I've been very critical of Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller this season for a number of reasons. He isn't the sole reason why this team's season has gone down the drain but his system and certain habits have played a role in it. Muller is very strict about having players stick to his system and "staying the course," so he usually sticks with the same lines for most of the game and his approach also stays the same. We saw this change last night against the New Jersey Devils.
Mid-way through the second period, the Hurricanes were down two-goals and were getting thoroughly outplayed by the Devils. This is when he decided to make some major changes to the lines and go with an "all-in" approach to try to claw at least a point out of this one. He loaded up his first line with the two Staal Brothers and Alexander Semin, slotted Ryan Murphy on the first defense pairing with Andrej Sekera and had the Hurricanes take a much more aggressive approach. Instead of dumping and chasing, they were constantly trying to enter the zone with as much speed as possible, showing more creativity than we've seen while and taking more risks in the offensive zone instead of settling for safe plays. The result? The Canes scored twice in the third period, one goal coming while playing shorthand, and Carolina was in a much better position than they were before.
The end result was another loss, but I have to give Kirk Muller some credit for making adjustments and at least getting the Hurricanes back into the game. Unfortunately, this effort ended up being all for naught, as the Devils scored less than a minute after Carolina tied the game and it came after a very poor decision by Muller. He elected to send out the forward unit of Manny Malhotra, Drayson Bowman & Jeff Skinner for a defensive zone faceoff while the Devils countered with their top line. The Hurricanes ended up losing the draw and Skinner lost his man in the high slot, who ironically was former Hurricane Tuomo Ruutu, and just like that, the Devils recaptured the lead.
Loading up the first line caused some of the other forward groups to be jumbled, but I would love to hear Muller's reasoning for putting Skinner out for a defensive zone faceoff. Skinner's strengths are at the other end of the rink and his weakness is that he frequently gets lost in his own end. Sending him out for a defensive zone draw (against a top line nonetheless) just seems like a losing strategy. A big part of coaching is setting your players up in a position to succeed and Muller clearly didn't do this here.
There were still about six minutes in the game after that point, so that one decision shouldn't have cost the Hurricanes the game, but it ultimately was one of the deciding factors and the Hurricanes ended up taking another loss. A nice effort with some individual standouts, but a few big mistakes and coaching decisions ended up spoiling that.
Fenwick Timeline Extra Skater
It's weird to see the Devils play such a high-event game, but that's what we had last night. The Hurricanes opened things up in the second period after falling behind and had some stretches where they really carried the play. The fact that they still played aggressive while shorthanded was nice to see and it paid off with Nathan Gerbe's goal. Unfortunately, this all came a little too late (i.e. after they fell down 4-1) and the Devils dominated the Hurricanes for the first 10 minutes of the third period. It usually doesn't take that much to let a game get out of hand, but you can dig yourself in a pretty big hole when your special teams are as bad as the Hurricanes right now. This eventually evened out with Harrison & Gerbe scoring on the power play & the penalty kill respectfully, but it's still another instance where the Hurricanes ended up playing from behind and put their margin for error at zero.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Jordan Staal +5
Worst EV Forward: Andrei Loktionov -4
Best EV Defenseman: Ron Hainsey +3
Worst EV Defenseman: Mike Komisarek -2
Jordan Staal has really been bringing his A-game lately and it's nice tosee him get rewarded for it on the score sheet with two assists. It's kind of surprising that he finished the game without even attempting a shot on goal because he was doing a great job of getting to the front of the net and looking for second & third chance opportunities on Martin Brodeur. He also made a good pick on Harrison's power play goal and sprung Nathan Gerbe for a breakaway on his shorthanded goal. I'd also like to point out that his forward unit with Semin & Andrei Loktionov was more productive on the power play than the Hurricanes normal forward unit.
