At some point during the off-season, I will probably do a deeper dive on this mostly to kick it out into the forum for the usual great discussion, today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes an initial look at the Carolina Hurricanes power play.
The unit finished 20th in NHL during the regular season with some sporadic bursts of production but mostly not enough. The power play was one of the team’s biggest Achilles’ heels in the playoffs.
As starting point is pondering whether the issue is talent/personnel, coaching, player underachievement or some combination of all of those.
By my estimation, I would not pin the underperformance on the personnel. The Hurricanes might have the richest group of players for the power play, but I do not think the group so undermanned that better is not possible.
Good penalty kill units seemed capable of regularly stopping the Hurricanes at the point of entry at the blue line. And when the Canes did get possession in the offensive zone, the power play more often than not looked some combination of slow and predictable. Even when the team did net goals, dynamic and crisp were rarely words that I would use to describe the power play.
My two cents is that at the core, the power play struggles stemmed from more than anything from a single problem. The Hurricanes power play failed to put a handful of players with a dynamic element and puck-distributing skills in their game in position to generate offensive chances.
Trigger men in a puck distribution role
The umbrella format usually saw a defenseman (Justin Faulk, Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin) doing the lion’s share of handling the puck in the middle of the rink. I think all three players are largely miscast in that role. Justin Faulk’s best days, impressive ones at that, came in an old school setup with two defensemen up top, the power play mostly run from the half wall and with Faulk as a trigger man and goal scorer. The same is true of Dougie Hamilton. He is most effective on the power play playing without the puck in a receive/shoot role or as a rover capable of finding openings. Jaccob Slavin is maybe not as pure of a shooter as the other two, but he too is more functional than spectacular as a puck-handler on the power play.
And capable puck distributors on islands
Arguably, the two players who most have power play quarterback skills to handle and distribute the puck and make plays to generate high-grade scoring chances would be Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. For the most part they played opposite each other on the two flanks of the up top defenseman. Theoretically, I think the aim was for both to be in a position to handle the puck and also step into shooting areas. That intent did occasionally come true, but more often than not the result was more that the two were isolated. Good penalty kill units identified and took away the passing lane between the two flanks. And because of the lack of movement, that same player could do so in a way that he was also capable of stepping up into the up top defenseman’s shooting lane. Because of the stagnant, station-focused setup too often Aho and Teravainen (or players in the same role on the second unit) were unable to work together. Instead, each seemed to be left to try to create something out of nothing by himself on an island on one side of the ice.
The path to better
I think the single biggest ingredient for improving the power play would be to somehow get capable players in more of a quarterback role up top. As I noted recently in another article, Jake Bean is promising in this regard. Even as a young player, he has shown a knack for more creative play on the payer place that is less predictable and less station-to-station with the puck.
Another possibility could be to try to run the power play through the skilled forwards (i.e. Aho, Teravainen, Svechnikov). The tricky part is trying to figure out how that looks different than the current iteration. I see a couple possibilities. First could be to put two of the skilled puck-handlers on the same side of the ice where they can better work together to move the puck. Though it is not the intent, too often during 2018-19 having the skilled forwards offset on opposite flanks mostly just seemed to put each on his own island.
Finally, more intentional movement by the other players forces the defensive players to move and react. That movement is what can open up passing seams through the box or to between the face-off circles for grade A chances.
I am excited to read others’ viewpoints on how to improve the power play for the 2019-20 season.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Of coaching, personnel and player execution how would you distribute the blame for the Hurricanes’ 2018-19 power play struggles?
2) What changes would you make to try to improve the power play?
3) Would you consider a coaching change and/or additional help?