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Game 78 By the Numbers: Devils at Hurricanes

The Hurricanes point-streak ends at five-games as they dropped a 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils last night in what was a pretty uneventful game overall. Carolina continued their recent trend of staring the game off on a poor note, falling behind 1-0 in the first period and using the rest of the night to play catch-up. Things weren’t nearly as bad as they’ve been in recent games, as they weren’t terribly outshot in the first period for a change and were in a decent position to make a comeback against a tired Devils squad that was destroyed by injuries.

Carolina took steps towards making a comeback and got off to a good start with Jeff Skinner scoring a power play goal early in the period. The Devils had a quick answer, though as they got a quick goal a few minutes later after a bad line change by the Hurricanes and things suddenly went back to Stage 1. After that, the Devils had control of the game and didn’t allow the Hurricanes to create much pressure at all.  One way to make up for being short on talent is playing a safe, fundamentally sound game and the Devils perfected this system to a T last night. They bottled up Carolina in the neutral zone and constantly forced them to turn the puck over as they were exiting the zone, resulting in some long shifts for the Hurricanes & a few good scoring chances for New Jersey.

Adjustments have been the theme for the Hurricanes lately, but they didn’t seem to have an answer for the Devils forecheck or for how they took away the middle. Instead, the Canes just seemed to stick to whatever their original plan was and played a very sloppy game. They were able to break free a couple of times, but those moments were few and far between, as New Jersey seemed pretty comfortable for most of the night. Carolina wasn’t dominated and managed to keep it close on the scoreboard and the shot clock, but it’s hard to say that they were the better team and deserved this one.

Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater

Fenwick chart for 2014-04-05 Devils 3 at Hurricanes 1

Scoring Chances

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The third period tells a pretty accurate story of this game. New Jersey wasn’t exactly threatening offensively, but they kept the Hurricanes trapped in their own end and didn’t allow them to come up the ice at all. Nearly all of Carolina’s chances/shots came on their one power play and their transition game was virtually non-existent. At least that’s how it was in the third period. The Hurricanes did some good things and were able to break through New Jersey’s forecheck a few times, but Cory Schneider made the saves he needed to and the Devils defense took care of most of the second-chance opportunities.

The only time he was vulnerable was at the end of the period when he gave up a bad rebound at the side of the net and had to make a desperation save on Riley Nash to preserve a 2-1 lead. After that, Carolina didn’t really test him at all at even strength and the Devils were able to contain the Hurricanes breakouts well.

Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances

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Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances

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Best EV Forward: Nathan Gerbe +1

Worst EV Forward: Andrei Loktionov -4

Best EV Defenseman: Justin Faulk +5

Worst EV Defensemen: Ryan Murphy & Jay Harrison -6

Bad night for almost the entire roster at even strength with the only standout being defenseman, Justin Faulk. With Faulk on the ice, the Hurricanes outshot New Jersey 23-5 and outchanced them 6-1 during 5v5 play. This is partially thanks to the coaching staff putting him on the ice for 10 5v5 offensive zone faceoffs, giving him a chance to produce more offensively than he has for most of the year. This worked out okay, as the Canes were playing well when he was out there but it came at the expense of the rest of the defense.

With Faulk taking up so many offensive zone starts, the defensive zone draws went to the third pair of Brett Bellemore & Jay Harrison (and Ron Hainsey to a smaller extent). This pairing was absolutely crushed at evens with Bellemore having possibly one of his worst games of the season. Ryan Murphy also had a very rough night, getting caught on the ice for two New Jersey goals and it wasn’t purely by coincidence. Both him and Jay Harrison were put into tough situations due to bad plays/decisions by the forwards on the ice by both goals but their play outside of those moments wasn’t encouraging either.

The struggle at even strength was team wide, though and none of the forwards could make much of a dent in New Jersey’s defense. Alexander Semin looked pretty engaged offensively and was responsible for a good chunk of the Hurricanes dangerous scoring chances, but he came home empty-handed at the end of the day. Unfortunately, he was also partially at fault for two of the three goals he was on the ice for, making a low-percentage play in the neutral zone on the first goal and making a bad pass in the offensive zone that led to New Jersey scoring on an empty net for the third goal. His line with Eric Staal & Andrei Loktionov didn’t exactly have a great game as a unit and those mistakes tend to look worse when you aren’t scoring. This isn’t the norm for him, though.

