If the Hurricanes were going to have a bad game, last night's matchup against the San Jose Sharks would have been a solid bet. After all, the Sharks are one of the best teams in the Western Conference while the Canes have been treading water in the lowly Metropolitan Division. San Jose is also a top-ten team in terms of possession, goal differential, goals per game, goals allowed per game and shots per game. In addition to that, they have been a very good road club this year, earning points in 12 out of 15 games, and matched up favorably with the Hurricanes on paper. Carolina may have came into this game winning two straight, but San Jose is much stronger team than either Washington or Nashville and has enough forward depth to give the Hurricanes fits even at home.
When taking that and the Hurricanes struggles against other good possession clubs, San Jose should have been able to throttle Carolina, especially at even strength. Hockey can be an unpredictable game, though and we saw an example of that last night as the Hurricanes defeated San Jose 5-3. Not only that, but the Hurricanes also outplayed and outworked the Sharks and looked more like the club we expected to see last season. This is a team that has been grossly under-performing their expectations for the last nine months (both in terms of wins and underlying numbers) but they seemed to have found a groove over the last week and are playing more up to their standards, last night's game possibly being their most impressive game to date.
Some might disagree with that last statement because they fell down 2-0 early but even then, I don't think they ever let San Jose take over the game. Carolina had control of the play for most of the first period, were creating chances and winning most of the battles for the puck, but found themselves trailing by two goals thanks to a bad turnover and a deflection. Mistakes like that can throw off a team's game plan, but the Hurricanes didn't seem to shell-shocked by this and were able to slowly mount a comeback and get their reward in the third period, scoring four goals and going on to win 5-3.
I've talked about the fight that this team has shown in them all season, but that will only take you so far if you don't have skill, talent and finish to back it up. All of this has been absent for the majority of the year and we are starting to see it come to life over the last three games. What has changed during then? The roster has gone through some shuffling due to injuries, but I think some credit should go to the coaching staff for making some lineup tweaks that have really worked in the team's favor. The new first line of Tuomo Ruutu, Eric Staal & Jeff Skinner really gave the Canes offense a jolt in the Washington & Nashville games and last night, it was the new "second" line of Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm & Nathan Gerbe that led the way for Carolina.
Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater
Aside from a brief stretch in the first period, Carolina had control of this game at even strength and it eventually paid off for them in the third period. Alex Stalock did all he could to protect the Sharks' lead, but the Hurricanes managed to keep testing him to the point where he eventually let in a couple of goals. A few of them were very lucky (see Harrison's bank shot & the two deflection goals), but the Hurricanes offense was on fire last night and they were eventually going to get a couple to go in with how much they were hemming the Sharks into their own end. The graph really does a good job of showing the territorial advantage they established during the second & third periods. It is not easy to outplay San Jose like this, so it was great to see the Canes get rewarded for a great performance.
The Hurricanes offense finally came to life last night, creating more even strength chances in this game than the last two combined and having an advantage over San Jose in all three periods. However, I will say that Carolina did not dominate the Sharks in scoring chances as much as they could have and this is because San Jose was able to create quite a few opportunities while playing in transition. This has been a reoccurring problem for the Canes when they choose to play a more open style and it reared its ugly head again last night. That said, they still had a pretty sizable advantage over the Sharks by the end of the game and most of it came from the great performance of their second line.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Elias LIndholm +9
Worst EV Forwards: Radek Dvorak & Manny Malhotra -2
Best EV Defenseman: Ron Hainsey +7
Worst EV Defenseman: Jay Harrison -3
The newly formed line of Jordan Staal, Nathan Gerbe & Elias Lindholm were simply amazing last night and I'm not sure how else to describe it. Whether they were creating a scoring chances, getting shots on net, creating turnovers or keeping the puck in the Sharks zone, this line managed to do something positive just about every time they were on the ice. Jordan has played a great three-zone game all season long but last night, we finally saw that offensive upside we know he is capable of, as he played like a man possessed. Gerbe also contributed well by firing the puck at the net every chance he could and it nearly resulted in him getting a couple of goals. With Semin out, the Hurricanes really need another player who can create chances out of nothing and Gerbe was able to do just that. Staal's goal doesn't happen if Gerbe doesn't make a wide angle shot to create a rebound.
Staal & Gerbe were probably the Hurricanes best forwards, but the story of the night was Elias Lindholm's three-point game. He has looked at home in the NHL by the day and seems to be very comfortable on Jordan's wing. Lidnholm's NHL career hasn't gotten off to an idea start, but he seems to be learning more every game and adding more to his game so that he can stay in Raleigh for the rest of the year. He looked much stronger with the puck last night and is playing a more physical game than he was earlier in the year. An example of this coming on Riley Nash's goal, which was made possible by Lindholm delivering a check on San Jose defenseman Justin Braun to knock the puck loose and give the Canes possession. It's only one game and Lindholm still needs to be more consistent, but we got a glimpse of what he can do last night and hopefully we see more games like this from him in the future.
