As much as I hate to say it, the Hurricanes statistical performance is kind of an afterthought at this point of the season. I think we all know by now that this team is better than their record indicates, but they are still out of the playoff hunt and are basically playing for next year. Whether or not they outchance an opponent or earn the best of the territorial play seems kind of irrelevant when all a win or loss does is affect where they will end up in the draft. The numbers would even out in an 82-game season but not when you are down to seven games with a beaten up roster. Thus, the stats are probably the last thing on everyone's mind right now and that's especially true regarding last night's 3-2 loss to the Senators.
This was basically a typical 2013 Hurricanes game where they had a slight territorial edge and didn't play a poor road game, but they had a few defensive mistakes that ended up in their own net which cost them. That along with a lack of finishing ability is what doomed them tonight, which has been the ongoing story for the last year. I think we are all programmed to expect a loss at this point, so the final score isn't a big deal. What has more fans despondent is that the Canes young star Jeff Skinner was knocked out of the game after taking a hit to the head from Senators defenseman Jared Cowen in the first period. In a lost season, the last thing you want to happen is for your best players to get hurt and that's what happened tonight. It's even worse in the case of Skinner because this could be his third head injury in the span of a three year career. I'm sure most would agree that his health is more important than the result of tonight's game, so here is to hoping that he is okay.
When an injury on a borderline hit occurs, you would expect the play of the victim's team to drop off. The Hurricanes had other things in mind. The Senators were able to get two unanswered goals on Carolina after Skinner left the game, but I didn't notice much of a sag in Carolina's play after that incident. In fact, they were a little more fired up and seemed to be more interested in physically punishing the Senators and making them pay for injuring one of their best players. Not counting Chad LaRose's retaliation scrap, the Hurricanes instigated four fights tonight (one of which involved the intimidating Marc-Andre Bergeron) and started plenty of other scrums between plays in an attempt to avenge their fallen teammate. This isn't to say that they were more interested in fighting than winning the game, because Carolina made a good comeback attempt but you could tell that Skinner's injury changed some of their intentions tonight, and understandably so.
This was a good display of "team toughness" and comradery, but it hasn't been proven that this kind of stuff can win you games. At the end of the day, Skinner is still injured and the Hurricanes took yet another loss and there isn't anything that can be changed about that now.
Carolina Hurricanes at Ottawa Senators
The Hurricanes had the edge in puck-possession and scoring chances were even, but I think this is a tad misleading because there were a few segments where the Senators had control of this game. They had six unanswered scoring chances to start off the second period and the Hurricanes couldn't mount much offense until they were already down by two goals. The first period may have been pretty level, but Ottawa was the better team in the next frame, which was to be expected since Carolina was basically playing with nine forwards for a good chunk of that time due to Skinner's injury and LaRose getting a misconduct.
The one saving grace here was that the Canes were able to pick it up while the game was still in reach and even up the terms a little. However, a problem was that they were getting zone time but not creating many chances while the Senators were able to make short-work of their's. I understand why defending the transition game is a problem for this team, but what I don't get is why the Canes can never create much of their own offense this way. They have mobile enough defensemen and plenty of good skaters to do this but Carolina always seems to be on the losing edge of this battle for whatever reason.
Anyway, you can partially thank score effects and the powerplay for the Hurricanes getting back into this game since Ottawa sat back and defended for most of the third period while the Hurricanes could only get two total scoring chances at even strength. This team has played worse road games before, so I'm not terribly concerned with the effort, but not having Skinner could do a number on their offense for the rest of the way.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Tuomo Ruutu +8
Worst EV Forwards: Eric Staal & Jiri Tlusty -7
Best EV Defenseman: Marc-Andre Bergeron +3
Worst EV Defenseman: Jamie McBain -5
Some of the first liners were relied on heavily in this game and they all had pretty brutal numbers at even strength. They did produce both Carolina goals, but take a look at what they gave up compared to what they created. That's a bad net output and really can't happen when you are being leaned on this much. Some might give Eric Staal a pass since he was being double-shifted with the grinders, but Jordan Staal and Tuomo Ruutu were as well and their performance didn't suffer. I also thought Tlustly was pretty quiet tonight and this confirms it, along with him having no shots on goal and one shot attempt.
The second and third lines basically rotated for most of the game to make up for Skinner's absence and the one who stood out the most was Tuomo Ruutu. He was the Hurricanes main offensive catalyst tonight, factoring into nien of their scoring chances and producing three of them. He also did some excellent work on he forecheck on the play that led up to Justin Faulk's goal and nearly scored his first of the season but had it waived off due to it being kicked in. Ruutu's return to the lineup has been a slow process and he has looked better with every game and I think he is about ready to stay in the top-six.
Other than the first line's ghastly numbers, the one thing that stands out to me on the chart above is how much action the grinders were involved in despite playing little ice-time. Westgarth was on the ice for eight scoring chances despite playing less than eight minutes total at even strength. He even recorded a scoring chance in the first period prior to Ruutu's disallowed goal. Muller tried to send Ottawa a message by giving more shifts to Westgarth and Blanchard, but the risk you take with playing tough-guys more often is that many of them aren't great defensively and we saw the negative effects of that tonight.