The Hurricanes lone goal-scorer, Jeff Skinner, also had a fairly productive night offensively by getting his 31st of the season and trailing only Semin in shots on goal with six. Then there’st he negative side of Skinner’s game. The Hurricanes were outshot and outchanced with him on the ice and he was also guilty of bad line change that put his defensive in a tough position on New Jersey’s second goal. I think Skinner’s defensive game gets criticized a little too much because he’s out there to make up for it at the other end and he has done a fine job at that this year. Still, the team getting outshot at evens with him out there isn’t a great trend.

Another trend to pay attention to is how the team’s first, second and third lines seem to change on a game-by-game basis. Last night, Jordan Staal centered the de facto “third line” with Nathan Gerbe & Patrick Dwyer and this was the team’s only forward unit that didn’t get outchanced at evens. It’s a little strange that they didn’t play more minutes because the Canes were essentially rolling three lines and neither Eric or Nash’s line were lighting it up offensively. Although, I suppose it’s not too surprising with how Muller tends to lean on his more offensive players when playing down a goal late in games.

Devils Individual Scoring Chances

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Devils On-Ice Scoring Chances

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Best EV Forward: Stephen Gionta & Ryan Carter

Worst EV Forward: Michael Ryder -2

Best EV Defenseman: Anton Volchenkov +4

Worst EV Defenseman: Marek Zidlicky, Mark Fayne & Andy Greene EVEN

When your “worst” players are even in scoring chance differential, it’s usually a sign that you had a good team game and that’s exactly what the Devils had. Their first line of Jaromir Jagr, Travis Zajac & Tuomo Ruutu led the way with a dominant performance in terms of possession and they also got a great performance of their “third line” on top of that. This trio did a very good job of winning battles down low and disrupting Carolina’s breakouts by staying on their defensemen while on the forecheck. The Devils were short on depth due to injuries, so getting good performances out of guys like Bernier, Gionta & Carter was critical.

The New Jersey defense also had a solid all-around game and that’s generally what they’ve done for most of the season. They are one of the best teams in the league at preventing shots and they do it by playing a solid positional game, staying aggressive in the neutral zone, taking away passing lanes and quickly moving the puck out of their own zone when they get the opportunity. It’s something they’ve done well for years and they followed the same method last night.

Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five

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The matchup to start the game was Jordan Staal’s line against Travis Zajac. As the game went on and other players got more ice time, Nash’s line saw more minutes against that unit. The result was ultimately a stalemate in terms of scoring chances, but Zajac’s line also had a pretty night possession-wise and I’m sure the matchups impacted that. Muller also tried to keep Faulk & Hainsey matched up against that line for most of the game. On the Devils end, they tried to match up Andy Greene & Mark Fayne against Eric Staal’s line and essentially got the result they wanted with that unit staying off the scoresheet.

5v5 Zone Entries

Hurricanes

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The Devils specialty has been all about not just reducing carry-ins, but reducing zone entries all together. They did a pretty good job at this against Carolina, bottling them up in the neutral zone and forcing them to dump it it in over 65% of the time. Most of the Canes reliable players weren’t getting much done here and they had to activate their defense a few times to get the puck in with control. They basically had to jump on every single bit of open space they could find and that’s not easy to do against New Jersey. When you can force Semin & Loktionov to dump it in six times then you’re probably doing something right.

Devils

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New Jersey’s neutral zone performance was essentially the same as Carolina’s overall, but they were getting a little more out of the top of their roster than Carolina was. Their bottom-six and defense producing a total of four carry-ins drags down their overall numbers, but their top-six still had a pretty solid game. I’m a little surprised at how few shots they produced off dump-ins, though because they had a pretty strong forecheck going for most of the game.

5v5 Zone Exits

Hurricanes

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Carolina had a total of 19 giveaways according to PNC Arena’s scorer and it wouldn’t surprise me if most of them came in the defensive zone. The Hurricanes were absolutely brutal at coming out of their own end and the Devils forced the issue by cutting off most of the passing lanes in the neutral zone. They also did a good job of out-numbering the Hurricanes puck-carriers and forcing them into bad decisions, a strategy the Canes beat the Penguins with earlier in the week. Funny how things tend to work out.

Devils

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The Devils did a pretty solid job of efficiently coming out of their own end with the only blemishes coming from Anton Voclehnkov and some of their forwards. Even with that, the rest of their team was able to make up for it and they didn’t get burned for any of their turnovers.

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