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Systems Analyst: Killed by the Kill

After a stretch of outstanding play, the Hurricanes’ PK has encountered some bumps in the road.

Washington Capitals v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

Just weeks after climbing into second place on the NHL’s penalty kill leaderboard, the Hurricanes PK has taken a tumble. After allowing ten power-play goals in their last six contests, Carolina has slid all the way down to 11th in the league.

While a few of the conceded chances have just been the result of bad luck or sensational skill from the opposition, the Canes have plenty they can clean up to better help their cause.

In Toronto, the Canes allow a Leafs zone entry. As the puck works its way into the corner, Jaccob Slavin begins to cheat off of the weak-side post, hoping to intercept a pass. Leafs captain John Tavares sees Slavin drop below the goal line and exploits Slavin’s misstep by finding a wide open William Nylander in the high slot.

With Slavin low and Jordan Staal cheating towards the puck, Nylander has all sorts of time to bury his shot. Had Slavin stayed above the goal line, he likely could have disrupted the centering feed with his active stick, or at the very least closed on Nylander and limited the sniper’s shooting options.

Against Florida, three Hurricane defenders are again caught beneath the goal line. With Staal creeping his way to the near side boards ready to retrieve any loose puck, and Brock McGinn near the board battle, Jonathan Huberdeau is left all alone in front.

Once McGinn commits to dropping below the goal line, he plays to the left of Sasha Barkov, who picks up an assist on the play. If McGinn takes an additional step to his right, he can still contain Barkov, while also clogging up the passing lane on any centering feed.

If it wasn’t self evident, the still image below from the Florida broadcast really highlights the problem.

Aside from the obvious lapses in coverage, the biggest cause of the Hurricanes’ PK struggles has been their inability to win a faceoff.

In Manhattan, Jordan Staal ties the opposing center up off the draw, but the Rangers come away from the puck battle victorious. Before the Carolina PK unit can even get situated, Chris Kreider feeds a beautiful pass to Mika Zibanejad who buries it.

In Friday night’s loss to Washington another lost draw led to the Caps’ third goal.

Staal loses this faceoff cleanly. Washington quickly goes to work, with Dmitry Orlov feeding Alex Ovechkin in his office. Brock McGinn quickly closes out on Ovechkin and although he doesn’t block the shot, he does force Ovi to shoot wide. Unfortunately for the Canes, the ricochet off the end boards ends up right on the tape of Lars Eller.

A week earlier against the Capitals, it was Sebastian Aho who lost the faceoff. Off of the draw, Teuvo Teravainen bites on Orlov’s fake slap shot, opening up the exact amount of space needed to find Ovechkin in his office for a patented finish.

Notice Teravainen’s stick placement in the clip above. Off the lost faceoff it is in the lane preventing the pass to Ovechkin. As soon as Orlov takes a step towards the net and winds up, Teravainen’s stick swings back into Orlov’s shooting lane. With his head up, the Russian defenseman spots Teravainen’s mistake and feeds his countryman for the one-timed bomb.

On Friday night the Canes again attempt to take away Ovechkin as a shooting option. This time though they overcommit, allowing Norris frontrunner John Carlson to thread a pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov back door.

Warren Foegele peels off towards Ovechkin, content to let Carlson step in and rifle a shot. Petr Mrazek challenges out on top of his crease to cut down Carlson’s shooting angle. But when Dougie Hamilton, aided by a light Kuznetsov cross-check, begins to drift out towards Ovechkin, Carlson is able to find Kuznetsov for one of the easiest goals of his career.

There is something to be said for the fact that the Hurricanes have simply been facing better power play units of late. In their last six contests, every opponent possess a power play ranking in the top half of the league, with only the Capitals and Rangers ranking outside of the top ten.

But with another potent power play, the second ranked Tampa Bay Lightning, coming to town on Sunday, the Hurricanes will need to regroup and respond with a strong effort on the kill in order to get back in the win column.