The Hurricanes ended their road trip on a high note by defeating the Phoenix Coyotes 3-1 and have now earned points in three of their last four games. Losing in overtime to Edmonton and Calgary stings, but the Hurricanes did manage to keep ground with the other teams in the Metropolitan Division by winning this final road game and losing only one of their last seven games in regulation. With the East being as vulnerable as it is right now, this stretch of games could be very important for the Hurricanes later in the year as they jockey for playoff position. Right now, the Canes are doing just enough to get by, so they will need to build off this for the rest of the year and start to win more games in regulation. Does their recent performance suggest that they can do this? It's kind of a mixed bag.
Take Saturday night's win over the Coyotes for example. Once again, the Hurricanes gave up the first goal, let their opponents dictate the play for the first 20-30 minutes and came out on the losing end of the possession & scoring chance battle. That suggests that reality should hit them soon in the form of a long losing streak, but there are some things which suggest otherwise. For one, the Hurricanes manage to rally back from another early deficit and take over the game once they got their legs going. They also got a great performance out of goaltender Justin Peters, who had to do a lot of work to keep them in the game during the second & third periods.
The fight and resiliency of this club is something that I keep coming back to and that's because it has been their best quality this year. They've managed to earn points in games they had no business being in and keep even some of the best teams on their heels even after they fall down early. This goes hand-in-hand with the goaltending they've received this year, as he has managed to keep them in a lot of these games and the fact that their third-string goalie is the one doing most of the work right now is encouraging. Being able to play at this level for a full 60 minutes has been their problem and this game was another broken performance. The end result was good, but it may have been a different story had it not been for Peters.
Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater
Saying that the Hurricanes were completely outplayed might be a little unfair because there were moments where they carried the play and they were even with Phoenix in 5v5 shot attempts by the end of the game. The problem was that they didn't take over the game until they fell behind and Phoenix decided to sit back during that time. They woke up after Nathan Gerbe tied the game in the second period and Peters had to come up big a few times to keep the game tied, especially during special teams play. His finest moment was stopping Antoine Vermette on a shorthanded breakaway. After Carolina survived that, they slowly took over the game, owned the first half of the third period and ended up having a one-goal lead to show for it. The Yotes had a strong push towards the end of the game but aside from a couple of chances by Mike Ribeiro & David Moss, they contained Phoenix well and escaped with a well-earned win. Again, it was another broken performance but still good enough for the Canes to get the win.
The Hurricanes were outplayed at even strength (albeit only slightly) and their special teams were an absolute wreck, so that makes Peters' performance that much more important. Without him, they would have likely been trailing after the second period and then who knows what would have happened? Last year showed us how much of an impact goaltending can have and it's keeping the Hurricanes in a lot of games this season. Carolina finished the game nicely in the third period and put the hammer on the Coyotes when they needed to, but they still had to weather a storm before they finally started to play their game. Again, the final result wasn't bad, but it could have been a different game if their goaltending was only slightly worse than what Peters gave them.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Alexander Semin +6
Worst EV Forward: Manny Malhotra -6
Best EV Defenseman: Andrej Sekera +6
Worst EV Defenseman: Ryan Murphy -6
Muller heavily relied on the top-six in this game and it's easy to see why; they were the only ones going. Patrick Dwyer's wrap-around in the first period was the only scoring chance produced by the bottom-six and the second line accounted for about half of the team's scoring chances. Eric Staal's line is the only one who saw the reward (Gerbe's goal came at the tail end of a PK), but Jordan's line did a lot of good work, even though they didn't score. Semin looked much better after a so-so return on Thursday night and Jordan came very close to having a couple of goals.
This line's performance was especially good in the third period while the Hurricanes were defending their lead. They didn't score, but they were able to pin the Coyotes into their own zone and wear down their defense by constantly retaining possession of the puck. That's generally what Jordan's line has done all season and hopefully it will resort in more goals now that Semin is playing on his right wing instead of Dwyer. Speaking of which, Dwyer had an uncharacteristically poor night at even strength. Although, the bottom-six in general was destroyed and a lot of it had to do with Tippett being able to get Ribeiro's line out against them.
Muller also gave Sekera & Faulk a lot of minutes and these two basically carried the entire defense at even strength. They were the only duo to outchance the Coyotes and they managed to really tilt the ice in Carolina's favor whenever they were out there. Sekera was probably the most impressive during the sequence when the Coyotes had the extra man. He made a nice read in the neutral zone to deny a zone entry for Phoenix and had a critical shot block on Mike Ribeiro that helped set up Eric Staal's empty net goal. It took Sekera some time to fit in but he is playing some of his best hockey of the season right now.
