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About Last Night(s): Trip West Begins from Behind Thanks to Offense

Sure, what happens in Vegas often stays there, but the Canes’ offense never even made it to the Strip in the first place.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

For those who stayed up to see the Canes’ back-to-back games in Phoenix and Vegas, you probably weren’t blown away by what you saw.

Is it cool to come back from a 3-0 deficit to force overtime? Sure, but not when you watched how the Canes give up those three goals in close succession in the first period. Is Marc-Andre Fleury a great NHL goalie who is fourth in NHL history in shutouts? Yeah, congrats, but we didn’t do much to try to stop that historic mark.

After starting the year 4-0-1, Carolina is 2-6-1 in its past 9 games. Remember how the Kings started the year 2-6-1 and many started to jump ship? It’s feeling very close to that for the Hurricanes, though the nine early points give them a good buffer, but only for so long.

What went wrong over the past two games? It could take 3,000 or more words to explain, but I want to talk about our lack of offense, both at even-strength and special teams. Even though we scored three on the Coyotes after Rod Brind’Amour switched up the lines down 3-0 to make a statement, we saw that it was nothing more than a desert mirage

Can We Score? Please?

It’s the obvious question and the main area of improvement, so it needs to be first on our to-do list. Yes, hockey is a game where it feels like goals go in half the time by fortuitous bounces, lucky breaks and a centimeter here or there, but we’re rarely scoring on the clear breakways, power plays or rebounds at the net.

Do I agree with Brind’Amour that the pucks will start falling eventually? Well, yeah. They fell in Arizona, albeit after three first-period goals. But that’s something Bill Peters said all last year, and they rarely ever fell. So it’s not reassuring.

A few thoughts and observations on goal scoring/lack of goal scoring:

  1. It feels to me like nearly every game, at least five to ten times, we’ll get the puck down low and, instead of patiently seeing who crashes toward the net, we fling pucks back that reach no one and clear the zone. It’s a big momentum killer to have the puckhandler in such good offensive positioning only to have to regroup, gain entry and try again (easier said than done many times). Note that Sebastian Aho and Jaccob Slavin -- our two best puckhandlers early on -- rarely ever do this, so the rest of the team needs to take heed.
  2. Nearly half of our goals this season (18 of 38) came in a three-game span against the Rangers, Canucks and Wild. That means we’re scoring, on average, 1.8 goals the rest of the season -- a lower rate than the league-worst Kings (2.00).
  3. To be exact, we’ve scored all of one goal in the first period during the last five games, so we’re constantly playing from behind. Compare that to seven first-period goals in the first five games of the season. It’s obvious to say, but going down early 2-0/3-0 makes it easier on an opposing team to hunker down on defense and be content just moving the puck around in the offensive zone to not simply score, but burn off time, too. Also, on the back-end of a back-to-back, you don’t want to rely on third-period legs to get the job done.
  4. Justin Williams in his Vegas postgame interview that the Canes don’t have a 60-goal player on their team, so they have to go about scoring with the cooperation of the full unit. That certainly makes it tough, and it’s one reason why I think that the line changes were a good thing to see what scoring could come about, even though it didn’t work on Saturday. Something wasn’t working after that torrid three-game stretch, and just because the changes didn’t work on Saturday doesn’t mean the Canes should trash the idea. To build that cooperative scoring, you’ve got to give lines time, and I think Rod early on has done a fairly decent job with balancing that to try to get the best out of his scorers (though getting Dougie on PP1 took a little too long, my friend).

As for the “opposing goalies have just been shutdown” stans, I’m not going to sit here and pretend like every goalie we’ve faced has put on some magic show to deny us a win.

Antti Raanta and Marc-Andre Fleury are two tough draws, but half the teams in the league have “tough draws” on any given night. And my god, Fleury gave up five goals to the Blues in his last game. He gave up two goals to Oskar Sundqvist, who has four goals in 73 career games. That’s half of his career goals!

Weekly Assessment of a Failing Power Play

God, help us all.

The Canes went 0-for-9 on the power play, dropping their power play percentage from nearly 15 percent down to 11.7 percent. You thought last year was bad (18.4)? This is real pain.

A few of them created consistent good looks -- see: final power play last night when it was too late to come back -- but overall, it’s still looking sloppy. The only passes that seem to be clean are the ones around the clock, not to the net. Holding the corners of the blue line has been a problem, though getting to pucks quickly when they aren’t flung out with much speed has been decent.

Some youngsters like Andrei Svechnikov and Lucas Wallmark are still making questionable choices when they sniff the net on the PP (though Svech had a much better game all-around in the second and third period in Arizona). For instance, last night, right after a good offensive presence was broken up, on re-entry, Wallmark decided to quickly put one on the net with almost no one in position to get a rebound. And Svechnikov got a good 6-8 feet from the crease, and instead of shooting, passed it to quite literally no one but Knights in front of the net.

I think there are some strategic points to the power play that can be worked out as far as positioning and making crashes to the net more effective than just standing in front constantly with a defender marking your stick so you never get a chance. And whoever starts in net at St. Louis on Tuesday, we have no excuse of “the goalie was just too good” for not scoring on the power play (Jake Allen and Chad Johnson? Blegh.)

Maybe one day we’ll get to talk about our goaltenders and where they could pick up slack, but until we start scoring with much more ease (preferably more than 1.8 times per game), it’s on the offense to take these losses.