“Quality vs. Quantity”

With the Hurricanes road to the playoffs being such a trek, just making the final cut felt like a huge accomplishment. It looked like the playoff drought was going to reach year 10 just a few months ago and since New Year’s Eve, the Canes fought an uphill battle to get themselves back in contention and put an exclamation point on it by ending the drought. A fanbase that desperately needed a jolt in the arm is rejuvenated again and there’s a reason to be excited about Hurricanes hockey.

That said, expectations for their upcoming series against the Washington Capitals are pretty tempered. Realism starts to set in when you go on a 30-12-2 run in the second half of the season and still only make it as a wild card team and end up facing the defending Stanley Cup champions to boot. I can’t speak for the entire fanbase, but most fans I’ve talked to are just happy to see playoff hockey again after watching admirably from afar from almost a decade. Although, there are some who would like to see them carry this stretch of play into the post-season since we have no idea what will happen next year. Still, this fanbase just wanted a winning team to cheer for again and they’ve gotten that now.

With that out of the way, let’s get down to business. Do the Hurricanes in this series? If you want to be blunt, yes. Any team has a chance in this post-season, unless you’re facing Tampa Bay (shoutout for not mailing in Game 82). All it takes is a goalie playing out of his mind for a series to completely turn the tables and Mrazek is showing that he might be able to steal a couple games for them. Beyond that, this matchup is closer than your typical wild card vs. conference winner series. It’s also one of the more interesting matchups to keep an eye on because it’s a real battle of quality vs. quantity in terms of how they play at even strength. 

I know, it seems silly to call this a close matchup. Washington won the season series, they’re coming off a Stanley Cup win, Carolina is inexperienced with a rookie head coach, they haven’t had a true “starting” goalie all season and you would go through three Washington forwards before you get to the best Carolina player. Why would anyone give the Canes a chance? Again, it mostly comes back to five-on-five play and who can get to their games first. Carolina has built their reputation on being a dominant team at even strength, running an aggressive forecheck and piling up a lot of shots on a nightly basis. It’s been their bread-and-butter for years, but the team has amplified this approach since Rod Brind’Amour took over as head coach. Carolina is averaging about 64 shot attempts per 60 minutes during five-on-five play and owning 54-percent of the attempts. Better finishing (thanks for Nino, Minnesota) and a solid run of play from the goalie tandem of Mrazek and McElhinney has yielded more wins.

Washington, on the other hand, has struggled to carry the play at five-on-five for most of the year although they have improved, ranking as a top-ten team in Corsi For-percentage team since the trade deadline. They also have out-performed their Expected Goals rate according to Evolving Hockey’s model, averaging over three goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five. They’re an interesting team because they have a group of high-end players who could out-perform their expected results and it only takes or two breakdowns from Carolina for them to cash in. With a 4-7 game series, that’s all you need sometimes and it doesn’t help that they’re backed by a lethal power play with Ovechkin standing in the left faceoff circle waiting for one-timers until the league decides isn’t allowed to that anymore.

Factoring in all of that, this series could definitely go either way but I can see why someone might give the edge to Washington. Sure, they might get “outplayed” but they’re a team that can make the most of the few chances they get. It’s how the Penguins beat them two years ago. They’ve also been playing better the past month even if Carolina is the stronger five-on-five team. On the other hand, Carolina has started to see some rewards for controlling the shot clock and I could see them frustrating Washington with a couple of goals off turnovers. There’s also the goalie factor but past playoffs should tell you not to predict these things.

Forecheck vs. Counter-Attack

The main thing to watch for this series is how each team controls play. Washington is more talented, but their mindsets aren’t that different. Carolina’s made a habit of being a fast, physical team that uses their forecheck to win pucks and create favorable matchups in front of the net. Washington is also a pretty physical team, albeit much more skilled and they prefer to attack off the rush.

Entries vs. Exits (1)

What we’re looking at here is how often each team enters & exits the zone with control of the puck. Ideally, you’d like to see your team in the upper right quadrant where Washington is but there are teams that still make their living through dump-and-chase play. In the 25 games I’ve tracked for Carolina, they fall into that category. What’s interesting is that it’s mostly by design because they aren’t having any problems exiting the zone with control, they are just more reliant on their forecheck to create chances rather than attacking off the rush.

