, Aho charges on goal. Braden Holtby pokes the puck away, but straight to Teravainen, who fires off a body and wide.

This is a solid poke check from Holtby, but he overcommits. Again, if Teravainen doesn’t immediately jump back into the play, Holtby gets away with this and sends the puck far enough out to have time to get back into position. And sure, it’s a lucky bounce that the puck goes straight back to 86, but he and Aho are creating their own luck with good habits and solid positioning.

The puck goes off the end boards and straight back into the crease, where Brooks Orpik taps in the own goal.

It’s another simple thing, but notice how the two red jerseys are the only ones actually moving their feet to chase down the loose puck. Teravainen has to go out of his way to reach the puck and still beats Devante Smith-Pelly, who had a clear lane. Staal nearly gets around the net before Orpik can go four feet across the crease to put it in his own goal.

It’s obviously a good bounce, but it all stems from the strong unit-wide attack of Staal/Teravainen/Aho. The Hurricanes’ opportunistic nature may let them down when their opponents’ are stingy with the puck, but forechecking and staying in smart positioning without the puck as they do here can help create more chances for a team that tends to lack pure offensive skill.