puck watching

Game 80 By the Numbers: Hurricanes at Rangers

With last night’s 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers, the Carolina Hurricanes are mercifully officially eliminated from playoff contention and it was fitting that a game like this would be the final nail in the coffin. The Rangers outplayed and skated circles around the Hurricanes in route to a win and this was with them missing a key player in defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Yes, the Hurricanes were also missing a few pieces last night (Andrej Sekera & Jiri Tlusty are still nursing injuries), but the 82-game season is always a test of depth and it’s been a weak point for the Hurricanes all season. The Rangers have a quicker, more balanced lineup than the Hurricanes and it was painfully obvious last night, as they had complete control of this game and made things look almost too easy.

It’s been a disappointing season for the Hurricanes and the one thing that everyone seems to come back to is that this is an underperforming team that gets “outworked” every night and needs to up their compete level. Sure, the Hurricanes have an expensive core and the “talent” might be better than it’s been in years to some people, but what I see is a team with an overrated & overpaid core and no depth. It’s been rare for them to have more than one line going for them a night and quicker, deeper teams have exposed this frequently. It’s the reason why teams like the Rangers, Columbus, Boston and Tampa Bay have run over them this year. There have been a few stretches of games where the Canes have dominated that have given some people false hope, but those ultimately didn’t last long.

Some will point to the wins and San Jose & Dallas as examples of what the Canes can do when “everyone buys in” or “plays the right way,” but we’re 80 games into the season now and there have maybe been 20-22 instances where they’ve fit that description. The Hurricanes aren’t inconsistent, they are just a bad, poorly constructed team and it’s been obvious for awhile now. The blame can probably go all-around for this. Almost everyone on the roster is having a “down year” and keep making the same mistakes over and over again. The coaching staff hasn’t exactly gotten the most out of the players either and their utilization of some has been questionable to say the very least. Then you have the front office, who built an expensive core of 4-5 players and hasn’t been able to fill other holes on the roster either. That leaves you with a paper thin team that has trouble scoring and no one to pick up the slack when their top players have off-nights.

So, how do you fix this? There’s still three games left in the season, but most fans are concerned about what will happen in the days, weeks and months following April 13th because what they have been treated to for the last five seasons just hasn’t been good enough and that’s an understatement. Last night’s loss being just another chapter in that book.

Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater

Fenwick chart for 2014-04-08 Hurricanes 1 at Rangers 4

Scoring Chances

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The Hurricanes not having any power plays compared to the three by the Rangers might skew the overall numbers a little but even without that, the Hurricanes were badly outplayed. The Rangers had time and space to do whatever the hell they wanted in Carolina’s zone and it’s almost surprising that the score wasn’t worse. Cam Ward haters can go on about how bad he has been this year, but this one wasn’t on him. The team defense tonight was just atrocious on all levels. Carolina spent the entire game getting mesmerized by the puck (a common problem this year) and leaving guys wide open in the process. When they eventually retrieved the puck, they didn’t have enough energy to get it out of the zone or get any forecheck going because they were worn down from spending so much time in their own end.

Carolina did an okay job of keeping even with the Rangers in terms of possession & shots, but it wasn’t translating into chances because they were exhausted by the time they got the puck into the offensive zone and weren’t effectively getting any plays set up. They either got the puck deep or tried to drive the net and bank one in off Lundqvist. No creativity or puck movement was to be found, at least from the Hurricanes. The Rangers had plenty of it and looked like they were playing a scrimmage for most of the third period, which they dominated almost effortlessly. Normally you’d expect a push back from the team trailing, but the Hurricanes looked completely out of gas by that point of the game and couldn’t muster up any offense at all.

Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances

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Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances

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Best EV Forward: Jordan Staal +1

Worst EV Forward: Alexander Semin -4

Best EV Defensemen: Brett Bellemore & John-Michael Liles EVEN

Worst EV Forwards: Justin Faulk, Jay Harrison & Ryan Murphy -3

The only offense from Carolina was coming from Jordan Staal & Riley Nash’s lines respectively and the former was the only line that was tilting the ice in the Hurricanes favor. The “Small-Medium-Large” line of Gerbe, Jordan and Dwyer has been a reliable trio for the Hurricanes, but they are a bit of a one trick pony and have a low ceiling. Their MO is to get the puck deep, create turnovers and set up chances from close range. It’s an effective strategy on paper, but very easy to read and shut down if you’re the defending team. The fact that there isn’t much skill on this line also hurts them because most of their set plays are very predictable and don’t result in many threatening scoring chances. As a third line, these three are great but Jordan is getting paid $6 mil. and needs to be more than a checking line center getting top-six minutes. It was a problem in October and it’s still a problem now, sadly.

