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Systems Analyst: It’s A Stretch

Among the Hurricanes’ problems against the Bruins is their reliance on stretch passes and inability to disrupt Boston’s breakouts.

Carolina Hurricanes v Boston Bruins - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

For the second consecutive postseason the Boston Bruins made quick work of the Carolina Hurricanes. While the 2020 sequel was undoubtedly more competitive than its 2019 predecessor (in which Boston outscored Carolina 17-5), it still has left Carolina supporters scratching their heads.

There were a myriad of problems that have been attributed to the loss. A lack of toughness, subpar goaltending and undisciplined penalties have all been blamed. But today we’ll look at another facet of the Hurricanes game that was exposed against the Bruins: their breakout and reliance on stretch passes.

The stretch pass, usually a two line pass, is a low-percentage play, that can potentially yield high rewards. In its optimal usage a stretch pass can catch the opposing team napping and spring a breakaway or odd man rush.

Unfortunately, in the series against Boston, Carolina relied far too heavily on long passes, even when the stingy Bruins defense did not give them a good look.

In Game 1, Dougie Hamilton tries a long lead pass to a well-contained Teuvo Teravainen, but Teravainen cannot get his stick to the puck and it goes for icing.

Hamilton has tons of ice to skate and create with his own legs, but settles for a low percentage pass.

In Game 3, Hamilton gets caught flat-footed, as David Krejci pressures, and again ices the puck.

Standing still puts Hamilton in a difficult position and leaves him few options, but to try the long pass.

Jaccob Slavin also failed to connect on a long seam pass which the Bruins were able to quickly take care of.

The missed passes aren’t entirely on the defensemen. In each of the above clips it is difficult to find a forward low enough to the puck to give Slavin or Hamilton much of a better option.

The failure to connect on stretch passes even dates back to last year’s Eastern Conference Final matchup.

Obviously the goal is to avoid icings and connect on passes to spring high danger chances. But the stretch pass is a low percentage play, of course not all of them will connect perfectly. But the Hurricanes hope that their frequent usage of long passes can at least negate the icing by tipping the puck into the zone and going to work on an aggressive forecheck.

That worked against the discombobulated mess that was the New York Rangers. The tip-in method finds success against teams with less talent or structure. But against a well-oiled machine like the Bruins, the tip-ins only worked to set up a quick Boston breakout.

Teravainen is able to redirect Joel Edmundson’s pass and the Hurricanes pursue, but the Bruins execute two passes and are quickly out of their own end.

And it was not a one off. Over and over in the film, a failed Carolina stretch pass led to an easy Boston breakout, often aided by competent puck handling from a netminder.

And once again appeared in last year’s series. The same phenomenon was on display in last year’s sweep.

In all of these instances the Hurricanes failed to get in on the forecheck quickly enough and never even get a stick on the puck. They fail because the Hurricanes either do not have the proper numbers or positional discipline to disrupt Boston’s precise breakout.

Even in the rare occasion that the Hurricanes were able to complete a stretch pass, Boston’s tight defensive gaps quickly turned them into turnovers.

Again in this situation, the Carolina defense has room to skate, but instead opts for the a contested two line pass.

The Hurricanes are at their best when their defensemen are moving their feet and jumping into the play. Stretch passes can be an effective tool to have, but Carolina has too often passed up the option to create with their legs and short, simple passes in favor of the long ball. Despite the fact that there are a few excellent passers on the back end, Carolina must decrease their reliance on long, low percentage passes in order to elevate their game to compete against the league’s best.