It's been awhile since we've seen the Hurricanes play like they did last night. They've had a few performances that I'd describe as "great team efforts," but it's not every day that we see them run away with a game like they did in their 6-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. For most of the year, the Canes have been classified as a team that doesn't produce a lot of offense, has a tendency to start out games poorly and has been dragged down even more by bad special teams and poor depth, both up front and on defense. Last night, however, they were able to break their mold and were almost the exact opposite of the team that has shown up for the last two months.
They got off to a great start with two early goals, scored twice on the power play while blanking Toronto on two opportunities and got a solid performance out of all four lines. Performances like this have been rare for the Hurricanes and it's the reason why they got their biggest margin of victory since February of 2011. All of this with the Canes missing their first line center and dealing with an assortment of other injuries on top of that. Both Carolina's star players and supporting cast have been underwhelming for most of the season and now, we're starting to see what this team can do when they get a solid game out of all four lines. The Maple Leafs playing an awful game probably exaggerates things a little, but I give credit to the Hurricanes for taking advantage of a bad team while they are reeling. They were unable to do this in early-December and hopefully this five-game win streak is a sign of the tides changing in Raleigh.
Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater
Carolina fans know all about score effects and it's usually because they're the team playing catch-up. Last night, however, they were on the other end of it. Toronto played an atrocious first period and Carolina made them pay by beating James Reimer for three goals. It could have easily been a lot worse with how much Carolina was controlling the play that period and Reimer did all he could to keep this one from getting out of hand in the first period. Unfortunately for him, the Canes eventually pulled away, scoring two goals off a odd-man rushes and adding another one on the power play late in the game.
The shot report might indicate that the Leafs didn't play that badly, but they were also playing from behind for 2/3 of the game and the Hurricanes were content to sit back a little and only press when they saw an opportunity. John-Michael Liles' goal is a fine example of this. Prior to the goal, the Leafs had Carolina hemmed in for a good 30 seconds, but a pinch by Cody Franson combined with Carter Ashton falling down at the blue-line gave the Hurricanes a three-on-one break and they cashed in on it. Jordan Staal's shorthanded goal to start the third period was also the result of a giveaway at Toronto's blue line. It was refreshing to see Carolina pull away in this fashion because they have shown a lack of finishing ability all season. Toronto was still well in the game despite their awful first period, but the goals from Liles and Staal helped Carolina really put this one out of reach.
With all due respect to the Hurricanes, Toronto's first period may have been the worst 20 minutes of hockey I have seen any team play this year. Their defense was constantly giving the puck away and getting caught out of position (see Skinner's goal) and Carolina had a lot of time and space to do whatever they wanted in the Toronto zone.. There was actually a point where two Leaf players were literally just standing around in the offensive zone while Alex Semin grabbed a loose puck and created a brief odd-man rush. That kind of sums up the first period because the Hurricanes were doing basically skating circles around the Leafs. Toronto was actually lucky to be down only 3-1 after how poorly they started this game.
They evened up the chance count as the game went on and Carolina's even strength offense kind of went away, but it was a moot point after Staal's goal. Carolina scored on their only even strength chance of the second period and their first chance of the second period. Shows that luck played a role in the Canes winning by this much, but the Leafs kind of dug their own grave with the giveaway and miscues handling the puck. Not the best thing to do when you're playing in front of a goalie who hasn't started in awhile. That said, I thought Carolina was really sloppy in the second and third periods. They were playing with a lead, but they still had some bad turnovers that could have made this one a little more interesting.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Nathan Gerbe & Patrick Dwyer +3
Worst EV Forward: Manny Malhotra -3
Best EV Defensemen: John-Michael Liles & Ron Hainsey +3
Worst EV Defenseman: Andrej Sekera -4
Jordan Staal gets first star honors with a four-point night, but his entire line really deserves recognition. He, Dwyer and Gerbe feed off each other so well and are easily Carolina's best line when it comes to controlling the offensive zone and creating offense by any means necessary. It hasn't resulted in them getting a lot of points, but they have been excellent at driving the play, creating chances and limiting other team's top lines all season long. It was great to see them finally get rewarded for it last night, as they had another terrific game and kept Toronto's first line off the scoreboard. Jordan was also a beast on special teams, creating the initial shot on Skinner's goal and scoring a shorthanded goal in the third period.
