Mimicking a game-situation power play can be hard to do in practice, for various reasons – the defense knows generally what to expect, there isn’t that competitive edge that a true opponent can bring and perhaps most importantly, no one wants to get hurt.
Despite these limitations, the Carolina Hurricanes’ first power play unit – Jussi Jokinen
, Eric Staal
, Jeff Skinner
, Joni Pikanen and Jamie McBain
/Tomas Kaberle – spent the last bit of today’s practice diagramming and running 5-on-3 situations.
“Mostly conceptual stuff,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “It’s very difficult to practice your 5-on-3 because you want those defensemen shooting, a lot of times high, to score, and goaltenders don’t enjoy that quite as much.”
When the power play brain trust convened to chat strategy, Jokinen did a lot of the talking and motioning. Staal was listening intently, nodding his head. Maurice and Rod Brind’Amour were also taking it in.
“There’s always somebody working the puck and you’re working plays, but we don’t care what side it comes off of whether it’s Skinner or Jokinen,” Maurice said. “We’re looking for two or three things to happen as quickly as possible for the shot. Pretty simple.”
Simple enough, but the execution has been lacking recently. The Canes have scored just two goals in 7:42 of 5-on-3 time this season. Statistically, that’s good for a 33 percent conversion rate (2-for-6), but they know they can be better.
In 4-on-3 situations, the Canes are 0-for-3, spending 3:48 (ranked second in the league) on those thus far in the season.
“I think we really like our 5-on-4. Lots of good stuff going on there,” Jokinen said. “But then, 4-on-3 and 5-on-3, I think we can do a better job.”
In pointing out struggles with the power play, Jokinen singled out two opportunities – a 4-on-3 chance in St. Louis and a 5-on-3 chance in Winnipeg – that were costly.
The 4-on-3 in St. Louis came just 16 seconds into overtime. Less than a minute after the Canes failed to convert on that power play, Matt D'Agostini scored to seal the victory for St. Louis.
The two-man advantage in Winnipeg came with about six minutes remaining in the game with the Canes pressing but still down 5-3. Not scoring on that power play, or the 5-on-4 chance following it, took the wind out of the Canes’ comeback sail.
“I think the main thing is all five guys knowing what we’re trying to do, that we’re all on the same page. So that’s what we tried to do today,” Jokinen said.
“I think we’re just trying to get on the same page,” Skinner said. “You get out there in different situations in the game, and sometimes it’s tough to go over a play in a timeout or go over it just talking about it.
“We’re just trying to get comfortable with each other – not only with the plays but passing the puck around and getting that speed up. We need to get it quicker and faster and not really think about it as much.”
Quicker and faster, snapping the puck around – that was the instruction from Maurice. It’s something the Canes will have to do should the power play be successful.
“[Maurice] gives us some freedom to be creative and make plays when we see them, but he wants to see them happen fast,” Skinner said. “When you’re doing things fast, that’s when seams open up and you can make plays and get creative. That’s what we’re trying to do.”