Does this play into their favor against Washington? In theory, yes. The Caps are a team that doesn’t like dumping the puck out of the zone and looks for that one extra play to get the puck up the ice with speed. They are pretty good at this, as they can stretch the ice out if they need to but their forwards will come back to help carry the puck or lead a shorter breakout. One of their favorite things to do is make diagonal passes across the neutral zone and have one of their forwards skate the puck in while beating the next layer of the forecheck.

5v5 Defense Exits vs. Turnovers (10)

Washington has a few defensemen who are suspect to turning the puck over, so Carolina might be able to expose them here if they get to their forecheck. With what we know about failed exits leading to goals against, this could be where Carolina makes their mark in this series. It’s easy to breakdown a team’s structure if they’re constantly under duress and this is has been Carolina’s goal with how they’ve played this year.

Dashboard 1 (10)

The forecheck has been a team-wide strength for this Canes team and it shows in how they’ve defended breakouts this year. Every forward on the team is above the league average in how often they apply pressure when the other team is exiting the zone. It doesn’t always force a turnover or a clear, but the process is there. It’s been a strength of this team even when they carry the puck in. Carolina was able to frustrate the Caps early in their first game last month with this.

forecheck

This is a dump-in off a line change and Aho is the first forechecker. He forces the Caps to reverse the play and quickly follows the puck to the other side of the ice while Nino Niederreiter follows him. Washington tries to counter this by going across the ice but Williams is there as the high forward to intercept the pass. They can then get to their 2-1-2 forecheck with Aho & Williams forcing a turnover from behind the goal-line. This could lead to a decent chance with better execution, but everything up to that was on point.

Now, there are a few things worth pointing out here. First, the Hurricanes obviously lost this game. Second, the Capitals are prone to turning the puck over but they’re also one of the best teams in the league at breakouts. If you look at the zone exit chart I posted earlier, you’ll see that most of their defense is above the league average at exiting the zone with control, the notable exception being Brooks Orpik. Some players like Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen have fallen off this year, but they’ve played the Hurricanes enough that they probably know how to deal with their forecheck. Washington made some notable adjustments in this game.

Being aggressive has its advantages, but it’s also a risk when you’re dealing with a team that has some high-end skill like Washington. Most of their defense is experienced and can make that first pass even if they’re under duress and once they beat the first wave of the forecheck, they can attack off the rush more freely because the neutral zone is more open. This is especially true when you’re facing a team like the Hurricanes who give their defensemen more freedom to join the attack.

HIGH FORWARD

Dougie Hamilton actives from the blue line and tries to create a chance off a rebound. Carolina is being kind of risky here because there’s no high forward covering the point for him and they are banking on either one of their guys scoring on the rebound, or that one of the forwards will be able to get back before things go awry. Once the play dies, Tom Wilson flies the zone and the one forward high in the zone for the Canes does his best to run some legal interference on Ovechkin. It doesn’t work and the Capitals get a 2-on-1 break with Andrei Svechnikov trying his hardest to get back into the play.

If there is anything that can cause a game to slip away from the Canes, it’s things like this and you can look at it from a couple angles. First, they had a defenseman pinch with the high forward not doing a good enough job to cover his point. Second, all the pinching defenseman did was send a soft backhander off the goaltender in hopes that they could score off the rebound. It’s something that has worked for them at times this year, as illustrated in Micah Blake McCurdy’s series preview, but there is a lot more Hamilton could do here besides send a backhander off the goalie. Maybe have him circle the net more and look for a pass instead? Inefficient offense is something that has plagued Carolina for years and while it has gotten better this year, you still see some bad habits creep in, especially when the Canes are trailing.

When the Canes get to their game, however, they tend to play a little smarter in the offensive zone. Hamilton, in particular, is an interesting case because there are games where he dominates and is the best player on the ice for either team. He’s a perfect defensemen for how this Canes team wants to play because he takes a lot of risks and is usually the first one back in the play if he makes a mistake that leads to a rush the other way. Mistakes don’t appear to bother him and when he is on, Carolina can compete with any team.

hamilton entry

This is using the forecheck to create a more dangerous chance. Hamilton immediately joined the rush once the Hurricanes won the faceoff and made a play at the line to create the initial entry. Williams and Aho took over after that, but Hamilton gave them some favorable numbers at the blue line and created the entry in the first place. It’s a decent example of how a back can contribute to transitional play even if he’s not the one breaking the puck out.

