If there was one game most Hurricane fans had marked down as a loss, last night's showdown against the Chicago Blackhawks was likely at the top of the list. Even at the beginning of the year when spirits were higher, not many expected the Canes to come into the United Center and escape with two points, barring a disastrous season from the Hawks that is. Both of these team's seasons have gone as most expected and the result of this game was what most would have predicted with Chicago getting the win in regulation. Not to sound overly pessimistic, but the Hurricanes are heading for another long off-season while the Blackhawks are one of the league's elite teams. Not getting embarrassed or somehow clawing a point out of this game was the benchmark for a lot of folks.
Thankfully, Carolina managed to achieve one of those by keeping the score close but they looked a tad out of their element for most of the game. As we all know by now, the Hurricanes are a reactive team and they didn't have much of an answer for the Hawks transition game or their puck-possession style of play. I always thought the Hawks ran a system that the Hurricanes wanted to implement when Kirk Muller took over, but didn't have the personnel to achieve and this still appears to be the case today. The Hurricanes just don't have the depth, the speed or the skill to play an effective puck-possession game and we saw that last night.
All three goals they gave up may have been in transition (two breakaways and one four-on-four), but the Hawks controlled play for most of the game and suffocated the Hurricanes offense by never letting them have the puck. The Hurricanes couldn't get any speed going through the neutral zone and most of their entries were broken up at the line and went the other way. As a result, they didn't get much of a forecheck going and spent the first 30 minutes of the game in a familiar place, the defensive zone. Their power play was really their only life line, as that helped them get back in the game and wear down Chicago's defense a little. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough as Chicago negated this by scoring a shorthanded goal and put the clamps on Carolina's offense after that.
Puck-possession is all the rage in the hockey blogging world now and the Blackhawks are one of the teams who pull off this style well. It's a beautiful thing if it's done effectively, but very frustrating to play against. The Hurricanes know all about that since they've been on the losing end of most of these battles.
Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater
The Fenwick timeline suggests that this game was heavily influenced by score effects, which is somewhat true but there's a little more to it than that. The Hawks dominated the first 20 minutes of this game but didn't get rewarded for it until the second period when Patrick Sharp scored on a breakaway goal. After that, Carolina tested Corey Crawford a few times but it was mostly just one-and-done chances without any sustained pressure. The Hawks defense managed to clean up most of the rebounds Crawford gave up and get play moving in the right direction so Carolina didn't threaten much in the second period despite outshooting the Hawks.
After getting a late goal from Alex Semin courtesy of a bad line change by Chicago, the Hurricanes closed the gap on the shot count even more with Chicago taking three penalties to start the third period. They cashed in and tied the game on one with Semin scoring off a faceoff, but Jonathan Toews gave Chicago their lead back, scoring a breakaway goal at the tail end of Carolina's third power play.
This was all the Hawks needed, as they went into full shutdown mode after Toews' goal and limited the Canes to two scoring chances for the remainder of the. This was illustrated well in the final two minutes of the game where the Hurricanes couldn't even get goaltender Anton Khudobin to the bench for the extra attacker because the Hawks managed to maintain possession in Carolina's zone for such a long period of time. It's hard to score when you never have the puck and the Hawks speciality is making every game seem like a prolonged session of "keep away." So yes, score effects played a role and Carolina didn't get horribly outplayed, but they were aided by the power play and the Hawks had control of this game at evens.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Manny Malhotra & Drayson Bowman EVEN
Worst EV Forwards: Riley Nash & Jeff Skinner -4
Best EV Defenseman: John-MIchael Liles +1
Worst EV Defensemen: Jay Harrison & Brett Bellemore -4
Muller loaded up the first line again and leaned on them heavily for most of the game with both Staals & Semin playing over 20 minutes. Injuries obviously forced his hand a little, but all this did was make Carolina's other three lines easier to target. Their center depth falls off the map after the Staal brothers and the performance of Nash's line shows that. Lokitonov's line also had a "meh" night and the fourth line was barely used. You're obviously going to lean on your best players when you are trying to come back in a close game, but Carolina was essentially a one-line team last night and even an injury-depleted Hawks team can take advantage of that.
