Yesterday marked the Hurricanes sixth loss in a row and the third time they lost by a score of 4-1 during this stretch. No matter how many times we hear from the coaches or the players that the "playoffs" are right now, fans keep getting treated to the same performances night in and night out. Last night's performance against Winnipeg was very disheartening because it had come after the team had four days off and had a chance to gain some ground in the playoff race against a divisional rival. They ended up falling flat on their faces yet again and just seem to be getting worse every game.
The blame for this loss seems to be circulated around one player, but a look at the underlying numbers shows that there are more who deserve it, mostly the guys who are supposed to be leading this team.
Winnipeg Jets vs. Carolina Hurricanes 3/26/13
The way this team has gotten outplayed at even strength in the scoring chance department is very concerning, especially when you consider that they were down by two or more goals for the entire third period. I think a lot of it has to do with confidence because this team seems to let everything fall apart whenever something unfortunate happens. An example is their play in the second period. The Hurricanes were able to carry the play for most of that frame, but took a penalty and gave up a goal on the ensuing powerplay. After that, the Jets took control of the game, added another goal and didn't look back. Carolina was able to make things close thanks to some good work on the powerplay (despite not scoring a goal there) but the Jets outplayed them overall and deserved a win. A lot of people have described this team as "fragile" and it's hard to disagree with that after seeing them fall apart countless times the past couple of weeks.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Jordan Staal & Chad LaRose +5
Worst EV Forward: Eric Staal -8
Best EV Defenseman: Joe Corvo +3
Worst EV Defenseman: Jamie McBain -6
The quintet of Eric Staal, Alex Semin, Jiri Tlusty, Jamie McBain and Joni Pitkanen had about as bad of a game defensively as you could imagine. These five were on the ice together against the Jets top-six for most of the game and got run over for over 70% of the game. Winnipeg recorded over half of their even strength scoring chances against these five players alone and these are guys who are depended on to be Carolina's driving force. It's hard to win when your top line gets outchanced by this much and your first defense pairing plays like a pair of turnstiles. McBain had more errors than Pitkanen but neither of them were even remotely passable last night.
The horrendous performance by the top-line and McBain/Pitkanen pretty much undid all of the good work done by the second and third lines. Jordan Staal's line turned in a fine performance and Chad LaRose gave this team more of a boost than I thought he would. He's obviously just a place-holder until Tuomo Ruutu is ready to contribute on J. Staal's line, but it's hard to fault his performance last night. Unfortunately, they didn't make any impact on the scoresheet and they didn't get much of a contribution from their fourth line either.
Joe Corvo's blunder on the Antropov goal was ugly, but he was the only Carolina defensemen able to tilt the ice in his team favor during even strength play. That fact alone is probably a bad thing, but he had a solid game aside from that.
Jets Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov & Nik Antropov +4
Worst EV Forwards: Eric Tangradi, Olli Jokinen & Chris Thorburn EVEN
Best EV Defenseman: Ron Hainsey +7
Worst EV Defensemen: Grant Clitsome & Derek Meech -1
The Andrew Ladd line crushed the Hurricanes territorially last night, but it was actually Evander Kane, Nik Antropov and Alex Burmistrov who were doing most of the damage. Kane's numbers are inflated a bit from being on-ice for three scoring chances in the same sequence, but he seemed to be the Jets main catalyst offensively, even if his line was barely breaking even during 5v5 play. Zach Bogosian and Ron Hainsey also ran rampant on Carolina in more ways than one.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Eric Staal's line lost all but two of their matchups last night and got destroyed by Nik Antropov and Bryan Little. Muller kept using them in a power-vs-power role while the Jordan Staal line played most of their minutes against Olli Jokinen & Evander Kane. It might have served him better to switch that round because Eric's line clearly wasn't getting the job done against Ladd while Jordan didn't seem to have a lot of problems with Evander Kane. He also kept sending McBain & Pitkanen out against the Winnipeg top-six and they were clearly in over their heads here. I know Muller's hands are tied with the defense right now, but when you have two centers of the Staal's caliber, you have to take advantage of these matchups at home, which is something he didn't do last night.