Two games in a row now the Hurricanes have took home two points despite not playing their best hockey and it might be coming at the worst time of the season. If this were a month ago and the Canes still had a shot at the playoffs, then I'm sure most would be ecstatic about the team picking up two wins in a row even if they didn't "deserve" them. Now that they are out of the playoffs and the only thing at stake is draft position, this win doesn't really hold a lot of value to most fans. Not that tasting victory after doing nothing but losing for an entire month doesn't feel good, but when your team gets outplayed for 65 minutes, blows a third period lead and wins in the shootout, it doesn't feel as good as most wins do. Like I said, it's the second game in a row that they've been outplayed in a winning result when all the Canes are playing for is pride. From my experience, winning is the only way to get your confidence back up, so these wins mean a lot to the team but it's obviously too little too late and Carolina will need to play better in future games than they've had in the last three.
I kind of wrote off the Tampa Bay game since it was the second night of a back-to-back and the Canes had a 3-0 lead in the first period, but they were simply outplayed by the Islanders last night and were able to get two points thanks to Dan Ellis and a couple of fluky goals. Basically everything that was going wrong for the Canes over the last month has dramatically shifted over the last two games. It would have been nice if this happened sooner but there's nothing we can do about it now, sadly.
New York Islanders at Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes may have gotten an early goal but it was the Islanders who dominated most of this game. They outchanced Carolina in every period, had a 37-26 edge in 5v5 shots and were the better team overall. So how did they win and have a lead for most of the game? It all comes down to goaltending. Dan Ellis was terrific for most of the night, stopping 36 of 39 shots, 23 of which being legit scoring chances while Islanders netminder Evgeni Nabokov didn't have a stellar night at the other end. You can see here that he didn't have a big workload since he only saw 13 scoring chances and the first two he let in were very stoppable. They came from dangerous scoring areas, but they weren't exactly powerful shots and he would probably want both of them back. Alexander Semin's goal was a very soft shot that somehow got through Nabby's five-hole and Jordan Staal's goal came off a deflection on a floater from the boards by Jay Harrison. He was also caught out of position on Patrick Dwyer's goal in the second period and nearly gave up an empty net goal to Tuomo Ruutu in the third period after mishandling a puck behind the net. He played well enough to give the Isles a chance to win, but the goals he let in really hurt his team.
Fortunately for Nabokov, the Islanders have assembled a very good team in front of him this year and played to the top of their ability tonight. The Islanders were also battling for a playoff spot tonight and definitely brought their A-game, so that helped make up for some of their shortcomings in goal. They really gave Carolina a hard time in the transitional game, were forcing a lot of turnovers and their defense is a great job of forcing most of the Canes' shots to outside of the slot. Meanwhile, the Isles were able to expose Carolina's defense with their speed and get to the scoring areas. Had Ellis been a little worse then they probably would have gotten out of Raleigh with two points instead of one. That's just how the game works sometimes, though. The Islanders played well and earned a point to clinch a playoff spot so I'm sure they are happy with themselves after tonight. Carolina, on the other hand, got a good result in a game where the team didn't play relatively well, which would have been just what they needed a month ago but not now.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Patrick Dwyer +3
Worst EV Forwards: Alexander Semin & Eric Staal -9
Best EV Defenseman: Jay Harrison +2
Worst EV Defenseman: Tim Gleason -9
Muller decided to try out some new lines today by making Jeff Skinner the third line center with Nicolas Blanchard & Patrick Dwyer while Chad laRose was bumped up to Jordan Staal's line. The new line itself had a good game and Skinner was able to take advantage of some easier matchups posed to him by playing on the third line. I'm not sure if he's good enough defensively to play center, but he was able to carry his linemates tonight and play a strong game overall. The issue is that this line isn't going to generate many goals if they put grinders like Dwyer & Blanchard on his wings. Dwyer scored a goal, but it came after he jumped off the bench to cash in on some hard work done by Tuomo Ruutu & Jordan Staal. Don't get be wrong, this line was one of the bright spots tonight, but I'm not sure if I want it to be a permanent fixture.
One of the reasons why I prefer Skinner on Jordan Staal's line is because of how good these two have been at driving the play. Now that Skinner was taken off the line & replaced with Chad LaRose, the territorial play of the second line diminished a little. I thought Staal & Ruutu had solid games individually (minus Ruuty missing that empty netter) and the latter played a huge role in Dwyer's goal by leading a zone entry and fighting through a check from Islander defensemen Andy MacDonald to keep the play alive. Staal had a goal but was somewhat quiet offensively tonight, which is unusual since he is normally on the ice for at least five EV chances per game. The Islanders managed to contain him well, though.
Another thing the Islanders did was completely dominate the Hurricanes top line as they had probably their ugliest defensive performance of the season. Semin had a goal and seven shot attempts (five of them hitting the net) but he gave up a ton in the other end and so did both of his linemates. Semin's has done mostly great things with the Canes this year, but some of his finest moments weren't in tonight's game. The Islanders game tying goal came after he lost the puck along the boards and he turned the puck over a few times in the neutral zone from trying to be too fancy. Staal & Tlusty weren't without their faults in this game, either and both of them had slip-ups in coverage on Josh Bailey's goal. It came off a rebound, but the initial shot only happened because Staal lost him along the boards and Tlusty looked kind of lost in the slot. Bad games games are going to happen and I've heard that Semin & Staal are playing through injuries, but it is still never good when your top line that eats up 20+ minutes of EV ice time plays this poorly defensively.
