If the fanbase had any optimism left in the Hurricanes, their coaching staff and most of their players, it likely disappeared after their 5-1 loss to the Boston Bruins this afternoon. The result isn't terribly surprising because the Hurricanes have been a team in disarray since the Olympic break while the Bruins are one of the NHL's elite clubs. A loss was expected and the most the Hurricanes could have hoped for is to stay with them and try not to get blown out of the building. They managed to do this for about 45-minutes or so but unraveled in the third period, giving up two goals in less than 40 seconds and suffered another blowout loss.
As tough as it was to watch, it wasn't too surprising because the Bruins are above the Hurricanes in just about every category and were dominating this game in terms of shots & territorial play even before they ran away with it on the scoreboard. What exactly makes the Bruins so superior to the Hurricanes, though? Everyone's first answer is probably related to "toughness" and how they are a hard-hitting team that bullies their opponents into submission. They're the "Big Bad Bruins" after all and the Hurricanes don't have anyone who matches up to them physically. They don't have a Milan Lucic or a Zdeno Chara that people "hate to play against." That's the lazy man's way of summarizing this game but it isn't what I saw.
What I saw this afternoon at the TD Garden was a deep, balanced team dominate a club that had pretty much no structure with the way they played the game. I've given Kirk Muller some credit with how he made adjustments in the New Jersey game and prepared this team well to play the Rangers on Tuesday night. None of that preparation seemed to come in handy against the Bruins ,though because they played right into their hands. People always assume that the Bruins are a team that will win games by wearing opponents down physically and grinding out games. They are a sizeable team that does play well along the boards, but they are also a very skilled team that excels in the transition game, which is how they hurt Carolina this afternoon.
One of the strongest suits of this Bruins club is how they turn defense into offense by breaking up plays at the blue line and gaining speed through the neutral zone. Carolina got burned by this a few times by trying fancy plays in the neutral zone that may have worked against Buffalo & New York, but were completely useless against this Bruins club, who gave them no room to work with and forced Carolina to turn the puck over whenever they tried to come up the ice. To make things worse, the Hurricanes looked lost in their own zone and forced Cam Ward to make about 5-6 more saves than he needed to by constantly leaving Bruins players open in scoring areas.
Calling out the coaching staff for players not performing up to snuff might come across as lazy analysis, but the Hurricanes really looked like they had no idea what they were doing in the defensive zone. They were basically following the puck around and breakdowns are bound to happen when you do that (see the Chris Kelly goal for an example). Turnovers and bad defensive plays will happen, especially when you're trapped in your own zone for 60% of the game, but this isn't anything new for the Canes. Their defensive zone coverage has been a mess all season and good teams are going to exploit it like the Bruins did today. The players might not be perfect and a few guys didn't have good games today, but the system is just as much of a problem from what I'm seeing.
Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater
This was one of those weird games where the shot attempt/Corsi report tells the story more than scoring chances. Most would argue that the latter is the better indicator, but the Bruins had control of this game from the drop of the puck. They dominated Carolina in zone time and didn't allow them to get much of a forecheck going at all. The reason why Carolina had so many chances was because their strategy in the offensive zone was to barrel down the wing, get a shot on goaltender Chad Johnson and crash for the rebounds. They mixed it up a little as the game went on, but their strategy was very deliberate for most of the game and they didn't sustain much pressure. It didn't help that their forecheck looked out of sorts. There were times where they had there players going down the wing with no one driving the center lane, which is pointless if the idea is to create rebounds. Meanwhile, the Bruins had no problem getting a forecheck going and while they didn't create as many chances as they could, they did more than enough to get a pretty easy win.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Patrick Dwyer & Jordan Staal +3
Worst EV Forward: Eric Staal -3
Best EV Defenseman: Jay Harrison +3
Worst EV Defensemen: Justin Faulk, Andrej Sekera & Jay Harrison -2
Eric Staal will generally produce a lot of offense while giving most of it back in the defensive zone and the latter is more noticeable in games like this. He was on the ice for three goals and was partially at fault for the Bruins third & fourth Boston goals. Although, on the third goal he was just part of a massive defensive breakdown where he, Jiri Tlusty, Alex Semin all keyed in on the puck and left Ryan Murphy all alone in front of the net to defend two Bruins players. Eric's role is to produce offense now with him now centering Jeff Skinner & Elias Lindholm and while he is at least creating chances, coming away empty handed really hurts when he gets burned in the other end like this. When Skinner looks the most engaged defensively on this line, then that's usually not a good sign.
