If there is one thing that has impressed me about the Hurricanes this year, it is that they have somehow managed to make every loss even more frustrating than the last. At least that has been the trend during this current four-game skid. Coming up empty-handed against Washington was forgivable because they outplayed them and the fact that they escaped Tampa Bay with a point was a miracle when you consider that they were dominated for most of that game. These last two losses, however, have been just infuriating to watch from a fan's standpoint. After letting a win slip out of their hands late in the third period against Columbus, the Canes followed it up by blowing another third period lead and losing in overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I know what you're thinking. "But wait, shouldn't the Canes be happy they got a point against Pittsburgh? They're one of the best teams in the league after all." That might be true, but those who watched the game know that this was a huge missed opportunity for the Canes. The Penguins are one of the elite teams in the league, but they came into last night's game with a depleted roster and a forward corps with about 5-6 players who should be in the AHL. Their defense is also banged up and the Canes took advantage of this early on by dominating them in the first period.
They didn't see their reward for it until literally the last second when Andrej Sekera scored on a back-hander to make it 1-0, but the Canes had a pretty big advantage early on. They continued this for most of the game, crushing Pittsburgh on the shot clock and running all over them at even strength. This should have been a game the Hurricanes could have closed out in regulation, but things didn't exactly go that way. Why? A few reasons.
First of all, Pittsburgh's roster might be depleted but they still have a few elite players in their lineup and they can make teams pay if they make a mistake. Andrej Sekera & Justin Faulk found that out when they got their wires crossed on Sidney Crosby's goal in the second period, which tied the game. The Hurricanes also didn't register many great scoring chances, as Pittsburgh covered the slot well and forced the Canes to shoot from the outside and crash for rebounds. This is how Carolina scored all three of their goals so it didn't hurt them too much, but it does make the shot count a tad misleading. Lastly, Carolina has defensive issues of their own and Pittsburgh exposed them on their second and fourth goals, the latter of which being the game-winner which came after James Neal undressed Ryan Murphy & Ron Hainsey.
The Canes played well enough to win but a few defensive mistakes and sub-par goaltending had them on the losing end yet again. This is mediocrity and it's the state the Hurricanes have been stuck in for far too long. How can they get out of it? If their play at even strength is similar to last night and the Washington game, then they are best off just staying the course and hoping the results come. Unfortunately, games like that have been few and far between this year so it might take some other moves for this team to get to where they want to be.
Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater
Carolina didn't start to mount a territorial edge on Pittsburgh until about mid-way through the first period. After that, they won most of the battles and had a 1-0 lead to show for it, although it could have easily been much greater. Pittsburgh continued to struggle into the second period despite getting an early goal from Crosby and Carolina controlled the first 10 minutes of that frame. However, you might recall that I said the shot count for this game was misleading and it definitely was for the second period. Carolina had a 10-9 edge in shots, but they didn't register many great chances, as Pittsburgh forced them to the outside a lot and made them work to get through their defense. Similar to the defensive style Carolina was playing in November where they collapsed around their goaltender to clear away rebounds and prevent chances. It's a little odd that they did this while down a goal, but the strategy paid off for them early in the third.
The Hurricanes had a golden chance to break this game wide open after Jeff Skinner forced a turnover by the Pittsburgh defense but he and Tuomo Ruutu failed to even get a chance on goal. Pittsburgh turned this into a transition chance with Chris Conner going one-on-one with Ryan Murphy and the former managed to work his way around Carolina's young defenseman and sneak the puck through Peters' five-hole. A weak goal on Peters' fault, but a play that could have easily been avoided if the Hurricanes could have executed better. The Pens had much more life after this and were able to claim the lead after Deryk Engelland beat a screened Peters with a slap shot from just outside the faceoff circle.
Now, Carolina managed to claw back into this game and earn a point thanks to a great, hard-working shift by Pat Dwyer, Drayson Bowman and Riley Nash, but Pittsburgh basically took over this game after the Conner goal and carried most of the play from that point on. Getting a point in the standings helps, but it was still a very disappointing outcome to a game that could have been a good win for the Hurricanes.
