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Systems Analyst: Riding a Cycle

Strong play and maintained possession in the offensive zone is the key to Carolina’s puck possession game.

San Jose Sharks v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

When the Hurricanes are at their best, it is not rare to see extended stretches of play in their opponents end. It takes a strong forecheck and careful puck management, but when Carolina is able to establish their cycle they can dominate possession.

Unlike some teams, the Canes heavily involve their defense in their offensive zone cycle and Thursday night’s game against San Jose was one of the their best forechecking exhibits of the season.

As Jordan Martinook enters the zone down the left wing, the San Jose backcheckers collapse towards the slot. Martinook flings a shot that careens around the boards to the point where Dougie Hamilton promptly puts the puck back in deep.

Ryan Dzingel corrals the puck and works it back to Hamilton. It’s worth noting the positioning of the Hurricane defensemen. Hamilton, the strong side defenseman, is tight along the wall, but the weak side defenseman, in this case Jaccob Slavin, is positioned near the weak side wall. Most teams like their weak side defenseman positioned closer to the middle of the ice, to enable an easier D-to-D pass.

But as the cycle rages on, Hamilton is able to rip a pass to Slavin and the forecheck continues. The spacing of the defensemen spreads San Jose out and forces them to chase. As seen below, the cycle continues until Hamilton mishandles and loses the puck.

The next clip again shows how much Carolina uses the wall. Nino Niederreiter twice uses his backhand to to wrap the puck around the wall where a pinching Jake Gardiner awaits. Gardiner sends the puck back in and the cycle rolls on.

The cycle didn’t always require help from the point-men though. In the clip below, the Hurricanes’ fourth line was able to establish zone time off of a Clark Bishop dump. Brian Gibbons retrieves the puck and wraps it along the wall. Evander Kane has good position for San Jose so the Hurricane defensemen opt not to pinch.

Recognizing that decision, Bishop is free to engage with Kane rather than falling back to cover for a defenseman. Bishop wins the battle, despite losing his stick, and Carolina goes back to work below the goal line.

On the game’s opening shift, another won puck battle led to the first goal of the evening. Carolina again utilizes the walls, wrapping the puck behind the net. Brent Burns comes away with it for San Jose, but Warren Foegele relentlessly pursues him and steals the puck. Foegele then finds a streaking Andrei Svechnikov for a beautiful finish.

When Carolina is on their game, the forecheck and cycle kickstart almost all of their offense. The extended shifts also work to wear down the opponents’ defenders. The Hurricanes will look to once again establish the cycle tonight against Minnesota.