After a few solid games on the third pairing, the Jamie McBain haters were out in full-force again tonight as the Caniacs resident scapegoat had a pretty bad game. Muller did his best to shelter him by giving him limited minutes but McBain still got lit up defensively and made errors on two of Ottawa's goals. His inability to keep the puck in at the blue-line on Chris Neil's goal was the more egregious of the two. McBain's recent struggles have mostly been due to the role he has been placed in, but tonight was just a bad game all-around for him. Bobby Sanguinetti also had a rough outing, but he was at least able to produce some offense when paired with Marc-Andre Bergeron as opposed to McBain.
The Gleason/Faulk pairing was the only one able to avoid taking a lot of damage from Ottawa tonight and they also produced Carolina's only even-strength goal of the game. I thought Gleason had a strong game when it came to protecting his own zone and not allowing Ottawa's first line to hurt Carolina that much. Faulk's work was even more impressive since he played more minutes, had to juggle a couple defense partners while Gleason was in the box and was on the ice for only three total scoring chances. These two were also spotless on the penalty kill. Unfortunately, Corvo/Harrison ended up giving up a lot of chances both at even strength and on the PK, a good chunk of it coming against the Zibanejad line.
Senators Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Kyle Turris & Milan Michalek +4
Worst EV Forwards: Zack Smith -4
Best EV Defenseman: Marc Methot +3
Worst EV Defenseman: Eric Gryba -3
Ottawa leaned on their first line of Turris, Michalek & Alfredsson to do the bulk of the work and each of them had solid games. The rest of their forward corps wasn't used much at even strength but they were able to get good production out of Concacher, Silfverberg and Zibanejad for the minutes they played. I was surprised that the Zibanejad line wasn't given more minutes because the Canes seemed to have a lot of trouble defending them.
You would also think that Ottawa's defense would be easier to penetrate without Erik Karlsson in the lineup, but Carolina's first line could not do much of anything against any of Ottawa's top-four. Methot and Phillps were able to shadow Carolina's top line and force most of their shots to the outside or completely negate them. Not having Skinner in the lineup affected that, but a lot of teams have struggled to neutralize Carolina's top trio.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Ottawa basically had a first line and a bottom-nine tonight as Paul MacLean gave his first line over 20 minutes while the next closest forward (Colin Greening) played a little over 14 minutes. Because of that, we had only one key matchup going on last night, which which was Eric Staal's line against the Turris line and the Phillips/Methot defense pairing. The rest of the forwards had their ice time spread around against Ottawa's other lines and defense pairings. Riley Nash's line seemed to play quite a bit of their minutes against Gonchar & Wiercioch, though.
The first line ended up getting over-powered by Kyle Turris' line at even strength while Carolina's second and third defense pairings also got destroyed by this line. Gleason/Faulk was their primary matchup, but MacLean had the last change and was able to get his big guns out against Carolina's weaker defense pairings, which ended up working out in his favor. Harrison/Corvo were also crushed by the Zibanejad line.
One advantage of having MacLean relying on his first line so much was that the Hurricanes could take advantage of some of the Senators other forwards. Jordan Staal, Tuomo Ruutu and Patrick Dwyer in particular were able to reap the benefits of this matchup even though they didn't get rewarded for it on the scoresheet.
The Hurricanes had an easier time carrying the puck into the zone last night compared some of their other recent outings and it was probably for the best because they generated only four shots on the 27 times they dumped the puck in. This team has thrived on dump-and-chase play lately and that method wasn't working at all against Ottawa's defense, so we began to see them open up the ice a little more and generate more of their offense off carry-ins. That part was nice to see. What is concerning is that over half of their carry-ins came from only four players (Ruutu, Jordan, Eric & Semin). It would be nice to see more balance and it would help if the defensemen could join in a little more since they only had two carry-ins from defensemen last night.
The Senators had similar zone entry numbers to the Hurricanes, being able to gain the zone more than 50% of the time and not having much success when they dumped the puck in (3 shots on 24 dump-ins). They also had a few key players do the bulk of the neutral zone work and didn't have any defensemen gain the zone with control of the puck. Their first line was responsible for 20 of their 5v5 zone entries, fourteen of them coming with control of the puck and they were able to generate 15 shots off those. Cory Conacher also had a very productive game in the neutral zone, especially since he played less than 10 minutes at even strength.
|1||OTT||2:38||Zibanejad – GOAL||11||15||39||44||77||35||89||93||33||46||55||41||5v5|
|2||OTT||14:00||Michalek – GOAL||12||72||8||4||24||35||7||11||9||46||55||41||5v5|
|2||CAR||10:01||Faulk – GOAL||12||15||28||6||27||35||7||11||9||3||4||41||5v5|
|2||OTT||7:48||Neil – GOAL||20||59||4||47||77||35||15||25||73||46||55||41||5v5|