Carolina outchanced Pittsburgh by only one, despite having a big advantage in shots. This kind of reiterates what I said earlier. The most frustrating thing about this chart is that the Hurricanes created a chance in overtime while the Pens scored on their first. That's been the story for most of Carolina's overtime games, though. They haven't been able to finish, while other team's capitalize on their's.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Jordan Staal, Nathan Gerbe & Alex Semin +4
Worst EV Forward: Tuomo Ruutu -3
Best EV Defensemen: Andrej Sekera & Tim Gleason +2
Worst EV Defensemen: Ron Hainsey & Ryan Murphy -1
In the last Pens/Canes meeting, I thought Jordan Staal played one of the worst games in his Hurricanes career. Last night, he played one of his best games. His line with Alex Semin & Nathan Gerbe tore up the Penguins at even strength and were responsible for basically all of Carolina's offense. They were doing exactly what the Penguins wanted them to do, which was take low-percentage shots and try to crash for rebounds, but they actually did a great job of getting through the Pens defense and creating second & third chances. It's a simple strategy, but this line did an excellent job at it.
The rest of the forward corps struggled when it came to producing chances. I thought Skinner & Ruutu did some good things, but both were being way too cute in the offensive zone and hesitating whenever they had a chance to get the puck on net. Having both lines in the top-six going has been a frequent problem for the Canes last year and last night was no exception. The third and fourth lines were also quiet, although Dwyer, Nash & Bowman had a terrific shift in the third period that resulted in Bowman scoring.
Coming into the game, I was worried about Mike Komisarek & Tim Gleason getting exposed in a bad matchup. Thankfully, that didn't happen too much. Gleason had one bad turnover that came against Pittsburgh's fourth line but aside from that, these two had a decent showing. The defense pairing that got lit up was Ron Hainsey & Ryan Murphy. They were on the ice for only three scoring chances and all of them ended up in the back of their net. Some of this might be bad luck, but they didn't exactly help their cause. Murphy was undressed by Chris Conner on the second goal, and both of them were embarrassed by James Neal on the overtime goal. It wouldn't surprise me if Brett Bellemore is reunited with his usual partner tomorrow night against the Leafs.
Penguins Individual Scoring Chances
Penguins On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: James Neal +5
Worst EV Forward: Joe Vitale -6
Best EV Defenseman: Simon Despres +4
Worst EV Defenseman: Deryk Engelland -5
Pittsburgh is a team carried by their stars and the Hurricanes did a decent job of keeping Crosby in check last night. He scored a goal, yes but they held him to only two scoring chances on the night and his wingman, Chris Kunitz, attempted only one shot on the night. With the Pens lineup in the state that it's in, this should have been enough to win the game, but James Neal was able to save them with a very good performance. Neal took a few shifts with Crosby and he was responsible for a good chunk of PIttsburgh's offense in all situations. Chris Conner & Jussi Jokinen also had a solid games, but Neal really stepped up when the Pens needed him to.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Muller put Jordan Staal's line up against Crosby and the Canes won that matchup handily. Orpik & Engelland also took a beating against this line and it should have been enough for Carolina to win BUT....Eric Staal's line lost their matchup against Jokinen and PIttsburgh's depth lines fought Carolian to a draw.
5v5 Zone Entries
|# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
Carolina tried to expose Pittsburgh's injures on defense by forcing them to chase pucks down and winning battles in the corner. This had decent results, as Carolina was able to create some offense off dump-ins and their second line had a lot of success with dump-and-chase play. The fourth line also had a nice game in the neutral zone in both areas, which was nice to see because they've produced little offense this year. Overall, carrying the puck in was the better method for Carolina going by shots per entry. That isn't too surprising, though.
|Player||# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
Pittsburgh usually defers to their wingers to enter the zone and the ones who had the most success here were James Neal & Chris Kunitz. These two accounted for 37.5% of the team's carry-ins and Neal had a hell of a game in the neutral zone, carrying the puck in seven times. Their line could have done so much more damage if Conner didn't dump the puck in every chance he got.
5v5 Zone Exits
A surprisingly good game in terms of zone exits for most of Caroina's defensemen, the only exception being Justin Faulk. I thought he played a good game, so his results are a little strange but Sekera's really taken over as the main puck-carrier on the top-pairing. It's also nice to see Hainsey produce more controlled exits instead of resorting to dump-ins and bank passes off the boards.
The Hurricanes had so many chances to make the Penguins pay and they could not capitalized, which is emphasized by the fact that their defense turned the puck over 11 times during 5v5 play. The Pens had a lot of issues with exiting the zone last night and the Hurricanes couldn't take advantage of it at all, which makes losing this game that much more frustrating. That said, Pittsburgh's defense did advance the puck at a decent rate overall despite the turnovers.