The other way Carolina has involved their defense on the forecheck is moving the puck low-to-high to create more space in front of the net. Low-to-high plays (i.e point shots) are not an efficient way to go about business if you’re looking to score, but Carolina has had trouble creating passing lanes from behind the net and across the slot, so they’ve had to look for other ways to open up space. One way to do this is moving the puck to the center up the ice up high and having the defense activate to potentially get to the rebound.

pesce

With the Caps playing a man-to-man defense, moving the puck around quickly like this can break down their coverage and Brett Pesce does a great job here of trying to break free. Nicklas Backstrom stays with him the entire way and is able to disrupt the chance, but the design here wasn’t a bad idea. Also shows the advantage of Pesce playing on his off-side with Faulk, as it’s a more dangerous chance for him coming from that angle. Ideally, you want the Caps to start noticing this more and hopefully that opens up some more passing lanes lower in the zone, especially from behind the net. Hockey is such a read-and-react game that this might get lost, but maybe the coaches pick this up and the Hurricanes can start to create more dangerous chances once Washington starts to cheat towards the defense.

System Breakers

What makes Washington a dangerous matchup is they have some players that I like to call “system breakers.” Basically, it’s another word for a superstar talent who can change the complexion of the game with just one shift. Ovechkin on the power play is the obvious one, but the guy I want to talk about here is Evgeny Kuznetsov. He has 72 points but by some metrics, he isn’t having a great season. He’s a negative possession player and is having a dreadful season defensively going by Evolving Wild’s RAPM metric. However, he has been a thorn in Carolina’s side this season and he is capable of making a play or two that could put the Hurricanes in a hole. This is especially true when you consider his playmaking ability.

kuznetsov passes

High danger passes are passes from behind the goal line or a pass that traveled across the slot. Kuznetsov is one of the best players in the league at completing those plays and it’s something the Hurricanes need to be conscious of. I mentioned earlier that the Caps are a team that might be able to outperform their Expected Goals rate and Kuznetsov exemplifies that. He is one of those players who might be getting hemmed in for an entire game but it only takes him getting one shift where he breaks free for him to change the outcome of the game. Carolina found this out the hard way in their first matchup where he found TJ Oshie for a beautiful cross-ice pass to put the Caps up 1-0 and more recently in the rematch at home.

vrana

Here’s what the Caps breakout looks like at its most dangerous. Kuznetsov beats the first wave of the forecheck and notices how the Canes flood his side of the ice in hopes of shutting the play down before he can get any speed going. He can’t move the play north himself, but he makes a little cut to the left and finds Jakub Vrana with a major step on Micheal Ferland, who burns him for a quick goal. Carolina took a risk by having two defensemen go to Kuznetsov’s side of the ice in hopes that Ferland would be able to cover whoever is coming down the left wing. He got caught flat footed for one second and the Caps tie the game.

Elite talent can breakdown the best of structures and this is going to be a going concern for the Hurricanes unless they can match the Capitals speed. They’re fast enough to where they can probably match them on a lot of shifts, but it just takes one mistake to change the series. Carolina is such a solid team that I think they can control the majority of these games, but it will depend on how they handle the Capitals speed when they start to get on the attack.

Capitals Entries vs. Canes Defense

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Carolina’s top-four has been pretty good at matching the skating of top-end talents that they can keep them to the outside even if they concede the blue line, but you wish Calvin de Haan was healthy to give you some extra stability there. Washington has been one of the top teams in the league at completing passing plays after carrying the puck in, so they’re not going to waste a lot of their possessions. To counter this, Carolina’s defense is one of the best at forcing teams to dump the puck in and shutting down passing lanes after allowing carry-ins, so it will be interesting to see who wins that battle.

Will an upset happen?

Yes, but Carolina needs to take one of the first two games in Washington. It depends if they can get to their forecheck and not allow one or two mistakes to burn them, which was a problem earlier in the season. They also can’t be afraid of being aggressive even if a mistake happens because that’s how they’ve had success this year. It’s a pretty cool matchup to watch because you have two teams that are going to thrive off mistakes. Carolina is waiting for Washington to turn the puck over while the Caps are waiting for an opening when Carolina gets too aggressive. The Caps have owned the matchup this year, but it’s a different game now. Very excited to see how this series goes.