As for Nash’s line, these three have done a lot of good things and it’s really nice to see how well Skinner & Lindholm feed off each other. Defensively, however, they have their shortcomings and were a mess last night. They were guilty of puck-watching on many occasions, and nearly got burned for a few goals by Brad Richards’ line. Nash & Lindholm should be good enough defensively to make up for Skinner’s fallbacks, but the fact that they gave up eight chances while getting sheltered minutes is very troubling.

What is also troubling is the play of the Loktionov-Staal-Semin line, who had another terrible game defensively and didn’t make up for it at the other end. Partially because they were trapped in their own zone whenever they were out there and didn’t have any energy to start a forecheck or create offense once they got the puck going int he right direction. Semin actually made a couple of good defensive plays, but the fact that he was spending 75% of the game playing defense is a problem. This line just doesn’t work for whatever reason.

The defense, as a whole, had a tough game and I don’t really want to single anyone out because they were all pretty brutal. Just about everyone was guilty of making a bad turnover, missing an assignment, leaving their post to chase the puck-carrier or some other miscue that resulted in a chance by the Rangers or something close to it. I know that some coaches teach puck pursuit, but the Hurricanes kind of take it to a new level.

Rangers Individual Scoring Chances

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Rangers On-Ice Scoring Chances

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Best EV Forwards: Derek Stepan & Mats Zuccarello +6

Worst EV Forward: Dominic Moore -4

Best EV Defenseman: John Moore +5

Worst EV Defenseman: Kevin Klein EVEN

This is what a balanced offensive attack looks like. The Rangers had three lines working for them and three players on the Rangers outchanced the entire Hurricanes team. Having depth down the middle helps, as both Stepan & Brassard’s lines had no trouble creating offense against both Staal lines. Meanwhile, Brad Richards fought Nash’s line to a stalemate but made up for this on the power play by scoring two goals. The only line for the Rangers that didn’t do much was Boyle’s and that didn’t matter too much with their top-nine being so good.

Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five

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Alain Vingeault went with a power-vs-power approach and got the results he wanted for the most part. Nash’s line outchanced Richards’, but Stepan & Brassard were able to expose this trio enough to make up the difference. Everything else worked int he Rangers favor. Eric’s line got destroyed by Stepan, Nash & St. Louis while Jordan’s line lost the head-to-head matchup against Brassard, albeit not by a huge margin. I’d also like to point out how badly Harrison & Murphy got beaten by Zuccarello, Brassard & Pouliot. They were only matched up against each other for about three minutes and still managed to outchance them significantly. On paper, this is a terrible matchup for the Canes and it worked out as well as one would expect.

5v5 Zone Entries

Hurricanes

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Jordan is the obvious standout here, playing a big role in the neutral zone and driving the bus on his line. His line was the Canes only decent territorial unit, so he was definitely doing his part to help the team. Lindholm, Nash, Eric & Murphy also had decent games when it came to entering the zone, but the rest of the Canes didn’t have great performances in the neutral zone. They either didn’t play a big role or weren’t creating much offense the times they did enter the zone. That’s been the status quo for most games this year.

Rangers

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In terms of neutral zone play & shots, the Rangers didn’t dominate but the difference is that they were creating more dangerous chances with their zone time. They also got a lot more out of their top forwards than the Canes did with Richards, Stepan & St. Louis running amok on the Hurricanes defense. Derick Brassard’s line also had a nice game, producing 10 shots off 15 entries, 8 of which coming from entries by Zuccarello. Carolina’s been a poor team at defending the neutral zone since the Olympic Break and the Rangers have enough skill & depth to expose this in a big way.

5v5 Zone Exits

Hurricanes

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The numbers don’t exactly match up with my opinion of the game here because I thought the Hurricanes zone exits were tough to watch at times. Although, I guess most of that stems from the third period where they were throttled and barely had possession in the Rangers’ zone.

Rangers

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I’ve mentioned this before, but the rangers defense always seems to struggle in the games I’ve tracked for whatever reason. Their forwards made up for it last night, as they were able to successfully exit the zone at a high rate and got solid games from both Richards, Pouliot, Hagelin & Stepan. They also had almost 20 fewer zone exit attempts than the Hurricanes, which tells you where the puck was for most of the game.

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