The only line that produced a goal was the duo of Jordan Staal & Alexander Semin, which came directly off a faceoff in the offensive zone. I thought Semin was the Canes best forward and he seemed to be the only one who could get through the Bruins defense in the neutral zone. He had to go into "DIY Mode' a few times, but it was more effective than what anyone else on the team was doing and his line ended up having a decent showing offensively with six scoring chances. Nathan Gerbe also had a couple of good looks on the third line but the rest of the forward corps collectively had forgettable games.
The same can be said for almost all of the defense corps. Justin Faulk & Andrej Sekera had a tough game and were on the ice for half of the Bruins even strength scoring chances. I thought Faulk played well in some areas, mainly with leading breakouts, but he play away from the puck wasn't exactly good for his standards. Sekera also struggled in coverage and looked lost on the Milan Lucic goal. The Hainsey/Bellemore pairing also had a tough game and Hainsey didn't look good at all on the second Iginla goal while Ryan Murphy was on the ice for two Boston goals and half of their 5v5 scoring chances. He still managed to come out with a positive differential and was hung out to dry by the forwards on the Kelly goal, but he was still on the ice for quite a few chances.
Bruins Individual Scoring Chances
Bruins On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Jarome Iginla & David Krejci +5
Worst EV Forwards: Patrice Bergeron & Brad Marchand -6
Best EV Defenseman: Dougie Hamilton +2
Worst EV Defensemen: Torey Krug & Kevan Miller -1
I don't completely agree with the numbers here because I thought Bergeron played an excellent game, especially in the neutral zone. his line was pretty quiet offensively compared to Krejci's line, though. That trip just ran over the Hurricanes at even strength, producing three goals and hemming Carolina into their own zone for extended periods of time. They also took advantage of some favorable matchups against the Hurricanes depth forwards & third defense pairing, most notably on the first Iginla goal where Lucic bulldozed his way through three Carolina players to keep the play alive & set up Iginla behind the net. That's one time I thought the Bruins physical play worked in their favor, but it was also a terrible matchup against the Hurricanes small third line.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
The one weakness of the Bruins is their defense outside of Chara, but they managed to hold up nicely this afternoon. Claude Julien went power vs power by putting Chara against Eric Staal and having his second pairing of Matt Bartkowski & Johnny Boychuk spend most of the game against Alex Semin & Jordan Staal. That's a favorable matchup on paper for Carolina and while they had a few chances against them, they could have done a lot more with this matchup. Julien also had Bergeron square off against Eric Staal for most of the game, but he also had Krejci out against this line for a little bit and Bosotn clearly got the better end here. That line just shredded everything in their path.
5v5 Zone Entries
|# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
Semin, Gerbe & Skinner were the only players who got anything done in the neutral zone. The rest of the team was either forced to dump the puck in (see almost every winger & defenseman) or turned the puck over as they went up the ice (see every center). The Bruins actually got a couple of their goals off careless plays in the neutral zone by the Hurricanes and it's an example of how much Boston can hurt teams in the transition game.
|Player||# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
The Bruins had no issue with carrying the puck in because a good few of their zone entries came off turnovers by the Hurricanes and their defense gave them way too much respect as they were crossing the blue line. Part of the reason why Krejci's line had a huge game and Bergeron's line also had a good showing, despite not having a great game in terms of scoring chances.
5v5 Zone Exits
Sometimes a team's defense will look bad because their forwards aren't giving them any support and leave them hung out to dry on numerous occasions. This was one of those nights, as Carolina's centers really struggled with handling the puck in their own end and Dwyer also had a tough game when it came to getting the puck out. Their defense isn't completely free of criticism, but the play from the forwards was just as big of problem. Semin seemed to be the only player who made an effort to clear the zone and maintain possession while doing so.
As a whole, the Bruins defense corps isn't the most experienced bunch (outside of Chara & Boychuk that is) but they seemed to do a pretty good job at breakouts. The only pairing that struggled was Bartkowski & Boychuk, who were guilty of eight of the eleven turnovers by the Bruins defense corps. Everyone else had a pretty solid game in terms of zone exits and Dougie Hamitlon was very impressive here.