With the final game before the Olympic break in the books, the Carolina Hurricanes have a few things to look at on their to-do list.
High off their 5-1 defeat of the Florida Panthers, it was a failure to pull the trigger in the third period that caused the tough loss to the Montreal Canadiens. The whole of the game in no way mattered as much as the closing minutes. A two-goal deficit against a team Carolina has already caused to choke this season was not that tall of an order, especially considering the amazing clutch play in recent games from Eric Staal and Jordan Staal.
Going from absolutely running the table on Florida to leaving the Montreal game on the table — this is not a good sign.
The most immediate concern would be the disjointed offensive structure. With few exceptions, the Hurricanes continue to be a reactive team. In situations where offense needs to be created — like attacking zone penetration — Carolina insists upon throwing the puck here or there, and seeing what develops from it. In some of their more dominating wins, they’ve shown signs of a more deliberate offense, yet it is not the absolute rule. Drawing and executing plays as opposed to a dump-and-chase-based offense is essential to post-Olympic hockey.
A huge issue that showed up late in the Montreal game, has been a running theme throughout the season. A nearly stubborn refusal to play the slot. Whenever Carolina has put players in the slot, it has payed off in spades. For some reason or another — and this was big in the loss to Montreal — none of the Hurricanes want to park it in the slot. This is huge for guys like Justin Faulk, who like to blast pucks on net from the point or above the circles. You have these guys taking huge shots, yet nobody is screening opposing goalies, or getting positioned for redirects or tip-ins.
Pass-happy players like Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty would benefit immensely from this strategy.
More than anything however, is a breakdown in some very essential hockey fundamentals. Too often, defenders are doubling and even tripling up on opposing skaters and creating more open ice than what needs to happen. Why Carolina insists on putting more than two players along boards on in the corners is baffling. Head coach Kirk Muller might benefit from just experimenting with a more man-to-man-based defensive strategy. In the worst-case scenario, it doesn’t work and he goes back to the old way.
So long as loose ends are tied up, everyone remains healthy and Anton Khudobin is allowed to be the starting goalie moving forward — all should be well for the Hurricanes, and PNC Arena should start gearing up for tailgates in May.