The redirect and tip-in goal has become the thing of the moment in the NHL these days. Teams have been scoring goals like this since the advent of water cold enough to skate on, but they’ve become huge recently.
Not with the Carolina Hurricanes though. Sure, they’ve bonked a few of those goals in and Riley Nash has made it his calling card when Kirk Muller gives him ice time, but Carolina isn’t piling on a lot of these close-in goals overall. It happens, but not as often as the rest of the league. This is simply because they are treating the area around the goal crease like it’s lava.
Why it has taken until mid-January for the Hurricanes to be okay with parking a forward in front of the net is anybody’s guess. However, they’re doing it now and it’s a trend that should continue to grow. Fans have been screaming in their living rooms and on Twitter for the Hurricanes to put someone in the gosh darned slot, for crying out loud — though that may be worded just a little differently from time to time.
During Saturday night’s win over the Florida Panthers, this strategy was starting to finally show its face on the PNC Arena ice. Surprisingly, both Eric and Jordan Staal were the major players in this. Logically, 5-foot-6 Nathan Gerbe would be the one who belongs there. He was, but it was the Staal brothers leading the way. This is just fine because someone, anyone needs to park themselves in the slot and get traffic in front of opposing goalies.
Florida goaltender Tim Thomas is hardcore, and nobody denies that. However, seeing Carolina crash his goal crease with absolute disregard for the law of inertia is a welcome sight. Thomas was able to handle a lot of the assaults, but it was clear when watching the replays that he was in full-on panic mode and couldn’t cover the puck fast enough.
With the Tampa Bay Lightning in town on Sunday, this strategy can easily be the way to go. Lightning goalie Ben Bishop is coming off of what head coach Jon Cooper called a “disastrous” loss to the San Jose Sharks. Bishop went with an .844 saves percentage against the Sharks on 32 shots on goal.
That’s simple math: put a ton of pucks on him, and watch the lamp light up. Bishop and Thomas are light-years from each other on the scale of goaltenders, and there’s nothing about crashing the net that won’t work against the Lightning.
Muller has no choice but to find someone, place him in the slot and say “stay.” Putting a guy in the slot creates screens, opens up the redirect and tip-in, and pretty much frustrates the heck out of opposing defensemen, thus creating penalties. The slot is no longer lava for Carolina, and getting traffic in front of the net needs to be the team’s offensive M.O. for the rest of the season.