The Carolina Hurricanes first 2 games of the 2016-17 NHL season have followed a nearly identical pattern.
Both games featured the Hurricanes playing generally solid hockey and scoring in bunches through 2+ periods. In last Thursday’s opener in Winnipeg, the Hurricanes pushed to 4-1 early in the third period. In Sunday’s second game in Vancouver, the Hurricanes surged to 3-0 early in the second period.
Both games also featured a self-inflicted and massive collapse that saw both 3-goal leads erased in regulation to be followed by overtime losses. When the dust had settled on both games, fans were left wondering how it was possible to convert 3-goal leads in the second half of consecutive hockey games into only a single OTL consolation point in both cases.
What happened at a high level
After taking time to digest and sort through the wreckage of the 2 games, my assessment is as follows:
1) The Hurricanes very simply made too many egregious errors at exactly the time when priority 1 should to play simple hockey and make the opponent earn its way back into the game.
2) Importantly, in rewatching the sequence of events, I would not chalk it up to the Hurricanes just suddenly playing worse. Rather, my assessment is that when the opponents turned the dial to full desperation mode down 3 goals and became more aggressive on the forecheck and in the offensive zone, the Hurricanes folded under the increased pressure.
Breaking down the individual goals
Winnipeg Jets loss
Winnipeg goal #1: Shawn Matthias harmlessly carried the puck around the net to the corner and then fired a shot from behind the end line from a literally impossible shooting angle off Ward and into the net. One cannot fault any of the 5 defenders on the ice for this goal.
No oops other than Ward
Winnipeg goal #2: On the power and up 4-1 in the third period, Jeff Skinner makes a partially blind backhand back pass aimed at Noah Hanifin right around his defensive blue line. Blake Wheeler jumps the passing lane, has an uncontested path the net and finishes through Ward to put the Jets on the path to climbing back into a game that they were previously out of.
Big oops: Skinner
Winnipeg goal #3: On the penalty kill, the Hurricanes get a little bit too puck focused. Slavin, McClement and especially Stalberg pull too close to the far boards when the puck is there. When the puck moves quickly, sniper Patrik Laine finds himself in great position to receive the puck and dust it off while moving to the top of the face-off circle, allowing a Jet to get to the front of the net for a screen while he teed it up to snipe it off the far post and into the net.
No oopses though you could argue that all 3 of the of the penalty killers mentioned deserve a small oops for poor positioning.
Winnipeg goal #4: The play starts with Nordstrom having the puck on his stick just inside the defensive blue line just as the Jets are pulling their goalie. If he gets the puck out, the Canes are in pretty good shape. If he an somehow make the center line and hit the empty net, the game is over. Instead, Nordstrom fails to clear the zone. Then a deflection that finds a Jets’ stick finds the Hurricanes scrambling around in front of their own net. No one really covers anyone. Slavin tries to take away a passing lane but slides through it. Both Faulk and Staal are caught mostly watching and are on the wrong side of the Jets player who taps in a goal from right in front of the crease.
Medium oops: Nordstrom; Small oopses: Faulk, Staal, Slavin
Winnipeg goal #5: In overtime, Jeff Skinner has the puck poked off his stick in the neutral zone. The puck deflects into the air where Wheeler simultaneously wins the puck versus Faulk and immediately heads into the offensive zone with a 2-on-1 behind Faulk and Skinner. Noah Hanifin slides but fails to take away the passing lane. When the pass makes it across, Scheifele finishes into the open part of the net.
Medium oops: Skinner; Small oopse: Faulk, Hanifin
Vancouver Canucks loss
Vancouver goal #1: Justin Faulk has the puck deep in his own end. Without any great options, he plays the puck up around the boards where it is intercepted by Horvat. By no means was the turnover horrible, but it was a missed chance to clear. Then the puck pin balls around from the slot and then finds Horvat coming in off the boards right past Faulk who had lunged for the puck behind the end line. Lack then gets beat on a savable goal.
Medium oops: Faulk
Vancouver goal #2: Justin Faulk makes a horrible turnover giving the puck away in a bad place trying to move the puck out of his own end. He then compounds the first big mistake by chasing the puck and skating right past Markus Granlund who gets an easy tap in goal from the crease less than 5 seconds after the initial turnover.
Big oops: Faulk
Vancouver goal #3: Lack successfully steers a Vancouver shot into the corner. Vancouver retrieves the puck and feeds it to defenseman stepping in between the circles. He blasts through a screen and actually tips the mask of Eddie Lack who I do not think ever saw the shot because of a screen.
