RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes, in many ways, have gotten here in spite of their power play. All season, it’s failed them at key times, and the fact that they’ve made it ten games into the postseason in the first place is a testament to just how well they’ve played at 5-on-5.
But three games into the Hurricanes’ second round series against the New York Islanders, the Canes are, for the first time in the postseason and going back a few weeks before that into the end of the regular season, facing a team that’s had relative success in closing things off at even strength. In many ways, the Islanders, even more than last year’s Stanley Cup champion Capitals squad, are the ur-Barry Trotz team: bereft of headline-grabbing talent, but indisputably effective in imposing their style on a game.
That’s where a power play comes in handy, and the Hurricanes simply are getting nothing from it right now.
Rod Brind’Amour will have plenty of things to reflect on once his first season as an NHL coach comes to a close, whenever that is. But chief among them has to be the realization that patience is admirable to a point, but too much patience will result in nothing but frustration and squandered opportunities.
Not to go full Systems Analyst here, but a couple of things are very obviously missing from the standard setup on a Hurricanes power play.
First, the Canes did make a little bit of an adjustment, moving Justin Faulk down from the blue line to the top of the circle. The Canes allowed Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen to man the points, which could spell disaster in more than one way: a turnover would give the Islanders an obvious advantage on what would likely be an odd-man rush going the other way. Faulk did get a couple of one-timers off from this position, so that at least is a step in the right direction.
But once Faulk takes that shot and generates a rebound, there’s absolutely nothing there. Nino Niederreiter is the closest thing to a Hurricanes presence in the slot, but he’s too far away from the crease to really be all that effective. That usually means one of two things happens: either the puck comes right back to the point and we start all over again, or an Islanders penalty killer grabs the puck and kills time.
So the problem here is twofold: it’s both a personnel issue and a design problem. The first can be addressed by Don Waddell, and one would think that this could be a place where Micheal Ferland would have been effective in the Niederreiter spot were he not on the shelf. That’s the type of player that the Hurricanes have rarely had in their history, and that they’re hoping Julien Gauthier develops into. Maybe, if you squint enough, it could be Warren Foegele with about 15-20 more pounds on him, but that doesn’t do the Hurricanes any good at the moment.
Right now the lack of that player is glaring. If the Hurricanes aren’t going to re-sign Ferland, they’d better address that issue in some form.
The second can only really be addressed by Brind’Amour, who was responsible for the power play under Bill Peters and has continued that responsibility into his own turn as head coach. He’s said repeatedly that he’s fine with the power play in terms of “doing the right things,” whatever he wants that nebulous phrase to mean. But it’s quite apparent that this might be a blind spot for him, and he might need someone else to fix it.
The Hurricanes are still in the driver’s seat of this series, holding a 3-0 lead despite the fact that they haven’t scored on 24 straight power plays dating back to Game 3 of the first round. They won Wednesday’s Game 3 in spite of their man advantage, and they might well win the series in spite of it. But the refusal to change anything up is bound to cost them at some point, and the Hurricanes can’t simply allow it to happen without at least making a concession to structural adjustments.