The Hurricanes finished up their seven-game "road trip" with a record of 4-1-2 and managed to close things out on a high note with Saturday night's win over Phoenix. In the recap of that game, I talked about how the Hurricanes banking points now is a good thing and now it's all a matter of building on what they've done for the past two weeks. Getting the win over Phoenix was especially important because they left two points extra points on the table with overtime losses in Calgary & Edmonton and another loss would have hurt them big time. The Canes also played far from their best hockey this past week and had to rally from behind to earn these four points, so there are some improvements that can be made if they want to put a good winning streak together. They may not need to do much to contend in the East, but a win streak can go a long way with the conference being vulnerable right now.
Team Performance (Five-on-Five)
The overall numbers are a little misleading here because they suggest that the Canes played pretty well at even strength, but the individual games were a different story. They won the Corsi battle in Vancouver because they played from behind for 90% of the game while the Canucks sat back. Same goes for the Edmonton game, where they were dominated in the first period and had to rally from a 4-1 deficit to earn a point. I'm actually surprised they led that game in 5v5 shot attempts because Edmonton had a huge advantage in the first period and Carolina only stayed in that game because of special teams.
The Calgary game was the only one where I thought the Hurricanes controlled the entire game at even strength. They were sloppy in the second period but aside from that, they carried the play in that game and Calgary's goaltender, Karri Ramo, is what kept them from earning two points. That and Chris Butler scoring with four seconds left in overtime. The Phoenix game was similar to this, where the Hurricanes let the Coyotes run over them in the second period but Carolina was the beneficiary of great goaltending that night as Justin Peters had a terrific game. This allowed the Canes to take over in the third period and get a much-needed win.
Overall, a lot of fragmented performances with decent results. Not bad for a road trip, but they'll obviously need to be a lot better to gain some ground on Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division (yes, I went there). Improving the team's even strength play would help, but the power play is also a mess right now (scored only once on 11 opportunities) and they are still behind the eight ball in close game situations according to Extra Skater. So yes, there is plenty of room for improvement but who really needs to step it up right now?
Individual Performances (Five-on-Five)
– Jeff Skinner continues to be on a roll, scoring goals in each of his last three games and taking full advantage of the soft assignments Muller is giving him. After not being able to buy a goal for most of last season, Skinner has been on an absolute tear and has found the back of the net on eight of his last 34 shots on goal. Speaking of which, Skinner is also continuing to shoot the puck at a ridiculous rate and is averaging nearly 5 shots per game during his recent goal-scoring tear. He is simply firing on all cylinders right now and should be gold if he can improve his ability to drive the play.
– Driving the play hasn't been an issue for Nathan Gerbe since his arrival in Carolina and he continued to be strong in this regard last week. He was on the ice for more shot attempts than any other Hurricane forward and I'm sure this trend will continue if Alexander Semin stays on his line.
– The first line might need Alexander Semin, however, because the Canes were outchanced at evens with Staal & Ruutu on the ice this past week. That's a little troubling when taking their assignments into account, but this line is probably staying in-tact as long as they are producing points, which they are. Skinner, Staal & Ruutu were responsible for six of the Hurricanes goals this past week in all situations and Staal was also on the ice for Gerbe's goal against Phoenix. They need to improve at even strength, but the Hurricanes are probably enjoying this current hot streak they are on regardless.
– Semin had a mixed bag in his return from a concussion. He produced a decent amount of offense in the Calgary game, but gave back a lot at the other end. In Phoenix, he was on the ice for six scoring chances and nearly connected with Jordan Staal for a goal in the third period. He looked in his usual form that game and should see some more goals & points come his way soon.
– Jordan Staal scored in the Edmonton game and had a solid week in terms of driving the play. Just another night at the office for him.
– I don't know if Riley Nash is getting showcased right now, but Muller is protecting the hell out of him by barely using him in the defensive zone at all. Nash is taking advantage of his, as he looks better than he has all season, but doesn't have anything to show for it this week. He was also benched in the Phoenix game and I'm not sure why.
– Kevin Westgarth got a promotion to the second line in the Edmonton game and looked…rather good. Yep.
– With the entire top-nine getting sheltered, someone has to take the tough draws and right now, that's Malhotra's line. They are getting buried in the defensive zone and taking a lot of damage in theri own end as a result. Malhotra, Bowman & Dvorak do a lot of positives and are all solid defensively, but they are worn out by the time they get to the neutral zone and their contributions are limited because of that. It's not their fault, but it limits how much they can be used.
– See what I said about the first line in the "positives" column. They are producing, so it's hard to call them a negative right now, but they might be heading for a dry spell if their even strength play doesn't pick up. That's a concern with the rest of the lineup not doing much in terms of goal production.
– Watching Andrej Sekera this year has been a thrill because he seems to improve with every game. He ws on the ice for more shot attempts than any other player this week and was excellent at driving possession. He got a lot of help with how the coaching staff deployed him, but him and Faulk have unleashed a lot of offense lately so taking advantage of it while it lasts isn't a bad idea.
– Tim Gleason quietly had a solid weak, outshooting and outchancing his opponents and looking like less of a liability at even strength. That's important with Bellemore on the shelf because the Canes are short one top-four defenseman with him out of the lineup. Gleason's performance over the last week made him a decent stop-gap as Bellemore heals up.
– What I said about Sekera can also be said about Faulk, as the two had identical numbers and were attached at the hip at even strength.
– By his standards, this was a tough week for Ron Hainsey. He is normally Carolina's best territorial defenseman by a mile but he was barely above water in that area and posted a negative chance differential at even strength this past week. I suppose a lot of it has to do with Bellemore out of the lineup because the two had such good chemistry and adjusting to playing with Gleason & Murphy over the course of two games isn't easy. The two play such different styles and Hainsey works better when he has more freedom with the puck, rather than being the key shutdown guy. That would make him a decent partner for Gleason, but his game has slowly been rounding back into form. The key word there being slowly.
– Jay Harrison got the toughest territorial assignments this past week and I can't figure out why. He was getting destroyed even when he was sheltered, so it's tough to see him improving as his assignments get more difficult. He wasn't terrible, but he had the worst shot attempt differential among Carolina defenders this past week.
– Up-and-down week for Ryan Murphy. He was very impressive in the Calgary game but was crushed against Phoenix and his overall numbers took a big hit from that. That seems to be the way things have gone for the young defenseman, though.