Medium oops: Nestrasil
Vancouver goal #4: Jeff Skinner tries to do a bit too much 1v3 in front of the net in overtime. When he simultaneously falls and loses the puck, it is off to the races the other way. Rask hustles back but it is mostly a 2-on-1. Slavin does play the pass but probably could have stepped up on the shooter late with Rask skating back into the play. With a head of steam and a nice gap to step into, Brandon Sutter nets a nice shot beating Lack far side.
Medium oops: Skinner; Small oops: Slavin
Fancy stats – the ‘oops tally’ and ‘total oops rating’
Various new statistics have become a great way to analyze play when coupled with actual game action analysis. The key with statistics is both pairing it with ‘watch analysis’ and also importantly picking a meaningful set of statistics that capture everything that is happening. Especially for short samples, I think the single biggest deficiency in the most commonly used hockey statistics is that they tend to mostly count all shots are equal (though there is progress in that direction) and that they generally do not assign any kind of causation measure to shots. So when a player turns a puck over in front his own net (grade 10 shot versus run of the mill grade 3 shot) he takes a minus 1 for the shot statistics (just like everyone else who had nothing to do with the turnover).
I think the Carolina Hurricanes first 2 games highlight this challenge. The Hurricanes 2 breakdowns have featured Corsi losses which lines up, but the bigger story is the volume of ‘big oopses’ that have led directly to high-grade shots against and not surprisingly goals.
When I count ‘oopses’ on the goals against and somewhat arbitrarily assign them 1, 2 or 3 ratings (with 1 being small ‘oops’, 2 being medium ‘oops’ and 3 being big ‘oops’), I get the following:
Leaders for total plays with an oops (for 9 goals allowed): Faulk=4; Skinner=3; Slavin=2.
Leaders for total oops points (3, 2, 1 rating system): Faulk=7; Skinner=7; Slavin=2; Nestrasil=2; Nordstrom=2.
There is obviously an arbitrary nature to assigning ‘oopses,’ and I intentionally picked ‘oops’ instead of something more legitimate sounding. But I do think there is some validity in looking at both danger level and causation for shots both for and against. It is also important to note that negative plays should be weighed against positive ones. Faulk and Skinner who rate unfavorably for their role in giving up goals rate very well in terms of creating offense.
I said recently on Twitter I believe that the difference between great scorers and great hockey players who drive wins is the ability to score but then also to be part of the process of converting scoring into winning. Through 2 games, the Hurricanes leaders have left something to be desired in terms of making the plays or maybe more so avoiding the bad plays such that what should have been enough scoring can be converted to wins.
What didn’t happen (though many are chalking it up to it)?
A significant portion of assessments of what happened are pinning the consecutive late-game debacles on the Hurricanes being young and going through growing pains. But when you sort through the sequence of events in detail, that explanation really does not hold water. The Hurricanes had veteran players on the ice in key situations, and they in fact played central roles in the meltdowns.
What jumps out from looking at the goals that the Hurricanes allowed is that:
* None of the players on what would be considered the ‘young’ forwards line of Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen have been on the ice for a single goal against. Neither has Klas Dahlbeck. One could also absolve Noah Hanifin to a slightly lesser degree. He has been on the ice for 2 goals against, but both were the direct result of Jeff Skinner turnovers that found him trying to defend in a tough situation.
* Players most on the ice for goals against (Canes have allowed 9 total) are Faulk 5, Slavin 5, Skinner 4, Nestrasil 4, Staal 3, Rask 3 and Nordstrom 3.
Jaccob Slavin is the 1 player out of the group who could legitimately be marked as ‘growing pains’ but even that is questionable since the majority of the goals are a fairly direct result of an individual ‘oops’.
Netting it out
When sort through the details of the breakdowns, it is really pretty simple. Once opponents dialed up the pressure level to ‘full desperate,’ the Hurricanes have been unable to withstand it. The result has been a high volume but more importantly the horrible kind of mistakes that lead nearly directly to goals against. Important to note is that his problem lies NOT with the youth in the lineup but rather with the veteran core of the team.
Perspective is also important. Two games is a small sample size, especially right at the beginning of the season.
But this situation is definitely high on the list of things that I am watching closely. Being unable to convert even generally good games into wins is a nearly certain recipe for missing the playoffs.