Good teams always find a way to win and while the Hurricanes are still far away from being a good team in my eyes, they had to overcome a few obstacles to come away with two points against Florida last night. This had all the makings of a "typical" Hurricanes game early on where Carolina came out strong out of the gates and were carrying the play for most of the first period. They created plenty of great chances on their first two power plays but ran into Florida goaltender Tim Thomas, who put on a goaltending clinic making 36 saves, 15 of them coming in the first period. The Canes did just about everything but score in that first period and it looked like one of those games where they ran into a hot goalie and had a slim margin for error.
This is usually one of those games where the Hurricanes fell behind on an early goal and then crumbled, but this didn't quite happen. Their defense was pretty leaky and Florida controlled most of the second period and the majority of the game at even strength, but Anton Khudobin was able to save the Canes from most of their mistakes and kept this a tie game entering the third period. It was then that the Canes took it into a different gear, finishing the game on a high note with two goals and getting a terrific performance out of their first line.
Fenwick Timeline From Extra Skater
Florida is one of the few teams in the league with even worse special teams than Carolina and it showed last night. The Canes created nine shots on goal in their first two power play and Thomas had to come up big a few times to keep them off the board. Meanwhile, Florida had five power plays and created a total of three scoring chances on all of them. They had the edge at even strength for most of the game, but the terrible special teams really set them back and allowed the Canes to take over the game in the third period. Florida actually wasn't terribly outshot in the third, but the Canes did a great job of not allowing many dangerous chances and completely shut them down in the last two or three minutes of the game. Closing games has been one of this team's many problems, so it was refreshing to see them close out this game strong.
Again, special teams gave the Canes a boost early in the game and they were getting outplayed handily at even strength. Florida actually looked like the better of the two clubs early on. They hemmed in Carolina a few times and were able to keep pressuring their defensemen, wearing them down and forcing them to make bad plays in their own zone. This directly led to both of Florida's goals, although one of them came in the third period. If it wasn't for the Canes fantastic penalty kill/Florida's terrible power play, this could have been a much different game and Carolina may have not stepped it up in the third period as much as they did.
Speaking of which, this was one of the strongest finishes Carolina's had in a close game this year. Despite it being a tie or one-goal game for most of the period, they ran over the Panthers at even strength and took over the game. It was very close to being a 4-2 or 5-2 game, but Thomas, once again, shut them down.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Jiri Tlusty +2
Worst EV Forwards: Jeff Skinner & Elias Lindholm -6
Best EV Defensemen: John-Michael Liles & Ron Hainsey +1
Worst EV Defensemen: Mike Komisarek & Justin Faulk -1
Carolina's announcers and their General Manager, Jim Rutherford, called out Semin for his lack of production this year and how he is playing too much of an "East/West game" this year. Semin gets a little too fancy in the offensive zone at times, but his style of play was very effective last year and there wouldn't be many complaints about it if he had better puck luck. Last night, he finally saw some results with two third period goals and had a big game in terms of controlling territorial play.
He along with Eric Staal & Jiri Tlusty really took it to the Panthers in the third period and showed glimpses of what they did last season. Tlusty is still fanning on chances and bobbling pucks, but he looks way more in-sync with Semin & Staal than he did earlier in the year. Hopefully this leads to good things. It was great to see this line have a big night, but the rest of the forward corps didn't exactly have a great game.
Normally excellent at controlling puck possession, Jordan Staal's line struggled to control territorial play and were pinned into their own zone for way too long on the Kulikov goal. This line's had problems with dictating the play lately, so I wouldn't be against splitting them up. At worst, it won't take anything away from the third line, which was invisible for most of the night. This looks like such a good scoring line on paper but for whatever reason, the Canes can never get anything out of Skinner when they try to shelter him like this. I don't know if his linemates are the problem or if Skinner needs someone else to drive possession to succeed.
The other story line in this game was Kirk Muller shaking up his defense pairings by putting Jay Harrison & Mike Komisarek into the lineup in place of Brett Bellemore and Ryan Murphy. Florida isn't Colorado or the Islanders, but they aren't a slow team either, so I was worried about how these two would match up against some of their quicker forwards. They ended up being okay in sheltered minutes and Komisarek came up big a couple of times on the PK. That said, they were also on the ice for the Goc goal where Harrison was beat to the front of the net by the Florida goal-scorer.
Panthers Individual Scoring Chances
Panthers On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau & Brad Boyes +4
Worst EV Forward: Tomas Fleischmann -5
Best EV Defenseman: Dmitry Kulikov +3
Worst EV Defenseman: Tom Gilbert -6
Florida got an excellent game out of their first line, which produced seven of their 15 scoring chances with Barkov leading the way. He was very impressive last night, making a lot of good plays in the offensive zone and doing a fantastic job of protecting the puck below the goal line to help the Panthers maintain possession in the offensive zone.
Jonathan Huberdeau also played well and showed some great puck-handling skills to set up the Goc goal. Their depth, however, wasn't very balanced. The first line was the only one to be in the black in scoring chances and their third line got destroyed at even strength. Weaver/Kulikov also had great performances at even strength while the rest of their defense struggled. Campbell/Gilbert had an especially bad game and did not look good on the Nash goal.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
The Canes worked the matchup game to their favor by getting Eric Staal's line out against Florida's second & third lines, which made up for them struggling against the Panthers other forwards. Jordan's line along with Faulk/Sekera had a lot of trouble containing Barkov, Bergenheim & Boyes, though and Lindholm's line couldn't do much against Goc.
5v5 Zone Entries
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The Hurricanes first line created most of their offense off the rush when Semin was the one carrying the puck in. Those who think this is him playing a more "North/South" game are wrong because this is the type of game he has been playing all season. He leads all Carolina players in shots/entry by a wide margin and has a higher percentage of entries with control of the puck than anyone else on the team, as well. The results haven't been there for Semin, but it hasn't been for lack of trying or focus and I would bet money on him having a big second half.
On another note, Dvorak's did a lot in limited 5v5 ice time last night and was very productive when it came to creating offense in transition. This is a welcomed change from the rest of the year because Carolina's bottom-six has been dumping it in way too much.
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Florida created more shots off zone entries than Carolina and a lot of it was due to them getting a decent amount of offense on dump-and-chase plays. Their first line had some modest success with this and so did Goc's line. They actually didn't create much offense at all when they carried the puck in, which is a little surprising since they a decent amount of skilled forwards.
5v5 Zone Exits
Not having Murphy in the lineup made zone exits tougher for the Hurricanes, but they managed to do okay. Hainsey & Harrison resorted to bank plays off the boards quite a few times and the Canes forwards turned the puck over a little too much for my liking. It's also a little surprising to see how much Hainsey was relied on to exit the zone compared to Liles, seeing how the latter is much more suited for that role on this pairing.
Campbell & Gilbert can be a very effective, mobile pairing for Florida but they will have moments that make fans want to pull their hair out. As effective as they are at moving the play up the ice, they also turn the puck over a lot. They had five combined last night and Kulikov, Jovanovski & Weaver weren't much better. Their forwards advancing the play on 43.4% of their attempts helped mitigate this, though. Barkov, Boyes & Bergenheim really stand out here.