"We had enough chances to win a hockey game," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. "The chances were there. They scored and we didn't."
"They're known as an opportunistic team. They had a couple of chances and they capitalized. … There are a lot of good things in our game but we don't get the results at the end."
– Kirk Muller
This is the last thing fans want to hear after a 5-2 loss but in all honesty, it's a fairly accurate description of last night's game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto is known for being a weak team in terms of controlling territorial play and Carolina was able to mount numerous chances against them. They made goaltender Jonathan Bernier work and he was up to the challenge for most of the night, stopping 41 of 43 shots and smothering most of the rebounds he gave up. So why did the Hurricanes ended up losing by three goals despite this? If they were controlling the play so much, shouldn't this have been a closer game with a better result?
Theoretically, yes but that's not how it worked out. The Hurricanes did a lot of good things last night and created enough offense to win but they couldn't finish and frequently shot themselves in the foot with terrible mistakes in their own zone. The Leafs made them pay for those mistakes. Muller is correct, the Leafs are an opportunistic team that thrives on this sort of thing. They can get dominated for a period but still come out leading because they have very good finishing talent in their lineup and have received terrific play from their goaltenders on top of that. The Hurricanes got a taste of that last night, as Bernier was able to shut them down several times while the Leafs capitalized on basically every opportunity Carolina gave them.
Goaltender Cam Ward deserves some of the blame for this, as he would want at least three of the goals he let in back, but this has been a common theme for the Hurricanes over the last 10 games and it goes beyond the play of the goaltenders. Generally speaking, the efforts we've seen from the Canes during this time hasn't been bad and they've had various stretches where they carried the play. The problem is that all of these were ruined with them making one or two bad mistakes and they usually resulted in a goal against.
Take the Leafs second goal for example. Prior to that, Carolina was a run where they created six unanswered scoring chances and looked like they were about to solve Bernier. They then gave up a rush in transition to the Leafs top line and the usually solid Brett Bellemore made an aggressive play on the puck at the blue-line. He ended up missing the puck due to some creative stick-work by Toronto's James van Riemsdyk and this gave the Leafs an odd-man rush. They ended up scoring after Kessel fooled Ward, who over-aggressively played the shooter in this situation. Toronto would score a few minutes later after Tim Gleason & Jeff Skinner combined to not get a puck out of the zone, which resulted in Nikolai Kulemin scoring from the edge of the faceoff circle.
It's these same little mistakes that have cost Carolina more than a few wins over the last 10 games and they've ruined what have otherwise been solid efforts from them. This is what happened against Pittsburgh, Calgary, Columbus and Vancouver and lord knows if it will continue into the next few weeks. Some might say the Canes are doomed to repeat this process, but this isn't the same team from October/November that couldn't control the play at even strength and was getting blown out by teams like Tampa Bay, New York and Colorado on a frequent basis. It's a lot easier to fix a team that can control play but can't score than one that can't do either of these and if the Hurricanes continue to win the battle, they might be able to record some more wins. Obviously this isn't a guarantee because the Canes have been woefully inconsistent at 5v5 this year, but they will win more games than they lose if they play like they did last night.
No one wants to hear that right now, but it's what I took away from the game. Mistakes happen to every team and the Leafs committed a number of them last night and unlike Carolina, they didn't get punished for it.
Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater
Carolina forced Toronto to do a lot of work in their own end and not all of it was score effects. The Canes came out strong, recorded the first seven shots of the game and only fell behind early because of a fluky goal from Phil Kessel. Even after that, they still were the team controlling the play and managed to come back a couple of times to make things close. The only time I thought the Leafs had a control of the game was late in the third period after Paul Ranger made it 4-2. They didn't create a lot of offense, but they did a pretty good job of limiting Carolina and not allowing them to do much with the puck. The line of McClement, Clarkson & Kulemin especially did a good job at that. Still, the Canes had the edge overall but just didn't get the result.
The 24 chances Carolina created last night were a season high for the Canes and they had only two goals to show for it. The common response to last night's game, the team's ninth loss in the last 10 games, was that "something had to change." I'm not exactly sure what else you can change about this game. The Hurricanes played hard and did more than enough to try to beat Bernier, they just couldn't get that extra bounce they needed while the Leafs capitalized on all of their opportunities. What do you do in that situation? Add a player who is a good finisher? Because Carolina has a few of those on their roster. Hell, it wasn't even a week ago that Skinner had the golden touch. Effort and creating chances wasn't the problem and goal-scoring usually involves a fair amount of luck, something the Canes didn't have much of last night. It sounds like an excuse, but it's really what happened and there's not much you can do about it except stay the course and hope it leads to better results. Whether or not the Canes do that remains to be seen.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Alexander Semin +7
Worst EV Forward: Patrick Dwyer -3
Best EV Defensemen: Ron Hainsey & Brett Bellemore +8
Worst EV Defenseman: Mike Komisarek -3
The only thing that will probably be talked about Semin's game last night was his bone-headed retaliation penalty in the second period. As bad as that was, it didn't have much of a negative impact and he played a very good game otherwise. His line with Jordan Staal & Nathan Gerbe were easily Carolina's best line at controlling the play and created a lot of shifts with sustained zone time for the Canes. These three are the team's best territorial players, so they'll do this a lot as long as they remain a line and hopefully it will lead to more goals in the future. They've done some good work since being united, recording a goal in four of the last five games but they have the potential to do a lot more with how much they create in terms of shots & zone time.
