With another Canes game stretching into normal DCoJ writing time, Sunday’s Daily Cup of Joe is another from the ‘random observations category.’
One of the highlights of a 2014-15 season that was short on Hurricanes highlights was a penalty kill coached by assistant Steve Smith. The Canes were first in the entire NHL at the point when it was disassembled at the trade deadline with the trade of Andrej Sekera, Tim Gleason and Jiri Tlusty. The group still finished a solid fourth out of 30 teams.
With Tlusty, Sekera and Gleason still gone from the deadline deals and the decision not to re-sign Patrick Dwyer, there was a decent amount of turnover. The question was whether it was about personnel (or at least the players who were now gone) or whether it was the system. If it was the latter, it would be reasonable to expect the players to change a bit but the results to be the same.
Early in 2015-16 (and importantly to note still with a pretty small sample size), the Hurricanes have not been as good. The Canes penalty kill ranks in the bottom third in the league and has given up 4 power play goals in only 17 penalty kills for a 76.5 percent kill rate compared to a much better 84.7 percent rate in 2014-15.
My eye test actually agrees with the stats so far. Two things strike me as different from last season. First, the 2014-15 Hurricanes penalty kill was masterful about pressuring the puck all the way up the ice and burning time before the opponent was even in the offensive zone. Second, the 2014-15 Hurricanes penalty kill was aggressive defending once the opponent gained entry into the offensive zone. The gaps were tight and the time was small for the other teams’ power play to handle the puck, and if they bobbled it even slightly the Canes pounced.
I actually think that the 2015-16 Hurricanes power play might be fine as is once they settle in. There is a rhythm, confidence and group cohesiveness that plays a part in successful penalty killing. The other thing could be the personnel. What made the Canes so good in 2014-15 was their quickness and aggressiveness the full 200 feet of the rink. Key players in that were Riley Nash and Patrick Dwyer who both skate well. If you fast forward to 2015-16, Patrick Dwyer is gone and Riley Nash has been on the shelf injured. In addition, Joakim Nordstrom who is a pretty good Patrick Dwyer impersonator in terms of bring quickness and raw speed to the penalty kill has also been out injured.
Coach Steve Smith will need to keep a close eye on the penalty kill to make sure it rounds into form, but I think it is reasonable that getting some wheels back in the form of Riley Nash and Joakim Nordstrom could be the difference.