Zone entry, passing & exits stats were tracked as part of the All Three Zones Project. Tableau can be found here

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Breaking the hex

The Carolina Hurricanes are going to the playoffs!

I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t a major accomplishment. It’s the bare minimum for a good team in a league where half the teams make it. It’s been a decade since the Hurricanes were one of those teams. There was an overwhelming feeling of relief among everyone in the fanbase when Nino Niederreiter scored late in the third period to put the Canes ahead 3-1 and effectively get them in the post-season, because it’s been the other way for so many years.

It’s weird to say this about a team that has won a Cup since the lockout, but if you’re like me and were too young or not a huge hockey fan at that time, most of what you know about the Hurricanes is disappointment. There was always one thing or another that would go wrong in years where it looked make it as a wild card team and I can’t blame fans who were waiting for the other shoe to drop while the Canes went on this incredible run. You can only get burned so many times.

What made this year in particular so cathartic is that even some of the more patient fans were reaching their breaking point. I don’t want to speak on behalf of everyone since I’m outside of the market, but another year of an offense that struggled to score two goals a game backed by weak goaltending was the last thing anyone wanted, because we had all seen that movie before and the ending always sucked. I definitely had to ask myself a few times if being a fan was worth the headache.

I’ve kind of made a small career for myself as a hockey analyst, but I’ve always stayed a fan and started being more vocal on social media when the team was bad. I took it a little too far sometimes, calling them the worst team in the league on multiple occasions, but it was honestly draining to be a fan of the Hurricanes around December. After an off-season where they were hockey media and stat twitter’s punching bag, tuning in to see the same anemic offense again just seemed like a waste of time. All while Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm are scoring a million goals with their new teams. I got to see them play the Caps a little after Christmas and Washington looked like they were in a different league than Carolina. You had a team with Brock McGinn on their first line matching up against three 20+ goal scorers and the game was just as one-sided as you could imagine.

I was pretty vocal about my frustration with the team even after they started winning in January and it got to the point where a few people had to reach out to me to tell me to knock it off. Some said that I should just stop investing in something that I hate while others felt like they had to remind me that I have a good thing going on with my tracking projects and being a fan is kind of frowned upon in the business. A few people felt the need to bring up my mental health because well, that’s the Internet. I didn’t think much of it because being irrational is what being a fan is about and I wasn’t saying anything else in the fanbase wasn’t saying or thinking. It was almost like I had to apologize for being a fan because I also work as an analyst. Calling them the worst team in the league might have been out of bounds, but most of what I said is out of legit frustration unless it’s obviously sarcastic.

I consider myself a fan of a few teams, but the Canes were always the team I allowed myself to openly root for and I never had a problem with it. That said, I had to dial things back after watching them live because it was clear that this team had a dire lack of talent (one of their top prospects was on the roster that night) and that screaming into the void about the same thing every night didn’t really help. I almost wanted to tell the fans who were still sticking around to just stop watching because it was just Groundhog Day over and over again.

Then January happened. They started rattling off wins, we rallied around Greg McKegg leading us to victories, Curtis McElhinney looking like a starting goalie and the team somehow going on a winning streak without Jordan Staal. It was ridiculous, but it was at least fun to watch every night.

Soon after, they added Nino Niederreiter, which inexplicably only cost them Victor Rask and just like that, this team had a roster that looked like it could compete for a wild card spot. Unfortunately, they were so far out of the race that it looked like a long shot, but this was an important trade because it earned the confidence of the fanbase. Same with extending Teuvo Teravainen. Everyone could understand if this team came up short, but the team had some traction going with a forward corps that was completely undermanned and the front office making this trade showed that they were willing to reward a team that had worked their asses off just get back into playoff contention. They got a little lucky with Nino producing right off the hop, but he was exactly what the team needed at the time.

From then on, things kind of took off. They were winning 7 out of 10 games for two straight months, finally winning a damn game at Madison Square Garden and gaining some attention with the Storm Surge celebrations. Mostly because every Hockey Man felt the need to chime in on it whenever they had the platform, but the team did an incredible job of just feeding of the criticism and working it in their favor. The fanbase loved it and suddenly, they had earned back a lot of the goodwill they lost over the past decade. I see how excited people are to go to games again and how there’s a real buzz around this team again and it makes me incredibly happy even though I’m halfway across the country.