The aforementioned Riley Nash also had a solid game and he has looked like a completely different player these last three games. Nash has mostly been invisible ever since losing Skinner as a linemate, but he has been able to make an impact in each of the last three games, whether it's by getting on the score sheet, forcing a turnover or winning a puck battle, Nash has been doing a lot of good things and seems to want to show the coaches and management that he wants to stay in the NHL permanently. If that's the case, he has done a fine job over the past week. The performance by his line along with Jordan's negated a somewhat off-night for the first line.
Another standout for me was Andrej Sekera, who added to his point streak by getting the primary helper on the game winning goal. His offensive instincts have really been on display this year and they seem to be improving every game. Earlier in the year, he played a very conservative game but as the season has gone on, he has shown more creativity and patience with the puck and it has really helped Carolina fill the void left by Joni Pitkanen's injury. A fine example of this is on the game-winning goal where he held onto the puck for a few seconds to wait for a shooting lane to open up and find Lindholm in the slot.
Sharks Individual Scoring Chances
Sharks On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Logan Couture +2
Worst EV Forward: Joe Pavelski -6
Best EV Defensemen: Marc-Edouard Vlasic & Justin Braun -1
Worst EV Defenseman: Dan Boyle -4
The Sharks have some of the best forward depth in the NHL but unfortunately, their first line ended up going tit-for-tat with Carolina's top-six and their third line was a wreck in their own zone. To make things worse, they had to play a portion of the game without Logan Couture, who, along with Marleau & Wingles, were very effective offensively for the Sharks. Couture eventually returned, but the Sharks could have definitely used him more.
San Jose's defense also had a rough game, as all of their blue-liners were outchanced and the Boyle/Irwin pairing got lit up.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Muller's matchups were kind of all of the place last night, as both Staal lines spent a considerable amount of time against the Joe Thornton trio. The younger Staal brother came out on top in that mathcup and his line also destroyed Joe Pavelski's. However, Muller also let Malhotra's line play a lot of minutes against Couture & Marleau and left the Harrison/Gleason pairing out against that unit way too often, as well. I understand using Malhotra for defensive zone faceoffs, but it does create some matchup issues if Muller isn't careful. As for the defense mismatch, I'm not sure why Harrison/Gleason were constantly used against Couture's line when Hainsey/Murphy were clearly playing better. Carolian still had the overall advantage because of the great work done by Jordan Staal's line, but the coaching staff needs to be a little more careful with their defense matchups, especially with Brett Bellemore out.
5v5 Zone Entries
|# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
The Canes had one of their best games in the neutral zone all season and Jordan Staal absolutely dominated in this regard. He was responsible for almost 1/4 of Carolina's controlled entries and the Canes were able to generate a decent amount of offense as a result. His most notable carry-in came on Lindholm's game-winning goal where he displayed some great patience by peeling off in the neutral zone and waiting for his teammates to get onside before gaining the line. He then dumped a pass off to Andrej Sekera, who took over from there. I've seen a lot of players simply get the puck deep in this situation, but Staal was able to give the Hurricanes another opportunity to set up a play by staying strong on the puck and not resorting to making a simple play.
Sekera also had a great game in the neutral zone, as the Canes produced a lot of offense off his entries and the same goes for Ryan Murphy, who played a decent number of minutes behind Jordan's line. We've been seeing a bit of a change in strategy with the Hurricanes zone entries lately and it's led to some better results so far.
|Player||# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
The Sharks generated most of their chances in transition, but they work better as a forechecking team and usually thrive on getting the puck deep and outworking their opponents in the offensive zone. This strategy didn't work so well last night, as they dumped the puck in on the majority of their entries and didn't generate many shots off them. Their top two lines carried the puck in frequently, but their third line was forced to play a lot of dump-and-chase whenever they could gain the zone. It was kind of odd to see because Havlat & Pavelski are normally much better in the neutral zone than what they showed last night.
5v5 Zone Exits
Carolina had a patient approach with their zone exits, as most of their defensemen used quick, short passes and utilized the forwards to get the puck out of the zone. It worked out in their favor despite some of their defensemen posting brutal success rates. The only pairing which struggled was Gleason/Harrison, who turned the puck over as many times as they advanced it, but aside from them, Carolina had a reasonable good game when it came to exiting the zone.
San Jose's defense had a tough game in terms of scoring chances and their zone exit numbers help explain that a little, as their six blue-liners managed to successfully advance the puck on only 19.5% of their attempts. The most surprising one being Dan Boyle, who had only three advances on 18 attempts. Scott Hannan also had a brutal game, but that is less surprising.