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Systems Analyst: Another Third Period to Forget

A pair of third period defensive breakdowns doomed the Canes on Thursday.

Jamie Kellner

The Carolina Hurricanes have lost back-to-back games, both at the hands of the Metro leading Washington Capitals. The loss puts the Hurricanes right back on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, sitting just one point ahead of both the Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets.

On Thursday, the Hurricanes again entered the third period in good shape against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. After allowing three unanswered third period goals on Tuesday, the Canes entered the final frame on Thursday with a one goal lead. But once again, the Hurricanes were shutout in the third and the Capitals rallied to win on the road.

The pair of goals featured two defensive breakdowns by the Hurricanes and a pair of heady hockey plays from the reigning Cup Champs.

The Equalizer

The 23-year-old Jakub Vrana potted his 23rd of the year on a beautiful breakout play that fooled the Hurricanes, and Michael Ferland in particular. The play begins with a long pass from Christian Djoos to Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The Hurricanes’ forecheckers handle the breakout appropriately. Lucas Wallmark marks Djoos, Jordan Martinook recognizes John Carlson streaking up the middle and follows him and Ferland swings with Vrana. Ferland is focused on the puck, trusting that he has a defenseman behind him. If that’s the case, Ferland simply needs to keep Vrana to the outside which he does, but there’s a problem as can be seen in the still image below.

Caps’ forward Carl Hagelin has cut across the blue line from the weak side near the Hurricanes’ bench, across to the strong side. In the process, Hagelin brings his mark, Trevor van Riemsdyk, with him. This leaves a ton of open ice on the weak side. With Calvin de Haan playing a loose gap and Martinook occupied by Carlson, Kuznetsov recognizes the opportunity, promptly cuts back and rifles a pass to Vrana.

When Ferland realizes that van Riemsdyk is gone, he attempts to harass the speedy Vrana, but it’s too late. As for Curtis McElhinney, he notices Vrana’s eyes are down, leaving the 2014 first round pick susceptible to a poke check.

The problem is McElhinney commits to the poke check too early. So when Vrana pulls his forehand-to-backhand move earlier than expected, McElhinney’s five-hole is left exposed leading to a tie game.

The Backbreaker

The Capitals’ game winner came on a hustle play from grinder Nic Dowd who beats Sebastian Aho back to the netfront.

The goal starts on the zone entry. Dowd chips the puck deep and his stick then swings wildly, eventually contacting Aho in the back of the head.

The back official either missed the contact or chose not to award a power play in the final five minutes of a game with playoff like intensity. Either way, the Capitals win the race to the puck and therefore possession.

The puck eventually works its way down to Dowd in the corner, who is covered by Aho. Aho, clearly frustrated, cross-checks Dowd to the ice, again uncalled. With possession of the puck Aho can either carry the puck, chip the puck to Dougie Hamilton behind the net or rim the puck around the wall. Aho, happy to be done playing defense, opts to fire the puck around the wall.

The wrap is too quick for Lucas Wallmark and reaches Caps’ defenseman Nick Jensen. Jensen quickly slaps one toward the goal. Jensen could have just shoveled the puck safely back into the corner, but makes the heads up play to find the streaking Dowd, who redirects it past McElhinney for the eventual game winner. out-hustles Aho back to the front of the net and gets rewarded.

The overhead view showcases Dowd, freshly back on his feet from after absorbing the cross-checks, take two hard strides toward the net while Aho admires his wrap. Aho makes no effort to get back in front of Dowd or to tie up his stick. The result is disastrous.

In Aho’s defense, he ended the net as the only Hurricane forward over 20 minutes of ice time and easily could have been tired from logging so many heavy minutes. Conversely, Dowd finished the contest with just over nine minutes of ice time.

But the goal came just 30 seconds into Aho’s shift. Tired or not, its an inexcusable effort and the result is costly. For Carolina’s best player, who so rarely takes a shift off, it was quite an inopportune time to have a lax defensive zone effort. And the Hurricanes leave their home and home with Washington pointless.