The same can not be said for the rest of the defense corps, namely the Murphy/Harrison pairing who got torn up at even strength. Tippett shook up his lines and had one of Boedker, Ribeiro, Moss or Vermette out against this duo and their speed frequently exposed this duo. Harrison had a couple of bad moments with two turnovers and one of them nearly resulted in a goal for Phoenix. Hainsey & Gleason also didn't have a great night and were on the ice for Paul Bissonnette's goal, although neither were completely at fault for that since it was Radek Dvorak who was beaten to the net by Biznasty to tip in a pass from Connor Murphy. Gleason did lost a battle and mishandled the puck behind the net, though.
Coyotes Individual Scoring Chances
Coyotes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: David Moss & Rob Klinkhammer +7
Worst EV Forward: Kyle Chipchura -3
Best EV Defensemen: Oliver Ekman-Larsson & Michael Stone +5
Worst EV Defenseman: Keith Yandle -5
The Coyotes were missing Lauri Korpikoski and Shane Doan, so they had some jumbled forward lines and were relying on a few third-liners in top-six roles. Some of them played really well, as Klinkhammer & Moss were excellent on a line with Mike Ribeiro and did a great job of driving the play at even strength. Klinkhammer gave the Hurricanes a lot of problems the last time they played and he was very good in this game, producing a few chances and doing a great job along the boards. He didn't stay on this line for long, though because Tippet mixed things up by replacing him Mikkel Boedker a few times. Boedker had a solid game and has more of an offensive upside, so I see Tippet's logic here.
Unfortunately for Phoenix, that line was the only one going for them. Their fourth line produced their only goal but that was the only chance they produced all game. Hanzal's line with Vrbata & Kennedy also had a quiet game and Skinner's goal came off a Hanzal losing a faceoff tie-up against Eric Staal. Vermette also had a rough game alongside Boedker & Chipchura at even strength. Vermette did a lot of good things on special teams, but the Hurricanes were able to expose him a few times when playing at even terms.
The young Phoenix defenseman Connor Murphy made a beautiful pass to set-up Bissonnette's goal, but the Hurricanes did take advantage of him a couple times, namely on the first Carolina goal where Staal was able to chip a puck past him and Gerbe created an odd-man rush by beating Murphy to the puck. The Hurricanes also exposed Keith Yandle countless times in the third period. Tippett giving him an obscene amount of minutes over Oliver Ekman-Larsson worked out in Carolina's favor here.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Not exactly what I'd call a "full team performance" because the bottom-half of the roster was so atrocious, but the top-six had a hell of a game and it helped the Hurricanes stay in this one. Both Staal lines either won their matchups or managed to keep Phoenix's forwards in check. Muller was also able to expose some matchups of his own even on the road. Jordan's line did a number on Vermette's and so did Faulk & Sekera, which really helped the Canes in the third period. Phoenix's fourth line was also caught out against both Staal lines a couple of times. With Carolina's depth players all getting crushed, exposing favorable matchups is critical and the Hurricanes were able to make that happen here.
5v5 Zone Entries
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More evidence that Jordan's line really had their wheels clicking last night. That trio produced 11 controlled zone entries and Jordan was the one leading most of those rushes. It's interesting because the Hurricanes normally defer to their wingers when entering the zone, but we're seeing more centers take charge now and it's produced some decent results so far. The Canes still dumped the puck in on more than 50% of their entries, but the top-six weren't the ones doing it, aside from Jeff Skinner for some odd reason.
Another note is that the Hurricanes had every defenseman carry the puck in at least once, which I guess is Muller's way of countering Phoenix's speed and transitional game. It worked out well so I can't complain.
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Phoenix also played more of a "grind it out" type of game, which is probably due to them missing Doan & Korpikoski, two very good neutral zone players. The difference with them is that they actually generated more shots off dump-ins than Carolina and most of it was coming from Ribeiro, Moss & Szwarz. Phoenix outworked the Hurricanes in their win over them in October, so it doesn't surprise that they tried to do it again. Vermette, Hanzal & Vrbata were the only ones producing offense off the rush and they seemed to have more success when they had their forecheck going and making the Hurricanes work in their own zone.
5v5 Zone Exits
The Hurricanes were careless in their own zone yet again and the Harrison/Murphy pairing really had a lot of issues handling the puck. They had a lot of successful zone exits, but they also turned it over four times and were scrambling in their own end way too much. The Gleason/Hainsey pairing also had trouble advancing the play, although they were much more careful with the puck than Harrison/Murphy. If only all there defense pairings could be as good as Faulk/Sekera.
It's a little interesting that Yandle played as many minutes as he did last night because he clearly was not having his best game. He is normally an excellent skater and one of the best defenseman in the NHL when it comes to breakouts, but he struggled mightily in this regard. Meanwhile, Ekman-Larsson advanced the puck on nearly 50% of his attempts and both Schlemko & Michalek had great games, as well. Phoenix's defense is really underrated when it comes to mobility, so Yandle having a bad night didn't bring the entire unit down. It didn't hurt them at times, though.