It's also not good when your top defense pairing plays like Tim Gleason & Justin Faulk did tonight. These two have been good together for the most part but this performance was just ugly on all sorts of levels. Gleason surprised everyone by playing only two days after suffering an apparent back injury late in the Tampa Bay game nad he didn't look like he was at 100% tonight. He was slower than usual and seemed a bit too tentative when trying to play the body. Faulk also had his struggles, particularly on the first Islanders goal which he failed to get the puck out and on the third goal that went off his skate while he was trying to fend off Okposo in front of the net. These two were trusted to do pretty much all the heavy-lifting last night and the entire team's performance went with their's. Save for Corvo, every other defenseman was either marginal or okay tonight but their performance didn't have as much of an impact because Gleason & Faulk spent basically all of their ice time against the Isles best players, aka the guys that could hurt them the most. They also started 10 of their shifts in the defensive zone compared to only two in the offensive zone in an attempt to protect the other defense pairings. That is way too much weight to put on one unit and showcases the Hurricanes lack of defensive depth. Harrison seemed to play well against secondary competition at the very least.
Islanders Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Frans Nielsen & Josh Bailey +7
Worst EV Forward: Keith Aucoin -3
Best EV Defensemen: Travis Hamonic & Andrew MacDonald +8
Worst EV Defensemen: Lubomir Visnovsky & Brian Strait EVEN
The Islanders outchanced Carolina by 10 in this game so naturally, most of their players had outstanding scoring chance differentials and the top performers were the Islanders second line. Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen & Kyle Okposo ate the Hurricanes alive last night and were responsible for a good chunk of the Islanders offense. They didn't act alone, though as John Tavares' line joined in on the fun too and recorded plenty of chances, the most important of which coming late in the third period to tie the game. The most impressive thing about the performance of the Islanders top-six is that they managed to do all of this damage without giving much up in their own end. Carolina's top line has struggled with that all season, but the Islanders best players all did a phenomenal job of tilting the ice into Carolina's end whenever they were out there. The only line that couldn't seem to do this was their third line, which was on the ice for over half of Carolina's scoring chances.
One of the reasons why the Isles top-six performed so well defensively was the play of their shutdown defense pairing of Travis Hamonic & Andy MacDonald. These two logged well over 20 minutes of even strength ice time and surrendered only one scoring chance when they were together. They also spent most of their ice time against Eric Staal's line, which was held in check and crushed defensively for most of this game. MacDonald had a huge slip up on the Dwyer goal by going for a big hit and taking himself out of position in the process, but his performance outside of that was nothing but impressive.
Up front, Muller once again put Eric Staal against the opposing team's #1 center and if the scoring chances weren't any indication, the plan didn't work out too well. I've gone over the reasons why I don't like this deployment strategy numerous times so I'll spare you all this rant again, but I don't think it's something that will continue into next season. You can also see here how much Faulk & Gleason were relied on tonight since they were out there whenever John Tavares' line was while Harrison & Corvo took on the Nielsen line. Another thing to notice is the easier matchups Skinner drew as a result of playing on the third line. He spent most of his ice time out against Keith Aucoin, which was the only Islander line to get outchanced at even strength. Go figure.
Hamonic & MacDonald dominated Eric Staal's line at even strength in every aspect of the word. Letting one defense pairing outchance you that much at even strength is baffling. This line also got the stuffing kicked out of them by Frans Nielsen's line and basically every other unit the Islanders sent out against them, which strengthens the argument that they shouldn't be playing tough minutes when the Canes have other players who can do this instead. The attempt to protect Skinner worked since he took advantage of the easier matchups, but I think the Canes have bigger issues on their hands with their top line getting crushed as a consequence of this new forward deployment. I don't think the lines are that much to worry about this late in the year, though.
More dump and chase play from the Canes, but one positive thing is that they were ble generate more offense off it than normal. It's rare when these instances occur so I wouldn't get used to it but Muller does seem to put a lot of emphasis on chip-and-chase play, mostly from the bottom-six and the defense. Of course, you have to consider that the Canes were vastly outshot during 5v5 play and the high number of uncontrolled entries they had likely played a role in this. Tlusty, the Staal brothers and Semin were the only ones who weren't resorting to dump-and-chase play. I'd also like to mention that the Canes defense corps had only three controlled entries last night and two of them were by Joe Corvo. For a defense corps that is full of "puck movers" not many of them gain the blue-line with control very often. Not sure why that is.
The Islanders dominated the neutral zone last night, especially their forwards who had control of the puck on 62% of their 5v5 entries. The second line was especially good with 14 shot attempts generated off 14 controlled zone entries. Their defense also got involved too by having control of the puck on 7 of their 13 entries, half of those coming from Streit and Visnovsky. The Islanders are a great skating team that thrives on transitional play & turnovers, so it's not too surprising to see them control the neutral zone as well as they did last night, especially against a team that's had trouble defending zone entries.
|1||CAR||16:03||Semin - GOAL||12||15||28||4||47||31||91||24||26||11||14||20||5v5|
|1||NYI||13:56||Boyes - GOAL||11||15||59||6||27||31||91||24||26||2||37||20||5v5|
|1||CAR||3:40||J. Staal - GOAL||11||19||28||44||77||31||12||51||21||3||37||20||5v5|
|2||NYI||12:26||Bialey - GOAL||12||19||28||4||24||31||12||51||21||3||47||20||5v5|
|2||CAR||2:51||Dwyer - GOAL||11||15||39||4||44||31||10||21||40||3||47||20||5v5|
|3||NYI||1:01||Okposo - GOAL||12||19||28||6||27||31||91||21||26||2||47||20||5v5|