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Game 81 By the Numbers: Hurricanes at Red Wings

The Hurricanes have been playing some very bad hockey for the better part of the last couple months and despite the result, last night’s 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings was another poorly played game. There’s nothing shameful about getting outshot against a playoff team like Detroit and this is usually the case in the second half of a back-to-back regardless of the opponent. So last night’s game doesn’t hold much weight by itself. Except that this has been the norm for the Hurricanes for awhile now and games like this don’t give you much confidence in the current group, even if the end result is good.

What was so terrible about this game, though? The Hurricanes won the game and weren’t outshot that badly considering the circumstances. They also did a decent job of holding the fort down in the third period and held Detroit to only nine shots on goal while defending a one-goal lead. They also did it without one two of their best players in Alexander Semin and Andrej Sekera. To the naked eye, this game looks like a solid “road win” and the Canes should be happy even if a win doesn’t help them much. I suppose this is true, but what is troubling is that this was another game where the Canes basically had to “hang on” to a win while their opponents dictated the play.

I’ve mentioned countless times before that the Hurricanes don’t really have one area that they exceed in and their game plan always seems to be based around whatever their opponent is doing and this point has been magnified since the Olympic break. Even when everyone is healthy, the Hurricanes struggle to get the ball rolling early and are on their heels for the first 10-20 minutes, resulting in them playing from behind or relying luck or their goaltenders to keep the game tied or close. If they survive this, the Canes can usually take command and be in decent shape the rest of the way.

Last night’s wasn’t one of those games. The first part of the equation held up, as the Red Wings came out firing and if it weren’t for a few great saves by goaltender Cam Ward, this could have been at least 1-0 Detroit early. Carolina then took advantage of an early power play with Elias Lindholm scoring on the team’s “third” shot of the game and Jiri Tlusty would add another goal late in the period, cashing in on a big rebound given up by Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard. Carolina was out-skated and outplayed that period and played a safe game the rest of the way, spending a lot of time in their own end and it nearly cost them. Ward had to be called upon a few times and you could argue that the Canes were fortunate to escape this one in regulation.

This is the most you can ask out of a team playing their second game in as many nights, but as I mentioned earlier, games like this haven’t been unique for the Hurricanes and it’s not a promising trend.

Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater

Fenwick chart for 2014-04-11 Hurricanes 2 at Red Wings 1

Scoring Chances

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If there was one thing I liked about Carolina’s game, it was their team defense for the second half of the game. Detroit had the puck for about 60-65% of the game and Carolina did their best to mitigate this by playing solid fundamental hockey. They were getting sticks in passing lanes, forcing turnovers at the blue line (one of which led to a goal by Jiri Tlusty) and had very good positioning in their own zone. The downside to all of this is that they spent almost the entire game defending and that eventually catches up to teams. It didn’t burn the Hurricanes last night because Ward had one of his best games of the season. Carolina deserves some credit for playing a tight system and limiting the Wings to only nine even strength scoring chances after the first period, but they were on their heels for most of the game and weren’t the better team. Relying on goaltending, scoring on the rush and special teams can be enough to steal a game or two, though and it’s odd to see Carolian on the winning end of this battle for a change.

Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances

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Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances

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Best EV Forward: Elias Lindholm +1

Worst EV Forwards: Andrei Loktionov & Zach Boychuk -4

Best EV Defensemen: Justin Faulk, Brett Bellemore & Ron Hainsey -1

Worst EV Defenseman: Mike Komisarek -5

The Hurricanes couldn’t get much of a forecheck going and were relying on mistakes by the Red Wings for most of their offense. Thus, the entire team had a pedestrian game offensively with the only standouts being Jeff Skinner & Eric Staal. The former was slightly more impressive, as he managed to lead the team in shot attempts despite playing fewer minutes and his line was unquestionably the Hurricanes best forward unit. Skinner & Lindholm have developed some decent chemistry for awhile now and they really have a knack for finding each other in open ice. These two along with Riley Nash were the only line that was able to create any sustained offense a lot of it came from them making solid plays in their own zone and turning it into offense the other way. This normally only results in one-and-done opportunities, but these three were actually creating some decent pressure off rushes like this and it was nice to see.

The rest of the team didn’t have as good of a night. Eric Staal had a few chances, but his line spent most of the game in their own zone while playing against Pavel Datsyuk. Jordan’s line was mostly invisible and Malhotra’s line did their best to not get hammered while getting buried in their own zone.