What’s mind-blowing is how different things were just four months ago and I think about what has changed since. They don’t play that differently from how they did at the beginning of the year. Maybe I didn’t give the team enough credit for moves that were made before the year. They aren’t in a playoff spot now if they don’t trade for Dougie Hamilton, drafting Andrei Svechnikov second overall, bringing in Mrazek in the first place wasn’t exactly seen as a great move and they only claimed McElhinney off waivers because Scott Darling got injured in the last game of the preseason. There’s also hiring Rod Brind’Amour as head coach, which seemed to have a positive impact even if I don’t always agree with the tactical decisions.

The player deployment is different and Nino was a huge addition but if Petr Mrazek doesn’t play out of this world the past two months, am I writing a different post now? It’s tough to say, but I guess this year shows how much of a ride one season can be. It’s a sport where one bounce here or there can determine the outcome, so things can seem worse or better than they actually are that times. Perhaps that something I need to remind myself of next time I want to put the team on blast for losing.

Either way, I’m glad that I decided to stick around for this season and can’t wait to see PNC Arena in a couple weeks. Let’s hope that days like this will be normal in future seasons.

 

The losing cycle

A few weeks ago, I said I needed a break from the Hurricanes. So here I am again writing about the Hurricanes. There’s been a lot that has gone down since then, though. After doing nothing at the trade deadline, the team decided to “promote” Ron Francis to Director Of Hockey Operations and will find a new GM in the off-season. Some fans were happy to see some form of change while others weren’t happy. I can sympathize with both viewpoints. The Canes have been spinning their wheels for years now and it’s easy to see why fans want a change with the new owner in town. They got it on one level, even if some don’t agree with it.

That brings us to the next phase, which is deciding what to do with Bill Peters. His timeline is similar to Francis in that fans were on-board with what he was selling for the first few seasons. He wasn’t afraid to scratch players who were higher in the lienup, he had the Hurricanes competing with poor rosters every night and it looked like they were building something with him. Four years have gone by and now the honeymoon is over. The Hurricanes still haven’t made the playoffs under his tenure and the coach is usually one of the first guys to go in this spot.

I have kind of a cynical view on coaching because even on good teams, there always seems to be one, two or twelve things coaches do that annoy the hell out of fans. There’s also a lot that we don’t get to see outside of just systems and lineup decisions. How are they getting their teams prepared? What are they teaching players? etc. Peters has the reputation of being a good coach in some of these aspects. The Hurricanes are consistently one of the top teams in the league at out-shooting their opponents and fans of other teams think pretty highly of him. Watch a Hurricanes game or two on the opposing broadcast and you’ll nothing but nice things about how good Carolina’s breakouts are, how structured their game is and how talented their defensemen are. Hockey nerds love the Hurricanes, it’s true. I’m one of them.

Then there’s the other side of it. Peters has a 131-131-53 record, making his points percentage 6th worst in the league among active head coaches. You can do a lot of good things but if you consistently fail to get results, does the process matter that much? Also how much of it is on the coach? Everybody knows the Hurricanes have two major weak spots. They’re a bad finishing team (ranking in the bottom-10 in shooting percentage again) and their goaltending stinks. These are two problems that have been around years before Peters came to town, so I’m willing to give him some leeway here. Cam Ward’s .910 save percentage in 54 games in 2014-15 was the best goaltending he’s ever gotten and that’s not even league average, so he’s already found himself behind the eight-ball there. The old saying is that if you want to evaluate a coach, just look at how his goalies have played and there’s your answer. The Hurricanes goaltending issues speak for themselves here. There’s an argument that Peters system hurts the goalies but I haven’t really seen a study or proof of it. I’d love to see some further work here, because it could explain some things.

THAT BEING SAID, there’s some blame to go around here. Cam Ward has not been a starting caliber goalie since 2011 and he has gotten a starters workload in every year that Peters has been the head coach. If they had better goalies on the roster, I’m sure this would have never been an issue, but there has been a disturbing timeline with how the goaltending has been handled in Carolina. Anton Khudobin gave the Hurricanes one of the best goalie seasons they’ve ever had in 2013-14 and started the next year as a back-up. He didn’t post great numbers in his first four starts and it took him 14 days to even get another shot. It took him until around January for him to get consistent playing time and he ended up having a sub-par season. He was then traded for Eddie Lack.

