The Hurricanes have had a few games that I would refer to as "rock bottom" this year and last night's 2-0 loss to the Calgary Flames belongs in that conversation. The Hurricanes have had bigger losses this year and it's not the first time they've been shutout, but this is easily their most disappointing performance when taking expectations into account. It was only less than a week ago that the Hurricanes had won five games in a row and even after the loss to Columbus, they had a chance to start something good against a beatable Calgary team. They ended up laying an egg.
Carolina was outplayed, outworked and shutout by the Flames and looked very frustrated throughout the night. The Canes are a team that has struggled to find their "identity" this year and I think these last three games sum this up well. Against Toronto, they were able to establish a game plan early and skate circles around the Leafs. Against Columbus, same thing but a couple of mistakes ended up putting them behind early and ultimately costing them the game. Last night against the Flames, they a similar approach but the Flames were able to put the clamps on Carolina's forecheck and dominate the game territorially.
This continued through most of the game and the Canes couldn't generate much sustained offense at all. Despite Calgary having the neutral zone clogged up, the Hurricanes still tried the same approach which has worked in maybe a handful of games this year. A staple of Carolina's breakout game has been utilizing long, "home-run" passes from the defensive zone and Calgary had most of the passing lanes covered. Despite that, the Hurricanes still tried this approach and spent most of the game chasing down pucks if they were lucky enough to get it in the offensive zone. The Flames, on the other hand, were able to get much more traction in the neutral zone and had a lot of sustained pressure as a result. They came out ready to play and pretty much owned this game from the start.
I don't know if this falls on the coaching staff for not adjusting or the players for falling back into bad habits, but the Canes have rarely been the team that controls the tempo of the game and it's led to them getting outplayed by teams that they are better than on paper. I give a lot of credit to the Flames because they seemed to know exactly how to shut down the Hurricanes forecheck and executed their game plan to a T. Still, the Hurricanes showed an unwillingness to bend, played a sloppy game and were lucky that they didn't get blown out of the building on this one.
Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater
Going into this game, Calgary was allowing about 28-29 shots per 60 minutes at even strength. Carolina managed to get only 18 shots on them during five-on-five play for the entire game. Just a terrible offensive performance all around and it all starts from them being unable to get a forecheck going. They couldn't complete passes, were losing every race for the puck and struggled to get anything on net. Carolina also spent the majority of the first period hemmed in their own zone and have Anton Khudobin to thank for coming out of that mess tied. The Hurricanes evened the gap a little in the second and third period, but Calgary still dictated the flow of the game and didn't give the Canes many chances. Most of the Hurricanes best looks were either blocked at the defense or too slow getting to the net.
Another low-event game and the Hurricanes did next to nothing offensively for 2/3 of it. They had some good opportunities in the second period but couldn't finish and that was really the extent of their offense. Calgary dominated the first period, survived the second and got a lucky goal on the power play and were able to bottle up the Canes in the neutral zone for the rest of the game. Very frustrating game to watch from a fan's standpoint and I'm sure it was 100 times more frustrating for the players. Their inability to divert from the original game plan only made things worse.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Radek Dvorak +1
Worst EV Forward: Alexander Semin -5
Best EV Defenseman: Justin Faulk +2
Worst EV Defenseman: Brett Bellemore -5
Perhaps I'm a bit off-base with Muller not making adjustments because he did change up the lines by reuniting Jiri Tlusty with Eric Staal & Alexander Semin while placing Jeff Skinner with Elias Lindholm and Tuomo Ruutu. Aside from a couple of shifts, this didn't result in much of anything. I thought Tlusty looked good and had a couple of looks, but he had only one scoring chance on the night. Skinner also struggled to do much and Alex Semin played probably his worst game as a Hurricane.
His patience is both a gift and a curse. On one hand, it's good that he considers all of his options when he has the puck but when you are down 1-0 in a game where you've been outplayed, you can't hold onto the puck for 5 seconds while you are 15 feet away from the net. Unless he is seeing something we're not, he needs to be quicker with his decisions. The team is starving for offense and this isn't helping. Semin's not the only one who struggled because the entire forward team really didn't create much offense at all. When Radek Dvorak is the only forward with a positive scoring chance differential, something is wrong.
