Yesterday, I wrote about my concerns of the Hurricanes first line experiencing some regression because they are currently producing at a ridiculous rate that is boosted by a high on-ice shooting percentage. these three continued to laugh in the face of even strength shooting regression last night by producing three goals en route to a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabre. To make me look even more foolish, all three goals they scored came at even strength which gives Eric Staal a share of the league lead in even strength points this season with 24. While I do believe the Law of Averages will kick in for these three eventually, it's hard not to enjoy what they are doing right now because it's been a long time sice the Hurricanes had a first line this powerful. It's not only just that they are producing a lot of chances on a nightly basis, but more of the fact that they seem to be a threat to score whenever they're out there. Part of that is due to high shooting percentages, but they are still a threat regardless.
As for tonight's game, the first line certainly came to play as Staal & Semin were on-ice for six of Carolina's 10 even strength chances, but the rest of the team wasn't at their best. Part of the reason for this is because the team had a two goal lead for most of the game and opted to sit back while the Sabres tried to mount a comeback. They ended up getting outshot 40-28 and outchanced 21-16, but the Sabres did most of their damage in the third period while playing catch-up. I thought the Hurricanes had control of the game while it was close and whenever the Sabres did get to within a goal, the Canes responded with one of their own.
This is the second game in a row where Carolina has been involved in a score-effects driven contest and ended up on the wrong end of the chance/shot ledger, but they were also playing with a big lead so it's nothing worth worrying about yet. Obviously I would rather have the Hurricanes play stronger with a lead rather than just sit back and simply try not to lose, but they managed to get the job done in the end. Let's see if their strategy changes if they get off to a similar start against Montreal or New Jersey in the next couple of games.
Buffalo Sabres at Carolina Hurricanes 3/6/13
The only time Carolina had control of this game was in the first period and that was more in terms of zone time than anything else. They weren't creating many quality scoring chances then and allowed Buffalo to create four on the few rushes they had. Buffalo then upped their anti in the second period but Carolina was able to gain an advantage thanks to some great work on special teams, something that has been absent for most of this season. They were given one powerplay in the second period and took full advantage of it by creating three chances, one of which being a goal by Joe Corvo with Jordan Staal providing a screen in front. They also nearly had a shorthanded goal courtesy of Alexander Semin but he was turned away with a spectacular glove save by Ryan Miller.
The Hurricanes definitely won the special teams battle when it mattered, but the Sabres had the edge at even strength in the final two periods and Justin Peters was a big reason why the Canes were able to preserve a two-goal lead for as long as they did. That and the Hurricanes finding the back of the net on half of the scoring chances they created in the third period, but Peters still had to do more than his share of work to seal up this win. Teams are expected to sit back after getting a big lead, but the Hurricanes could have done a better job defensively, especially in the third period.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Eric Staal, Alexander Semin & Jussi Jokinen +1
Worst EV Forward: Tim Wallace -5
Best EV Defensemen: Bobby Sanguinetti & Jamie McBain +4
Worst EV Defensemen: Jay Harrison & Justin Faulk -7
The first line did their thing yet again and were the driving force of the Hurricanes offense last night, Semin and Staal especially. Not only did they produce three goals, they were on-ice for 60% of Carolina's even strength scoring chances and 69% of their overall chances. Semin is a player that has been largely snake-bitten for most of the year in terms of shooting percentage but the goals were going to come to him as long as he continued to win the scoring chance battle. He has been able to do that and he has now scored in two consecutive games. These two probably won't score on half of the scoring chances they create for a sustained period of time, but they'll continue to perform well offensively if they keep playing like this.
On the subject of snake-bitten players, Jussi Jokinen fell into that category for most of the year but moving over to wing seems to have helped him right the ship a little. He has been producing more offense and is finally seeing some results with five points in his last three games. The goal he scored tonight came while he was playing with Semin & Staal, but he along with Patrick Dwyer & Riley Nash have helped make the third line a competent unit. Being even in scoring chances while starting 3-5 extra shifts in the defensive zone is nothing to sneeze at.
While the third line is now starting to gel, the second line failed to do much. I don't want to put the blame entirely on Tim Wallace, but he doesn't seem to add much to this unit other than size. As part of the second line, Wallace is being trusted with being matched up against the best lines of the opposing team and he hasn't been much of a match for them. Staal and Skinner deserve some responsibility here, too but Wallace is far from an ideal winger for them. He is a better fit on the fourth line, which had yet another rough game. I know that not having Tim Brent sounds like a marginal loss to a lot of people but the fourth line has become a liability at even strength without him.
Jamie McBain didn't get on the scoresheet and his clear over the glass was embarrassing, but he had a solid game outside of that. He and Bobby Sanguinetti have had their struggles when they've been paired together but they did a solid job of keeping the puck out of Carolina's end whenever they were on the ice. Unfortunately, the rest of Carolina's defense struggled and Justin Faulk had maybe his worst game of the season. Cody Hodgson effortlessly skated around him to score a shorthanded goal in the third period and Faulk was also caught flat footed on Hodgson's rebound goal in the first period. The bad games have been few and far between for Faulk this year but his inexperience kind of showed last night. Jay Harrison also had a rough night and he seemed to struggle a lot when it came to exiting the zone.
Sabres Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Kevin Porter +6
Worst EV Forwards: Steve Ott & Tyler Ennis -4
Best EV Defenseman: Mike Weber +4
Worst EV Defenseman: Tyler Myers +1
Normally, the Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville line would be Buffalo's most effective line and while they were great, it was their third line that tore up the Hurricanes last night. It helped that they had a considerable amount of ice time against the Hurricanes fourth line but these three still did a fantastic job of driving the play forward without the aid of favorable zone starts. It was surprising that they didn't make any noise on the scoresheet, but Peters played a big role in that as he make a few great saves on both Flynn and Foligno. As great as those two lines were for the Sabres, their "second line" of Gerbe, Ott and Ennis was equally bad.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
I don't know what it is about Carolina struggling with opposing team's third and fourth lines when they are at home, but it's been happening a lot lately and I think it might become a major issue soon. Carolina's fourth line getting outchanced is one thing, but when the first line and top-four defense are beaten that badly by a third line, then it might be a problem. Thankfully, the Canes first line made up for this against Buffalo's second line who each ended up with a minus rating at the end of the night. I think Muller played his matchups well here by getting the first line out against the second & third lines of the Sabres but the plan only partially worked with Buffalo's third line running amuck on Carolina. He didn't have much control over that, though.
|1||CAR||18:29||Tlusty – GOAL||12||19||28||4||24||35||9||42||63||10||57||30||5v5|
|2||CAR||7:44||Corvo – GOAL||11||53||36||24||77||35||21||29||10||57||30||5v4|
|3||BUF||19:35||Hodgson – GOAL||11||53||29||27||44||35||19||29||26||10||57||30||5v5|
|3||CAR||18:46||Jokinen – GOAL||12||28||36||4||24||35||63||65||82||24||44||30||5v5|
|3||BUF||5:27||Brennan – GOAL||12||6||27||44||35||19||63||29||26||33||30||4v5|
|3||CAR||3:47||Semin – GOAL||12||53||28||6||77||35||9||42||63||33||57||30||5v5|
|3||BUF||0:36||Hodgson – GOAL||12||19||28||27||44||35||9||19||10||57||30||5v4|