After missing the playoffs for five consecutive seasons, the Carolina Hurricanes are obviously in need of changes. This offseason, the Hurricanes had Jim Rutherford step down as general manager and hired Ron Francis. They also fired head coach, Kirk Muller, and hired former Detroit Red Wing assistant coach, Bill Peters. However, not many player changes were made, as the Canes kept relatively quiet during the free agency period and expressed confidence in their current roster. Players and coaches aside, I think the most important and needed fix is on the power play.
The Carolina Hurricanes have struggled tremendously with their power play since 2006, when they won the Stanley Cup and led the NHL in playoff power play goals. In the 8 years since, the Canes power play has all but disappeared; each year, they manage to consistently end up in the bottom 10 of the league in power play goals and conversion percentages. This past season, the Carolina Hurricanes only scored on 14.6% of their power plays and finished in the bottom 3 of the NHL with the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres; ironically, two other teams with some of the worst records in the NHL last year. There is no excuse to be this bad with good offensive players such as Jeff Skinner, Alex Semin, Eric and Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm, and Justin Faulk.
A lot has changed since 2006. The coaching staff is completely different, team management has shuffled around, and player personnel is almost 100% new. It’s hard to believe, though, that the Hurricanes power play could go from elite to ridiculously painful to watch. It’s not rocket science; numerous teams have been able to sustain top 10 power play statistics over the past few seasons (see Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks). So what is the cause for the lack of success with the Hurricanes power play? Glad you asked.
Obviously, there is no one correct answer, but I believe it is mainly due to the coaching strategy and lack of player experience.
Peter Laviolette had a very simple, but effective system. He wasn’t just about dump and chase, but his strategy would rely on cycling the puck in the offensive zone, quick passes, getting the puck to the net, and driving for rebounds. Since then, Paul Maurice and Kirk Muller have deployed systems that rely too much on dump and chase and not enough on possession play. On the power play in previous seasons where the Hurricanes struggle, passes are sloppy, decisions are made too slowly, and bodies are not in front of the net when a shot gets through. In addition to poor strategy, the lack of success can be contributed to the players put on the power play. No offense, but when guys like Chad LaRose, Jay Harrison, and Drayson Bowman are on your power play, your just not going to be very effective.
The Hurricanes need bodies in front of the net. Quick passes from point to point and along the sideboards will create shooting lanes, but it’s up to the players to screen the goalie and crash the net for rebounds. If you can’t win battles in the offensive zone with one more player than the opponent, your not going to score. I do think Bill Peters would be wise to go back to a 4 forward, 1 defenseman power play unit. I’d recommend Andrej Sekera and Alex Semin on the point with Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, and Eric Staal up front on the first unit. Ultimately, it comes down to the Canes believing in the coaching system and executing with energy. When the players are not on the same page as the coaches, indecisiveness is the result.
Furthermore, I think a lack of experience contributes to their power play struggles as well. Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, and Ryan Murphy are three of the Canes best power play players. Unfortunately, it’s hard to develop a power play system and earn success with such young and inexperienced guys. They all make mistakes and poor decisions; it’s part of the learning curve as a rookie. In 2006, the Canes power play consisted of veteran leaders with a great ability to pass the puck and make crafty plays; Veteran players such as Ray Whitney, Doug Weight, Mark Recchi, Rod Brind’amour, Cory Stillman, Matt Cullen, and Frank Kaberle. These players knew how to take advantage of the power play and dictate in the offensive zone. They knew what they were doing with the puck before they received it. This ability takes time, but it’s not something the Canes’ current young roster possesses just yet.
I pray that Bill Peters can implement a new power play system with more net drive and fluid movement. Improvements on the man-advantage start with every player buying into the new system. I hope the Canes will eventually acquire a veteran power play forward too(not John-Michael Liles or Marc-Andre Bergeron), as I think a Ray Whitney-type player would not only improve the power play, but also mentor the younger guys. It may take time, but the Canes contain the players to have a great NHL power play. If they want any chance at making the 2014 NHL playoffs, the Hurricanes are going to have to turn back the page and recapture the 2006 magic.