It was uncertain if the Hurricanes brought in Lack to be the back-up or spell Ward in a 1 A/B role, but he started the year on the bench had a bad first few games and couldn’t get any starts until December. Last season is a bit of a write-off because of the two concussions, but he couldn’t get consistent playing time even when he was healthy and then there was the whole “make a fucking save” rant which honestly pissed me off more than any lineup decision Peters has ever made. Even if that rant was out of character, it really made me think less of him as a coach. If only because berating your back-up goalie in front of the media when he’s only five games removed from a second concussion doesn’t exactly help anyone. Frustration gets the best of everyone sometimes, but whatever. I wasn’t a fan.

Then you have the finishing problems and a lot of it can be traced back to the talent on the roster. Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Jeff Skinner are guys who you can count on for 20 goals and aside from that, the Canes are kind of scraping the bottom. Drafting is the best way to get top-end talent and the Hurricanes haven’t gotten much from here in their history and most of their recent picks are too young to help right now. Every team has a lot of whiffs and sometimes it only takes one or two home runs to turn your franchise around (just look at the LA Kings drafting history). Either way, there’s an argument that Peters hasn’t been given the talent you need to succeed. It’s a fair point, but should they be so bad that they’re consistently shooting at 7-percent? This goes back to the possible “system issues” that I see thrown around all the time and would love to take a closer look at.

It’s also a little annoying to keep seeing how the Hurricanes don’t have the talent to be a “playoff team” when the bar to get in the playoffs really isn’t that high, especially this season. The Metro Division has been painfully mediocre this year and all the Hurricanes had to do is be 5th best out of that bunch, which isn’t saying a lot and they’re struggling to get even to that mark is troubling. This is why fans have been harder on the coaching staff this year and picking apart some of his decisions like playing Jeff Skinner lower in the lineup with guys who can’t get him the puck, giving Derek Ryan top-nine minutes when he has eight points since January and giving Joakim Nordstrom any ice-time at all when Alex Nedeljkovic has outscored him in Charlotte.

They’re all decisions around the edges that add up over time and hurt more when you can’t get a save and average only two goals per game. Replace him with Coach X and he might end up doing the same thing, or he’ll fix one thing and do something else that’s not optimal. It become a case of “he isn’t the only problem, but he isn’t helping.” Which is the argument you’re left with when your team isn’t very good to begin with.

There’s some what-if games you can play with the Hurricanes. Like, I wonder how many more games they would win with .925 goaltending for one season if a goalie is even capable of doing that in Carolina. Would we be having this same discussion or would they be just barely making the playoffs instead of sitting six points out? Would the season be a “success” then? I don’t know. The reality is that the team isn’t in a good spot at this moment and all Tom Dundon has seen is a team that has found different ways to lose and look horrible in the process. So it’s easy to see why they would want some new faces in the building.

I wanted Peters to succeed in Carolina and I’m sure he’ll be a good coach somewhere, but there comes a point where something needs to change if you don’t get results. The constant meltdowns, poor starts and no-shows when the team is on the cusp of making a push don’t exactly reflect well on him either but again, this happened when Kirk Muller was the head coach too. Remember April 2013? I have some time for the argument of getting him a better roster and there’s room to do that. The Hurricanes will have a new boss and loads of cap space. I can also understand wanting a new guy coaching the team because they haven’t been able to win under Peters’ leadership. I’ve also followed the NHL long enough to know that there’s only so much GMs are willing to do in an off-season and a coaching change is the easiest thing you can do. Will that guy end up being better than Peters? He could be! We really have no idea and as Hurricanes fans, we should be prepared for the worst regardless of what they do.

Trusting the Process

The trade deadline is on Monday and the Hurricanes are about where most people expected them to be. They’re a bubble playoff team. Not quite there yet but they can make the playoffs if they finish the year strong. Everything is going to plan. There’s no reason to panic.

Except we’ve seen this movie before.

This is what the Hurricanes do. They always stay close enough to the playoff picture and look like a team that is on the rise. Then they lose a tough game (usually to a division rival) and that sets off a chain of suck. One loss turns into two, then three, then four, then five and the next thing you know, they’ve won two out of their last 10 games and are virtually eliminated from playoff contention. It happened in 2013 when they won a total of eight games in March and April combined, it happened last year when they lost 14 out of 18 games in January and Feburary and they are continuing that trend this year.

