In the middle of a fierce playoff race, the Carolina Hurricanes have hit a bit of a rough patch, registering just three points in their last five contests.
A big reason for the struggles have been consistent defensive breakdowns that are too often winding up in the back of Carolina’s net. Even more concerning is the fact that it has often been the Canes’ top players making the mistakes.
In Montreal, the Canadiens were able to open the scoring after a failed Teuvo Teravainen clearing attempt was held in by the eventual goal scorer Phillip Danault.
After the keep-in, the Hurricanes get caught puck watching with Trevor van Riemsdyk caught flat footed and Sebastian Aho covering no one in particular. Danault beats Teravainen back to the net for the game’s opening goal.
Against Colorado, it was another failed clearing attempt, this time from Andrei Svechnikov that winds up behind Anton Forsberg.
Once Svechnikov’s clearing attempt is held in by the point man Svechnikov is in charge of covering, Cale Makar, the Hurricane defenders below the circles again get caught puck watching and lose track of Tyson Jost behind them.
Against the Rangers, both Svechnikov and Teravainen have chances to clear the zone and fail to do so. As they do, both Brett Pesce and Jake Gardiner attempt to get ahead of the play and leave the zone. But once the puck gets turned over, they are too high and out of position to defend a quick Rangers counterattack which is able to beat an over aggressive Petr Mrazek.
Back in Montreal, the Canadiens second goal was again a coverage lapse by Carolina, as seen in the clip below.
The simple pass to the wall causes Haydn Fleury, after a lunge at the original puck carrier, Brett Kulak, to attempt to pursue the new puck carrier, Jordan Weal. But Fleury fails to recognize his lack of defensive support, allowing Kulak a clear path to the net. Forsberg fights off the initial shot, but Brady Skjei loses a body position battle with Paul Byron who finds Max Domi for the finish. Meanwhile, captain Jordan Staal is caught puck watching, and fails to pick up a man at all.
Seconds later, Svechnikov attempts an ill-advised blind backhand pass about five feet inside the Montreal blue line. Predictably, it is intercepted and the Canadiens take over possession.
Brendan Gallagher flips the puck past a leaping Jaccob Slavin to a streaking Tomas Tatar. Tatar fires a well placed far pad shot, generating a juicy rebound from Forsberg that Gallagher is able to rifle past the Canes’ netminder.
That goal capped a rough week for Svechnikov, who also blew his assignment on the game winning goal late in the third period against Colorado.
The Avalanche win a board battle in the corner and Gabriel Landeskog comes away with the puck. Colorado has a third forward high above the top of the circles, stretching Joel Edmundson out and leaving the slot uncovered. The high third forward gives defenseman Samuel Girard the green light to get aggressive and once he notices Svechnikov is watching the puck instead of him, Girard streaks into the slot. Landeskog gives him a pass right on the tape and Girard buries the game winner.
In order for Carolina to be successful their best players have to be their best players everywhere on the ice. The point production is crucial, but recently Carolina’s top guns haven’t been good enough defensively. If the Hurricanes hope to end this regular season by qualifying for the playoffs in back to back years for the first time since 2002, their stars are going to need to take more pride in the unheralded aspects of a 200-foot game.