Complete team efforts have been hard to come by with the Carolina Hurricanes this year, but last night's 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators was exactly that. Aside from a brief hiccup in the second period, the Hurricanes owned Nashville from the opening faceoff and turned in an incredibly solid performance in all three zones. It was one of those games where, as a fan, you find more things to like the more you think about it. Obviously, Jeff Skinner's hat trick and the Hurricanes offensive explosion in the second period will get top billing, but there was definitely a lot more to this game than just that.
Nashville is far from the most offensively talented team in the league, but they are a hard working club and will jump on opponents who take them lightly. Carolina did the exact opposite, as they showed up ready to play and scored a bit of a fluky goal within the first minute thanks to some good forechecking by the first line. They continued this throughout the game, holding Nashville to under 25 shots and nine scoring chances, only four of them coming during five-on-five play. Considering that the Hurricanes were already playing without Brett Bellemore and were playing down three skaters for a portion of the game, it was really impressive to see them put the clamps on Nashville's forecheck and not let them create any offense for most of the third period. This is something that has been a problem all season long and it was nice to see the Canes start to turn the tides in a different direction.
Last night was also one of those games where the Hurricanes got themselves into a hole after allowing Nashville to score two quick goals in the second period, but were able to battle back and keep their foot on the gas pedal even after they recaptured the league. The resiliency that this team has shown this year is a welcome change from last season if they can continue to outplay their opponents as well as they did last night, then they could surprise some people. The Predators are obviously a weaker team than some of the other clubs they have played in the early portion of the season, but it was still encouraging to see the Hurricanes dominate them in the manner that they did last night, especially with a tough Western Conference trip on the horizon.
This may have been the best game Carolina has played all season and we will break it down more after the jump.
Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater
The first 15 minutes or so were pretty even and low-event, but Carolina took over soon after and regained control of the game in the second period after Nashville got a couple of quick goals. The most encouraging thing about this graph is how the Canes played after Riley Nash scored in the second period to make it 3-2. Carolina simply throttled Nashville after that point and didn't allow them to create any offense in the third period. Everyone was expecting the Preds to have a strong push in the third and for the Canes to sit on the lead, but that didn't happen. Instead, the Hurricanes made a decent attempt to create some more offense and made life difficult for Nashville's defensemen when they tried to exit the zone. Again, Nashville's a team that matches up favorably with Carolina based on their possession numbers, but the Hurricanes being able to win in this fashion could suggest that they are better than what their early season numbers indicate. At least when taking their schedule into account.
I suppose if you are going to find one thing to complain about, it's that the Hurricanes didn't do much when playing five-on-five. Granted, it didn't matter too much because they didn't give Nashville any space to work with and held them to only four scoring chances. They also finished at a decent rate, which comes with the territory when you're playing against an inexperienced goaltender, so the Hurricanes didn't need to pepper Nashville with a lot of shots to win. It definitely wasn't for a lack of trying though because the Hurricanes did have a significant territorial advantage over the Preds and had the puck in their zone for long stretches of time, they just couldn't locate the target as much as they would have liked (23 shots on goal vs. 25 missed shots). That said, the great defensive effort makes this all a moot point.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Tuomo Ruutu & Eric Staal +4
Worst EV Forwards: Elias Lindholm & Manny Malhotra -2
Best EV Defenseman: Andrej Sekera +6
Worst EV Defenseman: Jay Harrison -2
Any concern about Jeff Skinner being rushed back from his injury should be gone by this point because he has been in top form the last couple of games. After not being able to buy a goal for most of last season, he has been striking gold lately, finding the back of the net five times this week and showing why he was pegged as the "best pure goal-scorer" of his draft class. Skinner normally gets a lot of his goals by going to the net, but we've been seeing him shoot from further away from the goal and trying to pick corners. Most would advise against this, but he is showing a much more lethal shot this year and he was able to make Marek Mazanec look silly on his first two goals. Skinner is obviously not going to score at this pace for the rest of the season, but it's good to see him finally get some puck luck after a tough 2012-13 campaign.
Not to be overlooked for their efforts are his linemates, Eric Staal & Tuomo Ruutu who both had very solid games. Skinner's second goal doesn't happen without Ruutu winning a puck battle and making the initial pass to Ryan Murphy, who was able to locate Skinner wide open at the Nashville blue-line. Staal also earned an assist on Carolina's power play goal and made a key play to force a turnover on Faulk's opening goal. It's frustrating that this was the only point the captain would earn on the night because he could have had at least one goal with how many chances he created.
