Welcome to a new segment here at Sunbelt Hockey Journal, “From the Editor’s Desk.” In this space, managing editor Andrew Hirsh will bring his thoughts on the game, along with insight from players, coaches and executives alike.
The Carolina Hurricanes special teams have struggled mightily this season, and if the team wishes to fight it’s way back into the playoffs, both the power play and the penalty kill will have to improve down the stretch.
Heading into Monday’s game in Montreal, the Hurricanes PP ranks 28th in the NHL (13.2 percent), and their PK is good for just 26th (77.2 percent).
“Right now, special teams, we need to improve that,” Dan Ellis told me. “Both the penalty kill and power play … we’re at the bottom of the league in both of them. That’s not going to win you games when you’re at those levels. It’s just not good enough.”
The inefficiency on the man advantage has been particularly baffling. With the kind of offensive talent this team has — the Staal brothers, Alex Semin, Jeff Skinner, etc. — and D-men who can work the points — Justin Faulk and Joni Pitkanen in particular — all the ingredients are there for a successful power play.
But it hasn’t been successful. And with less than a month left in this abbreviated regular season, this needs to be fixed as soon as possible.
So what needs to change?
“We could use a bit more of a north/south game,” Ellis said following a 4-1 loss to the Panthers several weeks ago. “You look at the way Florida executed. They got pucks, they just came with speed, they were flying. They knew what each other were doing. They knew where to go because they knew where the guy was going to put it.”
Added the veteran netminder: “When we execute the system, when we play as a team, when we work as a group, we have success. When we get away from that and we stop working, it doesn’t happen. We ad lib sometimes, and when you do that, you’ve got miscues and you’re not able to generate the momentum you want. Improving our focus is key.”
Defenseman Jay Harrison thinks the team could stand to get more pucks on net and cut down on the number of passes in the offensive zone.
“Even if the shots may not necessarily be quality scoring chances, they generate cycles, they force them to be on the defensive and see what we have,” he said. “In that sense, just a shot from the blue line of a bad angle can lead to more offense.”
Additionally, Harrison believes that while Carolina’s PP and PK haven’t been executing at an acceptable rate, it doesn’t take a whole lot for that to change.
“At this level, special teams are often separated by inches, measured by inches,” the veteran defenseman said. “It’s hard to even put a finger on it. It’s an angle this way, it’s a hard clear down the ends instead of up the center of the ice.
“We’ve tightened up a few things. We aren’t far off.”