After a few rough games, things are starting to pick up in Raleigh as the Hurricanes earned points in all three of their games this past week and comfortably sit at second place in the Metropolitan Division. I was a little concerned about the team early on because not only were they losing games, they were getting outplayed in most of them and scrapping for points through overtime and shootout losses. The Canes had some rough moments in the Chicago & Toronto games, but the team's overall performance was relatively strong this week and it's hard to complain about them earning five points in three games, especially since four of them came on the road.
The Canes will continue their road trip into next week and it will be interesting to see if they can continue to play well as they head out West. Both Phoenix and Los Angeles gave the Hurricanes a lot of fits in the first week of the season, so things probably won't get any easier against Minnesota & Colorado, but at least the Canes are starting this trip on a more positive note than last week. They're starting to get back to what they did last year, which was beat teams at even strength, and now that they are seeing some rewards, it could lead to a good season if they keep it up. The first line finally coming to life played a big role in this and they are the center of attention of this week's review.
Team Performance (Even Strength)
The Hurricanes jumped up a few spots in the Corsi rankings this past week and most of that is from the Toronto game, where they pummeled the Leafs at even strength. They also outplayed the Islanders on Saturday night but sat back for most of the third period and allowed them to close the gap a little bit. That said, Carolina's even strength numbers were encouraging overall. The best team they played all week was Chicago and they managed to hang tough with them, albeit after playing a terrible first period, despite losing in the shootout. The Canes also had a solid week in terms of preventing & creating chances and had their best defensive performance of the season against the Islanders. New York & Toronto have both been poor possession teams this year, but it's still good to see Carolina winning these games on more than just the scoresheet.
Individual Even Strength Performance
– I would like to welcome the first line to the 2013-14 season. Both Eric Staal & Alex Semin had huge weeks offensively and factored into goals in each of the three games. Staal himself had a pretty big week with four points and Semin chipped in well with three. These two were the catalysts for the Hurricanes offense this week as Semin was on the ice for 40.3% of the team's 5v5 shot attempts and 35% of their scoring chances. Muller's been giving them soft territorial assignments to help get them going and to say that they took advantage of it last week would be an understatement.
– Jiri Tlusty scored his first two goals of the season, both of which coming in Saturday's win over the Islanders, and his spot on the first line appears to be safe for now. Tuomo Ruutu started the week there but Tlusty eventually earned it back and is feeding off his linemate strong play for the time being.
– Despite a tough game against Toronto, Tuomo Ruutu had a decent week overall with two assists and finishing on the positive ledger of both scoring chances & shot attempts. He'll probably shift between the second & third lines over the next week or so, but Ruutu's play seems to be coming around nicely.
– The third line of Nash, Dvorak & Skinner had another solid week at the office and have done nicely in giving the Canes a nice offensive unit they can use to against team's weaker defense pairings. I'm not sure if I like using Skinner in this way long-term, but he and Nash are getting the job done for now. They've produced a few key goals for the Hurricanes, the biggest one being Hainsey's game-tying goal against the Hawks.
– Radek Dvorak has contributed a lot more than I thought he would. I'm sure he's enjoying playing with Skinner on his other wing, but he has looked solid with Carolina thus far.
– Nothing going for the Jordan Staal line this week and they seemed to really struggle to produce any offense. Part of it relates to how they're being utilized (see offensive zone start percentage), but this didn't stop them earlier in the year. Staal is the kind of player who can win the territorial battle and produce offense with almost any linemate, but he struggled to do both this past week and it will be interesting to see if the coaches slide Ruutu up to this line to help give it a spark. Although, it's hard to do much worse than producing only five even strength chances over three games.
– Remember when the Canes could roll all four lines? Me too.
– Justin Faulk & Andrej Sekera might be the most underrated shutdown defense pairing in the NHL right now. They're the only duo Muller has consistently given the tough minutes to and they managed to outchance their opponents at even strength despite the big workload. Both have done a great job at taking time & space away from opposing forwards and quickly moving the puck out of the zone whenever they have the opportunity. They didn't produce much offense this week, but as a shutdown defense pairing, they performed very well.
– The Hurricanes outshot their opponents by 17 during 5v5 play when Murphy was on the ice last week, which is very impressive. He's still getting ultra-sheltered at even strength but this has helped Murphy really make his presence felt as an offensive defenseman. He scored his first NHL goal in Thursday night's win over Toronto and followed it up with a beautiful assist on Jordan Staal's power play goal Saturday night. Murphy is very fun to watch and is starting to look more and more like he belongs in the NHL.
– The work Brett Bellemore & Ron Hainsey has been somewhat underrated by fans, as these two have been very good at limiting opponents at even strength. The Hurricanes improved territorial performance has allowed Muller to protect these two, but they are still playing big minutes and have been very good in their own end. Hainsey in particular had a very impressive week from a defensive standpoint, being on the ice for only seven total chances during 5v5 play.
– Mike Komisarek wasn't completely awful in the one game he played in.
– Bellemore was benched in the Chicago game and did not play against the Islanders. The latter was because of the coach's desire to get Komisarek into the lineup, but the former was due to his own struggles. Bellemore's failed clearing attempt directly led to the Hawks scoring a late goal in the first period and this was one of two goal he was on the ice for that night. Bellemore has doen more good than bad this year, but it appears the coaches have him on somewhat of a short leash since his mistakes are resulting in goals against. That isn't 100% his fault, but it's worth monitoring.
– The Canes won the possession battle with Murphy on the ice, but they were on the losing end in terms of scoring chances. This sort of illustrates his defensive issues and it's something the Hurricanes will probably have to deal with if they keep him on the team for the entire year. Murphy adds a lot to the power play and the Canes forecheck, but there are going to be slip-ups and blown assignments when you give a high-risk player so much ice time. Carolina has seen both sides of Murphy early on this season and it will probably be a continuing trend as he continues to settle in as an NHL-er.
All in all, a good week for the Canes and I don't have many other negative points to outline other than they have a couple of tough assignments waiting for them in Minnesota & Colorado. If they play like they did against Toronto and the final 45 minutes against Chicago, then they should be in good shape so here's to hoping that they can keep it up.