The inability to finish off games is something that has plagued the Carolina Hurricanes this season. Thursday night against the Bruins was no different, giving up a last minute goal to send the game to Overtime. Albeit a one goal lead, it signals a trend that the Canes do not want to see continue. There was a clear change in momentum at the half way point in the game and this is nothing new for the Canes, especially when playing with a lead.
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This is not how you finish off a game. Corsi (All Situations) 30 min: CAR: 36 BOS: 24 60 min: CAR: 47 BOS: 67 pic.twitter.com/VBIeQGMK0H
The Hurricanes are doing a lot of things right with this young team. The defense first mentality is how young developing players should be taught to play. However, at certain points it seems as though the Canes are playing with a defense ONLY mentality. This is most noticeable when they take a lead, as you can see in the chart up above. As soon as the Hurricanes scored in the second period, their shot attempts effectively flat-line. To use a soccer term, it looks like they are “parking the bus”. This is a strategy where the players come into a compact formation defensively, keeping all shot attempts from the perimeter. While this can be effective in soccer, in hockey it creates traffic in front of the net, and wears the players down.
Over and over it seems like the Hurricanes fall into the same routine. They dominate their opponents early, with overwhelming possession metrics. Then later in the game the story changes The canes are last in the league, in regards to third period goals, with 14 on the season. An old hockey adage says the best defense is a good offense, and the Hurricanes could benefit from that thinking. This does not mean to forget playing defense all together. However, if your
team has the puck, the other team does not. When a team cannot possess the puck late in games, that means it is bound to end up in your own end. This was evident against the Bruins, as the Canes kept icing the puck or giving up neutral zone turn overs. They will keep struggling late in games if they do not learn to play aggressively with a lead.
Part of what is leading to the Hurricanes struggles late in games might be their size. Besides Jordan Staal and Viktor Stalberg, the Canes are a small team. General manager Ron Francis has been trying to address this weakness through the draft. Players like Julien Gauthier and Nicolas Roy are excelling with their respective junior teams, and will be a much needed injection of size when they are become NHL ready. However, with the recent concussion of Staal, the Canes lack of size is becoming even more evident. Matthew Barlowe looks at whether Francis should make a move to address this issue or let the team try to figure it out on their own.
On a positive note this trend is exposing a couple silver linings. First, the Canes are showing they can weather the storm when they have to. The Bruins had 43 shot attempts in the last 30 minutes of regulation and only scored one goal. That goal only came after pulling their goalie. Thats an important trait to have as a team, and if the Hurricanes had a two or three goal lead, they win the game. The other silver lining is Cam Ward. The Canes sitting back and absorbing pressure is showcasing just how sharp Ward looks as of late. Ward has looked stellar over the last month and that really shows when the Canes sit back and let opposing offenses attack away. Over his last 13
games he is sporting a slash line of 6-4-3/.939/1.67.
Silver linings aside the Carolina Hurricanes need to buck this trend. They cannot sit back when leading if they want to become playoff contenders. Obviously these are the growing pains that come along with a franchise going through a rebuild. The defensive side of the game is close to where it needs to be.
The goaltending is a pleasant surprise as of late and will hopefully hold the team over until the next wave of Hurricanes goalie prospects come through the pipeline. The offense, however, is the next phase of the rebuild that needs to come together. The influx of skill up front has been exciting and fun to watch. The Hurricanes, however, will need to answer the question of whether they can play aggressively and with a hunger to finish off their opponents.