Red Wings Individual Scoring Chances

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Red Wings On-ice Scoring Chances

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Best EV Forward: Gustav Nyquist +6

Worst EV Forward: Darren Helm -2

Best EV Defenseman: Jakub Kindl +4

Worst EV Defenseman: Kyle Quincey -2

Some might consider holding Pavel Datsyuk’s line to four scoring chances a victory because considering how much the Wings had the puck when they were out there. They still ended up with a good night overall, but the Hurricanes did what they could to at least keep that line in check. That said, any offense that was left on the table by Detroit’s first line was picked up by Tatar, Nyquist & Sheahan. These three took it to the Hurricanes both at even strength and on the power play, combining for eight scoring chances and creating six during even strength play alone.

Nyquist was easily their most dangerous forward and he came very close to tying the game in the first period before missing on an empty net. It could have been a different game if he managed to finish that chance. Detroit’s quietly built a solid farm system for awhile and it’s nice to see some of their young players blossom into regular NHL-ers. It’s made their injuries not as devastating as they could have been otherwise.

Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five

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It’s a little disappointing that Jordan’s line wasn’t able to do more in this game because Mike Babcock matched up Datsyuk against Eric’s line while Sheahan played against Nash’s line and Helm faced off against Malhotra. That left Jordan against Legwand’s line as the remaining matchup, which was Detroit’s “fourth line” for this game. You’d think Jordan’s line could expose that, but they had a pretty underwhelming game overall. Nash’s line winning their matchup against Detroit’s young guns was the one saving grace for Carolina at five-on-five.

5v5 Zone Entries

Hurricanes Puck-Handling

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Carolina iced a tired roster and was playing with a lead, so the high number of dump-ins isn’t surprising. The low overall shot total is a little concerning, though as the Canes couldn’t create much offense even off the rush. Staal, Skinner & Boychuk were the only players who were able to get much of anything going here. The Jordan & Malhotra’s line producing a whopping total of four unblocked shot attempts on 22 entries is also very impressive, and not in a good way.

Hurricanes Defense

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Most of my focus has been on how the Canes players are attacking the neutral zone, but here’s a look at how well they are defending it. What the table above shows is how often the Red Wings entered the zone while a certain player was guarding the blue line (targets) and how they allowed them to enter the zone. The goal of defending the neutral zone is to force the opposition into making low-percentage plays (dump-ins, failed entries, etc.) while entering the zone and this gives us an idea of which players exceed at this.

Eric Tulsky & Jessica Schmidt of Broad Street Hockey have been doing this for the Flyers this year and while it’s too late in the season for me to get any meaningful data for the Hurricanes, I figured it’s at least worth a look. The Hurricanes defense of the neutral zone has been very porous since the Olympic Break, so it can’t hurt to get some more insight into this area of the game.

As far as last night’s game goes, the Red Wings really took advantage of Carolina’s third defense pairing, carrying the puck in on eight out of eleven attempts and they really picked on Mike Komisarek too. These two had an awful game in the scoring chance department and their gap control was a big reason for that. Almost every other defenseman didn’t allow the Wings to carry the puck in over 50% of the time with the one exception being Ron Hainsey, which is surprising because this is normally one of his strong suits.

Red Wings Puck-Handling

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The Red Wings established a big advantage in possession and scoring chances despite having only one more zone entry than Carolina. The reason for this is because they were able to carry the puck in more and 10 of their carry-ins came from the Tatar-Sheahan-Nyquist line. Datsyuk’s line also had an impressive game in terms of zone entries, being forced to dump the puck in only one time. However, something else that sticks out is the high number of failed entries by the Red Wings, which is strange but not surprising after re-watching the game. Detroit tried to take advantage of almost every open space they could find in the neutral zone and Carolina’s defense adjusted to this by closing off passing lanes & forcing turnovers. It didn’t result in much because the Hurricanes were content with just clearing the puck and making Detroit regroup.

Red Wings Defense

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Carolina had a lot of dump-ins and most of them weren’t forced, so they weren’t targeting one defenseman in particular. They did seem to have a lot of success when attacking Kronwall & Kindl’s side of the ice, though. At least in terms of being able to gain the line with control. After that, they weren’t able to do much at all.

5v5 Zone Exits

Hurricanes

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Carolina’s zone exits were one silver lining from this game, as they were able to clear the puck and get it out of harms way without too much trouble. They were a mess in this area in some recent games, so it’s good tos ee them clean things up here a little, even if it didn’t result in much.

Red Wings

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Detroit’s zone exits are a little confusing because they owned the territorial battle and Carolina’s forwards weren’t exactly breathing down their necks when they tried to start a breakout or anything. Even with them handling the puck as much as they did, it seemed like their breakouts were a lot smoother than they appear here.

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