This was one of the best games that Carolina's first line played all season and it's a little strange that it happened while Alexander Semin was out of the lineup. Regardless, Skinner, Staal & Ruutu are playing line a legit top unit right now and hopefully it can sustain for at least the next few games.
The first line gets first star honors, but this was really a great team performance all-around. The Hurricanes outshot Nashville while all but one player (Radek Dvorak) was on the ice and had every line contributing in some way, which is saying a lot because they had to improvise in the third period. One player who did stand out, though, was Riley Nash. He got his second goal of the season while coming off the bench to create an odd-man rush and was on the ice for only four Nashville shot attempts during five-on-five play. A nice game for him after spending a couple of them in the press box last week.
In addition to the first line, another player who shined last night was
lock hopeful had himself a three-point game and had one of his best defensive games of the season. He constantly played the body against Nashville's forwards every time they tried to enter the zone and made countless good plays to stall their offense. Andrej Sekera also had a terrific game and was amazingly on the ice for only three Nashville shot attempts during five-on-five play. With the workload he takes on, that is unbelievable.
Predators Individual Scoring Chances
Predators On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Nick Spaling +3
Worst EV Forwards: Patric Hornqvist, David Legwand & Colin Wilson -3
Best EV Defenseman: Mattias Ekholm +3
Worst EV Defensemen: Seth Jones -4
Pretty rough game for Nashville all around, especially from an offensive standpoint. Viktor Stalberg was the only player who could create anything at even strength and Mike Fisher's deflection goal was the only chance they had all game. They did some good work on the power play, but Carolina was able to keep most of Nashville's best forwards quiet at even strength.
I don't like to single out players in a game like this, but Roman Josi had a noticeably bad game. He is a great skater and will join the rush when he gets the chance, but he can get a little too aggressive at times. This is what happened to him on Skinner's first goal which tied the game for the Hurricanes. The Canes were setting up a breakout and Josi tried to pinch in and force a turnover. Unfortunately, he couldn't get the puck away and Mike Fisher was too slow to catch Jeff Skinner, who had an odd-man rush working the other way. He also turned the puck over while Ron Hainsey was exiting the penalty box, which allowed the Canes to have a three-on-one and score the go-ahead goal in the second period. It was just one of those nights for him. Seth Jones also had a tough game by the numbers, but he didn't have too many errors aside form a couple of turnovers. I was actually somewhat impressed with his composure and how closely he played some of Carolina's forwards in one-on-one battles. I'm not sure if he should be playing this many minutes per night, though.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Faulk/Sekera with a dominant performance against Nashville's top-six and Eric Staal's line was able to beat Mike Fisher's, as well. The only favorable matchup the Preds had was Spaling-Cullen-Stalberg against Carolina's third line and you aren't going to win many games when that's the only matchup you have going in your favor. The Staal line also did some good work against Klein/Josi when they got that matchup.
5v5 Zone Entries
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Very good game for Carolina in terms of controlled zone entries and the first line was excellent in this regard. Eric Staal seems to be deferring to his wingers to enter the zone a lot this year and this makes Skinner a real nice addition, as he is capable of carrying the puck and creating a high amount of offense. Ruutu is also very good in this area (when healthy), so this line has some good synergy going right now. We also saw the defense be more active than usual with seven out of their 14 entries coming with control of the puck. When taking all of that into consideration, it is no surprise to see that the Canes won the possession battle last night.
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Nashville was forced to play a lot of dump-and-chase and I say "forced" because they tried to carry the puck in on a few occasions but simply could not gain the zone cleanly at all. Stalberg and Wilson seemed to be the only ones who could successfully get the puck over the line and those two can only do so much. To make matter worse, they couldn't sustain any sort of forecheck either and created few shots off dump-in as a result.
5v5 Zone Exits
Carolina's breakouts were very good last night and the Faulk/Sekera pairing had another terrific game, committing only one turnover and combining for a success rate of about 48%. They've been very hot-and-cold when it comes to breakouts this year but when they are on, they are definitely one of the better defense tandems in the Eastern Conference. Speaking of which, the entire defense had a pretty solid game last night with the exception of Jay Harrison, who we should know by now is not very skilled in this regard.
This contradicts my ealrier statement about Jones looking impressive because he turned the puck over more than any other Nashville player. He was also trusted to handle the puck more than anyone else, so this isn't too surprising. He did manage to get the play moving forward at a decent rate, though which is more than you an say for some of their other players. Ekholm & Ellis had a pretty rough game in this regard and so did most of the Preds forwards. Carolina kind of forced the issue by having a strong forecheck going for most of the game and putting a lot of pressure on whoever had the puck in Nashville's zone. It's just a shame that they haven't been able to do this more often.