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Systems Analyst: In the Clear(s)

The Hurricanes lead the series 3-0, but need to bear down to ensure cleaner zone exits out of their defensive end.

Jamie Kellner

The Hurricanes took a stranglehold on their series with the New York Islanders on Wednesday evening, but their puck management in the defensive zone cost them two goals against and could have easily hurt them on more occasions.

On their penalty kill, Carolina has shown really only one set faceoff play and it is run on both sides of the ice. It involves the inside defenseman collecting the loose puck from a won faceoff and making a bank pass to the weak side forward behind the net. When it works, it produces an easy clear and kills at least 20 seconds off of the power play.

On the Islanders first goal, the Canes got the look they were hoping for at the beginning of the power play. But the Isles had seen the play enough to know what was coming. Instead of finishing off the puck carrier, Brett Pesce, Mathew Barzal cheats the play and intercepts the pass intended for Brock McGinn.

In his first period interview with NBC’s Brian Boucher, coach Rod Brind’Amour said, “We had a clean draw and didn’t execute. That always burns you.” This is what he was referring to.

In an ideal world, Pesce would recognize that Barzal was not pressuring him, throw on the brakes and turn to make the clear himself on his forehand up the strong side.

Seconds after the botched faceoff play, Pesce again had a chance to create a clear. This time he’s pressured by Josh Bailey and the Isles maintain possession, eventually leading to Devon Toews’ goal.

It’s a split second decision, but unaware of his surroundings Pesce attempts to skate with the puck when he doesn’t have space to do so. It’s a case in which Pesce should immediately look to send the puck out, preferably to the boards. Granted, a backhand clearing attempt up the wall has a slim chance of getting out and going the length of the ice. But if Pesce immediately steps into this puck on his forehand and sends it back around the way it came, it has a better chance of at least getting to neutral ice and allowing the penalty killers to change. Instead, they stay hemmed in and the Isles go to work until they are rewarded.

It wasn’t just the first penalty kill though. The Hurricanes were too soft on clears on other kills and while at even strength. The normally reliable Jaccob Slavin had two chances to clear on a second period Isles’ power play and failed to do so both times, first on his backhand and then the forehand.

Although neither resulted in goals, it gave New York a few more high-quality looks.

At even strength, Brock McGinn over skates a puck, with a little help from Nick Leddy, and gives the Isles another crack at extend zone time.

On the Isles’ second goal, it’s Warren Foegele who over skates the puck. Tom Kuhnhackl stays lower than Foegele to maintain leverage and uses two hands on his stick, as opposed to Foegele’s one, to quickly steal the puck and set up Bailey’s equalizer.

While the Canes may be up 3-0, they need to bear down and be sure on pucks in their own end. They’ve avoided disaster thus far, but are playing with fire as continually giving the opposition second chances is an easy way to get beat, especially in the playoffs.