The Hurricanes have lost five games in a row (eight out of the last 12) and haven’t won a divisional game since January 11th. The most frustrating part about it isn’t the losing, though. It’s the fact that they haven’t looked remotely competitive in any of these games. They’ve looked disinterested, lazy and have played some truly pathetic hockey. It’s the brand of “Hurricanes hockey” that most people know. Anemic offense, refusal to go to net to score, terrible goaltending and a team that flat out doesn’t win. Last night’s 3-1 loss against the Red Wings was a prime example of it. They started off well, gave up a goal and looked disinterested for the rest of the game.

They’re a frustrating team to root for because they do a lot of the “right” things. They’re trying to build through the draft, they’ve made some smart trades and they don’t get involved in a lot of the desperate panic trades/signings that happen every year. It’s all well and good until you look at the results and see that this team is exactly where they started eight years ago. They’re a 9th-13th place team that NEEDS almost everything to break their way to even sniff a wild card spot.

With that, you have a fanbase that’s apathetic and generally losing interest. This process has been building for years, as Red Seat Night at the PNC Arena has been a common theme for awhile, and it’s reached the tip of the iceberg this year. It’s not fun to watch games even when the team wins because everyone’s just going to be snapping at each other over how Derek Ryan is bad or about how Cam Ward let in another goal high-glove side or how the wrong player was called up from Charlotte or the million other things that seem to set everyone off now. This isn’t even getting to the people who bombard your mentions with their 20 step rebuild plan for the Canes that you absolutely do not care about. Either way, I had enough of it years ago and it’s probably my main desire to see the team win again.

The fanbase is toxic and pessimistic because the team gives them no real reason to think otherwise. When you’re out of the playoffs every year and constantly hear the message of “we like our group” then yes, your fanbase has a reason to be cynical maybe not trust the process anymore. The new owner has talked about not wanting to be patient and while that’s nice to hear, who knows how much of a say he has on hockey operations or if he will change anything. I want to believe that he won’t stay complacent with how the team has performed since he took over, but I’ve also seen this movie before and the ending always sucks.

I started watching hockey because it was a fun sport to follow and escape from general stresses. I used to be able to have a good time watching a game even if the Canes lost but somewhere along the line, watching this team became super stressful. Not sue if it’s the constant losing, the bullshit relocation rumors, getting into arguments everyday when I ran Shutdown Line or just becoming jaded, but watching this team isn’t enjoyable anymore. I want to be around for when (if?) this team ever turns the corner but at the same time, I’m just tired of caring about them and getting upset over nothing every other day or how often it is the Hurricanes play now.

I feel silly writing this because at the end of the day, it’s something I don’t have any control over and no one is forcing me to be a fan of a team that does nothing but frustrate the living hell out of me. There’s still people on the Hurricanes who I want to see succeed and they would need to something really stupid to get me to stop rooting for them, but there comes a time where you just need to step away and take a break.

Mine probably should have happened a long time ago with all of the other stuff I’m doing now, but I still watch almost every Hurricanes game and try to stay optimistic even when shit is bad. It’s just tough to do that now and barring something interesting happening at the deadline, I’m going to need to take a step back for the rest of the year. I don’t know if that makes me a bad fan or whatever, but following this team is a chore and it shouldn’t be that way.

Montreal Dump Truck

There were a few things to note in the Rangers 1-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Tanner Glass scored the only goal of the game, Henrik Lundqvist got his 10th career playoff shutout but the main story was how well the Rangers played defensively. New York has rightfully taken a lot of criticism for their defensive play this year but you wouldn’t know it from watching this game, as they limited the Canadiens to only nine scoring chances at even strength. They also found themselves on the right end of the possession game, outshooting Montreal 49-45 (in attempts).

It was a little surprising to watch because the Rangers have been a pretty weak team at controlling the shot clock this year, especially compared to Montreal. They’ve had a tendency to get hemmed in the defensive zone & relying on the counter-attack for their offense. It’s a tough way to play, but this is what the Rangers have lived and died by over the last couple of seasons. Well, that and their goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, who is coming off a down season but is still one of the best in the league.

Wednesday night, however, was a different story. The Rangers relied on their defense to carry them through most of the game & weren’t getting many chances off the rush. In fact, most of the offensive they did create were off shifts with sustained pressure, which has not been the norm for them this year.  What contributed to this? Well, some of it was what the Habs didn’t do, especially in the neutral zone.

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