Also having an uncharacteristically bad game were Ron Hainsey & Brett Bellemore, who were the ice for roughly half of the Flames scoring chances. If there is one thing Hainsey has been great at all season, it has been protecting the house and keeping opposing players away from the front of the net. Not last night. He was caught out of position a few times and allowed Lee Stempniak & Matt Stajan to get a free shot on Khudobin. He also made a terrible pinch which resulted in the Flames scoring on a three-on-one with Bellemore caught on an island.
Bellemore was benched after that, but it seemed like it was an attempt to create more offense because Murphy, Sekera, Faulk & Liles got more ice time in the late stages of the game. This effort proved to be fruitless as none of them jumped into the play too much and it didn't result in much the few times they did. Murphy almost scored on an odd-man rush with him jumping in but missed the net. Carolina has enough offensive-minded defensemen on their roster to be more aggressive on their forecheck but they all seem a little restrained right now.
Flames Individual Scoring Chances
Flames On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Sean Monahan +4
Worst EV Forwards: Kevin Westgarth, Ben Street & Brian McGrattan
Best EV Defenseman: Ladislav Smid +6
Worst EV Defenseman: Dennis Wideman -3
The Flames have had trouble scoring all season, were missing a couple of their top snipers in Mike Cammalleri & Curtis Glencross and have had only one player with a positive 5v5 shot differential all season (TJ Galiardi). Despite that, they straight up took it to the Canes last night and got a solid performance from their three main lines. Their fourth line got destroyed, but they barely played so that ended up not being too much of a factor. All three lines in their top-nine produced at least two scoring chances with Monahan & Stajan's lines leading the way. Calgary's scoring woes were still evident, but they got a complete team effort and that helped make upf or it.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Not much good to speak of here. The only matchup Carolina won came against the Flames fourth line with their top players losing most of their matchups. Liles/Murphy did a pretty okay job against Calgary's top-six, but that was negated by Bellemore/Hainsey getting eaten alive.
5v5 Zone Exits
|# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
This was a game where pretty much nothing went right for the Canes. They couldn't carry the puck into the zone because the Flames had most of the passing lanes blocked, resulting in Carolina settling for harmless tip plays to get the puck deep. They created a total of seven unblocked shot attempts in those instances and even when they did carry the puck into the zone, they didn't get many scoring chances. Part of that is due to the Flames doing a great job of blocking shots, but there wasn't much creativity in the team's game plan and they had trouble improvising when they ran into a rut. It's also worth mentioning that Skinner, E. Staal & Tlusty accounted for about half of the team's carry-ins. Not exactly a balanced attack.
|Player||# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
Calgary also settled for dump-and-chase, although their's seemed a little more intentioninal since they were winning most of the races to the puck and not allowing the Canes to cleanly get the puck out of their own zone. Regardless, the Flames made more out of their carry-ins than the Hurricanes did and won the battle in the transition game. Galiardi, Stajan and Backlund doing some great work in that regard.
5v5 Zone Exits
Something that really annoyed me about the Hurricanes breakouts is that while they were able to advance the play, they rarely did it while maintaining possession of the puck. The defensemen love to make long passes to forwards in the neutral zone or right at the blue-line and Calgary had most of these plays sniffed out. Sekera, Liles, Murphy, Hainsey & Faulk are good enough skaters to lead breakouts on their own and Murphy seemed to be the only one doing this last night. It helps add another dimension to their forecheck and could have disrupted the Flames defensive scheme just a little. The passes and tip plays clearly weren't working, so why not try something new?
Calgary didn't have much of an issue with exciting the zone with control and their forwards did a very good job of advancing the play. Carolina kind of made it easy on them by giving the Flames a lot of room to work with in the neutral zone, though. Still, they had only one defenseman who failed to advance the puck on less than 20% of his attempts and that's a pretty solid team-level performance.