Alexander Semin also had a productive night with two points and a dazzling goal that tied the game for hte Hurricanes at the time. It's unfortunate that it had to come in a losing effort because it was one of the most impressive feats I've seen anyone on the Hurricanes pull off. He started it off by winning a board battle, getting the puck back in the neutral zone, stick-handling around at least three Devils players after he entered the zone and he finished it off by spinning around and somehow beating Brodeur with a shot. The fact that he even got that on net was impressive enough, but to score on that play was just ridiculous.
Another stand out from this game was Ryan Murphy's play on the back-end. Muller & Lewis must have given him the green light to jump in and freelance because he was all over the place and joined the rush whenever the opportunity presented itself. This resulted in some bad plays, namely him turning the puck over to Steve Bernier after staying on the ice for way too long, but he did provide us with a look into the future and what he might be able to do on the Hurricanes blue-line. We'll just have to hope that he can play like this in games that aren't comeback efforts.
So, if the Hurricanes had guys who played this well, why did they end up losing? Special teams might be the primary reason, as they gave up a power play and shorthanded goal in the second period. However, another problem is their depth players getting caught in bad situations. Mike Komisarek found himself in two of them and both resulted in goals. The Devils managed to get their first line out against him & Jay Harrison on the first goal and Komisarek left his defense partner on an island in front of the net and the Devils exposed him. Komisarek was also victimized on the second goal after trying to back-hand a puck out of the zone, which was deflected out of the zone and the Devils scored on a two-on-one that Harrisonw as unable to break up.
Then there was the Ruutu goal, which resulted from Muller sending Skinner for a defensive zone draw with the fourth line. The team's depth is bad enough as it is and decision like that put them in an even bigger role. The strange thing is that Gerbe & Dwyer were getting the tough zone starts all game and could have easily played Skinner's role there. I mean those, two were losing the battle at even strength but they are still more trustworthy in their own end and the better option.
Devils Individual Scoring Chances
Devils On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Ryane Clowe & Adam Henrieque +3
Worst EV Forward: Travis Zajac -4
Best EV Defenseman: Mark Fayne +2
Worst EV Defenseman: Jon Merrill -3
Pete DeBoer went with his first line of Ruutu, Zajac & Jagr in a power-vs-power matchup against the Hurricanes first line and the Canes did a pretty good job of creating offense against them. Still, they had trouble containing that line and the rest of their forward corps all played very well. No one outside of their top line had a negative scoring chance differential so that should give you an idea of how well their depth played.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
This was actually a pretty good game for the Canes at 5v5 in terms of how their key matchups went. Their top line outchanced the Devils and so did Murphy/Sekera. Jordan's line also outchanced Elias' and had the same success against Zajac when he was promoted to the first line. Almost else all came out in the red, though and the Devils used the last change to their advantage by getting their top-six out against Nash's line multiple times. Needless to say that worked out in their favor.
5v5 Zone Entries
|# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
Carolina made much more of an effort to carry the puck in this time and even though they failed at doing so, they kept trying and the reward was much more favorable compared to what they did off dump-ins. Dumping the puck in is essentially useless against Martin Brodeur, so this was probably the smart strategy and just about every line had some good participation in the neutral zone. It's also nice to see that Loktionov have a good game here, even if he had a rough night by scoring chances.
|Player||# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
As good as Carolina was in the neutral zone, they were just as bad at defending it, allowing the Devils to carry the puck over 60% of the time on their 5v5 entries. I suppose this is the risk you take when you play such an aggressive style, though. You're going to have turnovers and the other team is going to create chances in transition from that. We'll have to see if this trend continues over the next few games.
5v5 Zone Exits
This looked more like the Ryan Murphy that the coaching staff raves about because he was unleashed last night and the team really benefited from his ability to exit the zone. He was given a huge workload here and did pretty well with it, advancing the play 14 times and all of them came with the Canes maintaining possession of the puck. That's not easy to do for a defensemen. Both Sekera & Hainsey also had solid games last night, both limiting turnovers and getting the puck moving in the right direction.
Most teams usually have an easy time at exiting the zone against the Hurricanes, but they made it hard on the Devils last night with Marek Zidlicky & Jon Merrill being their only defensemen to advance the puck more than 20% of the time.