The other nice thing about this game was that every line produced multiple scoring chances and the Canes got one of the best performances out of a fourth line in awhile. It's a pretty big luxury to have skilled guys like Zach Boychuk and Elias LIndholm on your "fourth line" and these two along with Brett Sutter took advantage of some favorable matchups early in the game. They caught the Leafs fourth line & bottom defense pairing standing around in their own zone on the first goal of the game and were dominating Toronto territorially for the first two periods. It's been rare for the Canes to get that out of a fourth line and Boychuk's speed and creativity with the puck seemed to give this unit another dimension. I'm not sure how much longer they'll stay together, but hopefully Boychuk has done well enough to earn himself a few more games at the NHL level.
This was actually an off-night for the first line, although the rest of the team did a good job of picking upt he slack. They were flying in the first period and Tuomo Ruutu could have had at least two goals, but they seemed to disappear after that. They weren't used much and when they were out there, they seemed to just get the puck deep and kill the clock rather than try to create anything. Might be the best strategy when you're playing with a big lead.
Maple Leafs Individual Scoring Chances
|James van Riemsdyk||0||2||1||3|
Maple Leafs On-Ice Scoring Chances
|21||James van Riemsdyk||14:49||2||2||1:58||0||1||1:13||1||0|
Best EV Forward: Mason Raymond +3
Worst EV Forwards: Carter Ashton & Jerry D'Amigo -2
Best EV Defenseman: Carl Gunnarsson
Worst EV Defenseman: Tim Gleason -4
The Hurricanes had a lot of problems in Toronto when it came to containing Phil Kessel. Last night, they did a much better job at this, holding him to no scoring chances and forcing him to take a lot of shots from the perimeter. His linemates were there to pick up some of the loose change, but the Canes did a great job of keeping him in check for most of the game.
One small positive for the Leafs is that they got a very solid game out of the Lupul-Kadri-Raymond line, who seemed to give the Hurricanes the most trouble. They produced Toronto's only goal of the game and had a very solid night at even strength on top of that. Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson also had a good game at evens, although he was on the ice for Dwyer's goal where all five Toronto players looked completely lost in their own zone.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Jordan's line outchanced every Toronto forward they were matched up against and Sutter's line crushed Toronto's fourth line. Those were the only big wins Carolina produced at even strength. You can thank score effects for that.
5v5 Zone Entries
|# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
The Canes had time and space to do basically whatever they wanted in the neutral zone and every forward was able to carry the puck in at least once. Adding to that, there were only three players held without a carry. Dwyer, Jordan and Gerbe produced more carries than anyone else and produced more shots off the rush than any of Carolina's other forwards. Zach Boychuk also had an impressive game and Radek Dvorak may have had his best neutral zone performance all season. I actually mistook him for Ruutu a couple of times because of how strong he was on the puck.
|Player||# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
Toronto was only creating offense when they carried the puck in and Kessel was responsible for a majority of that. The Canes still kept him in check, though despite allowing him to carry the puck in seven times. His line didn't produce many chances and Carolina was able to frustrate Kessel by forcing him to the outside and settle for low percentage shots. The same can't be said for Mason Raymond & Nazem Kadri, who produced most of Toronto's chances and had six combined carry-ins to boot.
5v5 Zone Exits
This is where the sloppy play comes in. Carolina got hemmed in a lot in the second and third period and were very careless with the puck. It wouldn't have cost them the game because they were so far ahead at that point, but it could have made things a little more interesting if Toronto was able to get anything by Khudobin. Some might say that this was the best game the Canes played all season, but their play in their own zone was far from perfect.
|21||James van Riemsdyk||L||7||0||2||0||1||0|
One way to mitigate poor defensive zone play is for the other team to be just as bad in this regard. The Leafs defense turned the puck over just as much as the Canes and most of their blunders came in the first period. It was a pretty sloppy game in the defensive zone for both teams, but the Hurricanes got most of their opportunities early and cashed in. Toronto was already behind 2-3 goals when they made their push and couldn't capitalize on the Canes mistakes.