Special Teams on the Rise

Sunday, 10.16.2011 / 2:41 PM / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Special Teams on the Rise

The Carolina Hurricanes are on a two-game winning streak. Perhaps not coincidentally, their special teams play has also been on the upswing in the last two games.

Michael Smith
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This was most noticeable Friday night in Buffalo when the Canes killed off all six of their penalties, scored two shorthanded goals and netted a game-winning power play goal in the final two minutes. There was also production off the scoresheet – Jay Harrison’s first period goal came right as Tyler Myers stepped out of the penalty box (essentially a power play goal), and Brandon Sutter and Eric Staal both had quality, odd-man shorthanded chances in the third period.

Against Boston in Raleigh, the Canes scored a power play goal and killed off all five man-advantage chances for the Bruins.

“What I like is that there is a good structure to it,” head coach Paul Maurice said of the penalty kill, which is now 11-for-11 through two games. “The players seem to understand that if we’re going to get beat, it’s going to be off a stick deflection or something around the front of the net, not a guy wide-open off the back door or a misread.”

Friday night also showed an offensive upside to the kill, when the Canes’ aggressive style created numerous odd-man chances.

“We changed our structure of how we’re doing [the penalty kill] this year,” Maurice said. “And then we made a change before the Boston game to give us the opportunity to be more aggressive, and I think it worked.”

The coaching staff has also recently adjusted the look of their power play, putting Jussi Jokinen on the top unit and inserting Jamie McBain on the second unit.

The result is two completely different approaches that the Canes can throw at opposing teams. The first unit features a lot of good shooters and relies more on finesse. The second unit creates chaos in front of the net with big bodies.

“I think we try to implement a lot more of our 5-on-5 game to a 5-on-4 situation,” Harrison said of the second unit. “We’ve got big bodies out there, and we create scramble situations. It’s a different look, but it can be effective as well.”

It was effective Friday night when Harrison fired a wrist shot towards the net that went top shelf, through screens in front of Ryan Miller.

“It’s something we talk about all the time whether things are good or bad – good things happen when you shoot the puck,” Harrison said. “That’s our mentality – a shot first, especially with me back there. That’s one of my strengths. If you have a lane and you’ve got guys in front, there’s a good chance that something is going to be created from it.”

Having Jokinen on the first unit pairs him up with players he’s had success and chemistry playing with in the past, Joni Pitkanen being one of them. Jokinen can also thread the needle, as seen on Friday night when he found Jeff Skinner for the game-winning goal.

“It’s kind of role utilization,” Maurice said. “Those are five of our most skilled guys, and they just move off each other really well.”

Success breeds confidence, and after two games of solid special teams performances and wins, the Canes should be feeling pretty good heading into the final three games of their road trip.

ROSTER NOTES
  • Zac Dalpe is officially week-to-week with a lower-body injury. Maurice said that a forward would be recalled today from Charlotte after the Checkers’ game wraps up.
  • The Canes have a back-to-back set coming up as they face the Blues in St. Louis on Friday and then travel up to Winnipeg for a Saturday night tilt. Last season, Cam Ward might have played in both games, especially considering the days off between Tuesday's game in Boston and the Friday game in St. Louis. Maurice shed some light on what we might see goaltending-wise ahead: “We have a lot of confidence in [Boucher], and I think you’ll see him sooner rather than later.”

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