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Systems Analyst: Keep It Simple

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The Hurricanes have gotten away from their usually-strong neutral zone play, and it could prove costly.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

In looking back at a few of recent Carolina Hurricanes contests, some inconsistencies in their game clearly shown in their losses. Questionable decisions on offensive rushes, not creating enough high-danger chances — things that hurt and, if rectified, could help push them over the invisible line they seem to struggle with so much. But having a hard time moving in transition...that’s not like this team.

The Canes haven’t always been making great decisions with the puck in the offensive zone for a solid while now, but they have generally stuck pretty well to their identity as a quick transition team from their zone into the neutral zone. Pavel Zacha’s goal for the New Jersey Devils last Sunday, though, was a gift from a Carolina team that seemed to forget how to play to its strengths.

Allow me to preface this by saying this play is somewhat of an anomaly, due to John Moore coming out of the penalty box and perhaps not being a player the Canes were aware of, but it’s a troubling development nonetheless. As the Canes’ power play ticks down, Noah Hanifin finds Justin Williams at the blue line.

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All well and good, Williams can hit Victor Rask with a pass, or hold onto it to let the other players go by and skate it himself. Or he can hit Jeff Skinner at the far blue line by the benches. Plenty of options, no reason to force anything.

Update: he forces a pass anyway. And we get this “yakety-sax”-worthy moment, brought to you by your hometown Carolina Hurricanes.

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By waiting too long to make a decision, Williams ends up running out of room due to the oncoming Zacha. Finding Rask immediately after receiving the feed from Hanifin would have been a far better play, or even holding it and moving laterally to buy space and time. But trying to go between Zacha’s stick and body to Rask was an unnecessary risk, especially as the last man back.

Derek Ryan then gets stuck with the hot potato, tries to pass to Williams, misses, and springs Moore the other way. A comedy of errors that is completely avoidable with quicker and smarter decision-making — something we know for a fact they are capable of.

It’s a far cry from the efficiency between the blue lines that we’re used to from Carolina, and a trend they would be wise to snuff out — because their mishap leaves Ryan as the lone defenseman on a 3-on-1 rush, during which Moore finds Zacha with a perfect pass for a tap-in goal.

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Ideally, the odd week off the Canes have enjoyed should have given them time to reset and rediscover their form. They’re always going to have their issues, but failing at the strongest facet of their team’s game is not a fantastic look.