The line that was producing for awhile, Ruutu, Skinner & Staal, had a so-so night at even strength and ended up being on the ice for four Toronto goals. Not all of it was their fault, as one of them was an empty-netter and another was a terrible goal on Ward's part, but they were a little underwhelming last night. Skinner contributed nicely with four scoring chances but he had two failed clears that resulted in goals for Toronto and that's unfortunately what had more of an impact.
Carolina's fourth line played easily their best game all season, creating a lot of offense against the Leafs bottom-six and they could have easily had at least two goals before the end of the night. They ended up coming away with nothing to show for it, but they still had a very good game for their standards. This was the first time in awhile that Boychuk looked like an NHL-er and Malhotra showed more offense than he has ever had in Carolina, registering six shots on goal.
Bellemore/Hainsey had an error that resulted in a Toronto goal, but they weren't the main problem on defense last night. That honor goes to Tim Gleason & Mike Komisarek, who were the only pairing to not have a positive chance or shot differential at even strength. They were only on the ice for one goal, but they were also on the ice for almost half of Toronto 5v5 chances and were caught out against Kessel's line a couple of times. Those are the disadvantages of playing on the road.
Maple Leafs Individual Scoring Chances
|James van Riemsdyk||0||2||2||4|
Maple Leafs On-Ice Scoring Chances
|21||James van Riemsdyk||16:41||5||6||4:00||2||1||1:01||0||1||0||0|
Best EV Forward: Phil Kessel EVEN
Worst EV Forward: Jerry D'Amigo -4
Best EV Defenseman: Dion Phaneuf EVEN
Worst EV Defensemen: Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Paul Ranger & Cody Franson -4
One way to beat the Leafs is to contain or shut down Phil Kessel and while #81 didn't dominate the Hurricanes, they certainly didn't contain him. He along with James van Riemsdyk were the catalysts for Toronto's offense and were able to burn the Hurricanes a couple of times. I also thought Nikolai Kulemin had a solid game, leading the Leafs in scoring chances and scoring a goal in the second period.
I was a little disappointed with the play of the Jake Gardiner/Cody Franson pairing, who got pinned in numerous times and were very careless with the puck. These are normally two of Toronto's best defensemen but Carolina was able to expose them numerous times last night, especially on breakouts. Rielly/Ranger also took some damage from the Hurricanes, despite producing a goal.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Randy Carlyle can get a little careless with his matchups, even at home, but it looks like his plan was to use McClement's line against Eric Staal's while letting Bozak & Kessel play against Jordan. When the Leafs stuck to these matchups, Carolina had a lot of success. Jordan's line did a number against Bozak while Eric's line produced most of their offense against McClement. When they got away from these matchups, the Leafs generated more offense, as Eric's line struggled against Bozak and Jordan had some trouble against Kadri.
5v5 Zone Entries
|# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
This was easily the most impressive game Carolina played in the neutral zone, carrying the puck nearly 60% of the time and creating most of their offense off the rush. Tuomo Ruutu was the only forward not to carry the puck into the zone at least once and I'm pretty sure the fourth line had more carry-ins last night than they did all season. The Semin-Jordan-Gerbe line also had a big night with 12 controlled entries. The fact that this came in a losing effort makes it ten times more frustrating, though.
|Player||# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
Kessel, Kadri, Clarkson & van Riemsdyk were responsible for most of Toronto's offense from zone entries, as the rest of their forwards either dumped it in a lot or didn't play much of a role in the neutral zone. Their defense was also very conservative, producing no controlled entries.
5v5 Zone Exits
Ah, turnovers. One way to spoil an otherwise good game. Both Carolina's forwards and defense corps were able to exit the zone and get the play moving in the right direction at a solid rate last night. The only problem was that they also coughed the puck up 10 times and two of them resulted in goals for the Leafs. The Hurricanes got unlucky last night, but some of it they definitely put on themselves.
|21||James van Riemsdyk||L||6||0||1||1||0||0|
Toronto had fewer turnovers, but they had a tougher time when it came to exiting the zone cleanly a lot of it stems from their second pairing. I said this earlier, but I was expecting Gardiner & Franson to thrive against Carolina's forecheck, but they actually had a very difficult time handling it and ended up with some brutal success rates as a result. Ranger was surprisingly their best defenseman at exiting the zone.