With last night's 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers, the Hurricanes now sit at 11th place in the Eastern Conference, only two points behind the 10th place Winnipeg Jets and five points out of a playoff spot. Realistically, the Hurricanes will have to win all of their remaining games to even have a shot at the playoffs and that probably won't happen, but just looking at the turnaround this team has gone through since January has been pretty fun to watch. Remember when the Canes were sitting at last place in the Eastern Conference and destined for a lottery pick? Things really have changed in two short months. This run could end up being fruitless and costing us a higher draft pick in the big picture but it's great to see this team playing well again last night's game was one of their strongest performances of the season.
We saw the Hurricanes take advantage of a tired Panthers team by forechecking strong early, make great use of their powerplays and have just about everyone in their top-six producing. You can credit this to a few things; first, the return of Joni Pitkanen, which really had an impact on both the Canes' powerplay and zone exits. Another thing was Kirk Muller reuniting the "Skinns & Finns" line who were on fire tonight and lastly, the penalty kill shutting down all five of the Panthers' powerplay opportunities. Carolina ended up on the positive side of the shot and chance count and hopefully they can continue to play like this to close out the year. The playoffs are just about out of reach but if the Canes can continue to play like they did tonight, they could make things interesting. That's a big if, though.
Scoring chances & more after the jump
|Period||Totals||EV||PP||5v3 PP||SH||5v3 SH|
Carolina's chances are in red, Florida's are in white
The Hurricanes started off the game on a strong note by forechecking strong against a tired Panthers team and they got the benefit of a lucky bounce as a centering pass by Eric Staal went off the skate of Florida defenseman Ed Jovanovski and into the net to make it 1-0. Florida had a few chances to even the score as they were given two powerplays but the Hurricanes allowed only one scoring chance on both of them and even produced some offense shorthanded. This became a reocurring theme as the Panthers powerplay looked broken for the entire game and it seemed like most of the best chances were going in the Hurricanes' favor. An example of this came early in the second period when Brandon Sutter nearly scored on a shorthanded wrap-around opportunity but Jose Theodore was alert in making the save.
The Florida netminder had to be strong for the first forty minutes because the Hurricanes peppered Theodore with 28 shots and he had to make quite a few great saves to keep the Panthers in the game. The only shots that got by him during that time was the Staal goal and a bullet from Joni Pitkanen to give the Hurricanes a 2-0 lead. Florida answered quickly with a goal from Tomas Fleischmann (which oddly enough, went of Pitkanen's leg) and this game looked a lot more even. While the Panthers powerplay let them down early, they are still a superior team to Carolina when it comes to even strength play but that didn't show for the first 30-some minutes of the game. Carolina definitely had the advantage there for most of the game and it was mainly because Florida's defense was playing very poorly. They were letting the Hurricanes enter their zone way too easily and had a few poor/lazy clears that led to turnovers and chances for the Hurricanes.
The game was still very much in reach for Florida in the third period and they did a good job of tightening up their defense but the failed powerplay opportunities they had earlier in the game came back to haunt them big time. The Panthers took three penalties in the third period and Carolina made them pay by storming the net which led to Staal scoring his second goal of the night. A lot of credit should goto the Hurricanes' penalty kill tonight, as they were outstanding and I really liked how well they performed offensively tonight, too. It's not very often that this team records 25 scoring chances. Getting that kind of production puts less of a strain on the defense and Cam Ward, god knows they've needed it as of late.
Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Jussi Jokinen & Jeff Skinner +6
Worst EV Forward: Eric Staal -3
Best EV Defenseman: Tim Gleason +2
Worst EV Defenseman: Joni Pitkanen -2
I suppose that I have some explaining to do with Eric Staal and Joni Pitkanen.The reason for Staal being the worst rated even strength forward is because his line wasn't very active when playing five-on-five hockey and they ended up giving up a lot of chances in their own end. Staal had a fantastic game, though. He had two goals, was on ice for eight total scoring chances and had seven shots on goal. Even strength is generally the most important area of play but special teams played a big role in Carolina winning this game. Staal was one of the main reasons for that. As for Pitkanen, he had his usual high-risk game where he pinched just about every chance he got and it led to a lot of good and bad things. His additions to Carolina's breakout game were missed and so were his crafty puck-moving skills but he did get caught in the offensive zone a few times and it led to some Florida chances. His coverage on the Fleischmann goal wasn't exactly great, either. His contributions on the powerplay, however, were very important. That's that kind of game you get with Pitkanen, though. He'll gamble and sometimes it works out.
Another thing I noticed about Pitkanen was that his minutes were limited and he took a lot of offensive zone draws (eight). He was paired with McBain and it looks like he's holding down the offensive defenseman/powerplay quarterback role for now. I'm wondering if this will change as he settles in but he could have been a lot better at even strength than he was last night. The guys playing the tougher minutes ended up having much stronger games, especially Gleason & Allen. They were matched up against the Weiss line for most of the game and surrendered a good amount of chances but managed to outplay their competition. For two guys who started most of their shifts in the defensive zone, they did a great job. I'm pretty sure that this is the first time in nearly a month that they ended up having a positive scoring chance rating. Faulk & Harrison were also very good and the latter did a fantastic job on the penalty kill.
The "Skinns & Finns" line was reunited once again and they were far and away the best even strength unit. They produced eight scoring chances and were the only line that was consistently driving play into the Panthers' end. It was their great play which led to Pitkanen's goal as Jeff Skinner made the initial play on the puck in the defensive zone which led to Tuomo Ruutu making an excellent drop-pass which Pitkanen finished off. Skinner was the strongest member of the line and seemed to be weaving through the Panthers defense with ease. I was surprised that he didn't score tonight because he was creating the most chances at even strength. Ruutu also had his best game since returning from injury and it was good to see him look like his usual self.
When considering how much of a role the penalty kill played into the Canes' winning, I think you have to give a lot of credit to Brandon Sutter, Patrick Dwyer, Jussi Jokinen, Tim Gleason, Jay Harrison and Justin Faulk. All of whom played a lot of time on the PK and did a fantastic job at limiting Florida's chances there. Sutter even got himself involved offensively a couple times. Unfortunatley, his line wasn't terrific at even strength but they didn't give up a lot of chances to Weiss and company and that's what matters, I guess.
Head-to-Head at five-on-five
- Jokinen & Skinner won all of their matchups at even strength and destroyed Mike Weaver whenever he was on the ice. Weaver's a very underrated defenseman so this is no small victory for them.
- Sutter's defense of the Weiss line was actually very good but they could not seem to contain Marcel Goc or Sean Bergenheim. Those two seemed to cause a lot of problemes for the Canes last night.
- Awful night for Florida's bottom-six. Zero to minimal production from their bottom-two lines and they better hope that they pick it up soon. Their first two lines are good but they can't do everything.
- Brian Campbell & Jason Garrison played well when matched up against Eric Staal's line at even strength.
- Gleason appeared to outplay Allen when it came to limiting Florida's top line.
Florida Panthers Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg & Marcel Goc +1
Worst EV Forwards: John Madden, Mikael Samuelsson, Marco Sturm -2
Best EV Defenseman: Dimitry Kulikov & Brian Campbell +2
Worst EV Defenseman: Jason Garrison & Ed Jovanovski -2
|CAR||1||19:15||Staal - GOAL||5||6||12||19||30||59||9||20||26||51||52||60||5v5|
|FLA||2||7:27||Fleischmann - GOAL||5||16||21||25||30||39||9||14||32||44||55||60||5v5|
|CAR||3||11:46||Staal - GOAL||12||19||25||28||30||59||43||52||57||60||82||5v4|