As for the performance of their top players, they were a mixed bag. I thought Jordan had a quiet game and made a couple of near-mistakes on the penalty kill while Eric was a lot more noticeable for the right & wrong reasons. On the plus side, Eric had two assists and was one of the catalyst for most of the Hurricanes offense but he also took two penalties, one of them coming in the third period and missed the net on a shot/clear that led to Toews' game-winning goal. The one holding this line together was easily Alexander Semin, who scored twice and produced a third of Carolina's scoring chances. Semin was carrying the entire offense on his back as most of the forwards didn't do much. Although, not many outside of the top line were given much of a chance.
Muller also shook up the defense pairings and they had mixed results. Andrej Sekera had an excellent game along with John-Michael Liles on the de facto first pairing while Justin Faulk & Ron Hainsey struggled in a secondary role. Part of that had tdo do with them playing behind the team's depth forwards, but it still wasn't a pretty game for either of them. Hainsey especially had a rough game, being on the ice for both of Chicago's even strength goals.
Blackhawks Individual Scoring Chances
Blackhawks On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Andrew Shaw +4
Worst EV Forward: Brandon Bollig -1
Best EV Defenseman: Johnny Oduya +4
Worst EV Defenseman: Duncan Keith +1
This was a low-event game at even strength and the Hawks allowed only five 5v5 scoring chances, so most of their players came out in the black here. Their second lien did most of the damage, though. Patrick Sharp, Michal Handzus and Andrew Shaw seemed to be creating the most dangerous chances and Sharp was doing the majority of the damage. He scored the opening goal of the game and ha a few great looks in the first period. The Versteeg-Toews-Hossa line also had a few dominating shifts. They weren't creating many scoring chances, but they were a big reason why the Hurricanes offense had nothing going in the third period. These three exemplified what most puck-possession enthusiasts love to hammer home: they never give up many goals or scoring chances because they always have the puck and are usually at the opponent's end of the ice whenever they are out there.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Losses all across the board for Carolina. The first line was the only unit that did any sort of damage and most of that came when they got a favorable matchup against the Hawks fourth line. The bad change that led to Semin's first goal being an example of that. I will say that they did a good job of keeping their heads above water against the Toews line at even strength. The problem was that every other line got shredded and Carolina's "second line" was not match for Handzus, Sharp & Shaw. That's the risk you take when you load up all of your best forwards on one line.
5v5 Zone Entries
|# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
The Hurricanes had to dump-and-chase a lot and most of it was by force rather than by design. The seven failed zone entries (three of them coming from the first line) illustrate that well. Carolina tried to play aggressive in the neutral zone and create some offense off the rush, but the Hawks had it well defended and forced the Canes to dump the puck in. That or they forced the play offsides or created turnovers in the neutral zone. Carolina managed to avoid getting crushed in the transition game and recovered from most of their mistakes, but they were still scrambling in the neutral & defensive zones for most of the game. It just seemed like they were doing their best to keep up & stay even with the Hawks and that's understandable when you look at the talent differential between the two clubs.
|Player||# of entries||Shots generated||Carry-ins||Shots generated||Dump-ins||Shots generated||Failed Entries|
One of the reasons why Carolina didn't get crushed in the transition game was that the Hawks played a little more dump-and-chase than they are used to. The score influenced this, but the loss of Patrick Kane (and Brandon Saad to a lesser extent) also had an impact here. He is the best player in the league and controlling the neutral zone & creating offense off the rush and it creates a big void in the Hawks top-six, which is saying a lot when you consider how good Toews, Hossa, & Sharp are. That said, these three still had decent games in the neutral zone, although Toews & Hossa's line didn't create much offense for reasons stated earlier. Shaw's line also had a very good game, producing a decent amount of offense on dump-and-chase plays.
5v5 Zone Exits
Aside from Harrison, Carolina's defense had a decent game at leading breakouts. The forwards, however, were a nightmare and that's where the Hawks can hurt a lot of teams. They're very good at clogging up passing lanes and shutting down teams as they try to come up the ice so even if they don't force a turnover, they frustrate teams by hemming them into their own zone. We saw a lot of this last night.
Chicago usually puts a lot of pressure on their defensemen to lead breakouts and don't have their forwards pitch in as much as other teams. It's a strategy that works for them because all six of their defensemen can move the puck effectively even with a big workload. The only player who struggled last night was Ducnan Keith, who had only three advances on 32 touches. He is normally one of the best in the league in this area of the game, so his performance here is a little surprising, especially compared to Brent Seabrook.