The Hurricanes finally got their first shorthanded goal of the season in last night’s win over Tampa Bay, and it was no accident.
“Matt [Cullen] said that before the game – let’s get a short-hander tonight,” Chad LaRose recalled. “I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
It was fitting then that Cullen set up LaRose for the second-period goal that tied the score at 1-1. Prior to that tally, the Canes were the only team in the NHL yet to score while down a man.
Even prior the goal, which clearly swung the momentum in Carolina’s direction, the penalty kill was creating chances in a way it hadn’t done all season. The team had three shorthanded shots on goal in the first period, which likely rivals their total from the first 49 games of the season.
According to coach Paul Maurice, the offensive chances stem from a dramatic improvement on the defensive side. The Hurricanes have only allowed one power play goal in their last five games – the best stretch of the season for a unit still ranked 23rd in the league.
“We’ve started to generate some things shorthanded, and I think that just comes from confidence,” said Maurice. “They’re not as afraid to make a play now when they’re short because they’ve had some success with it. When a penalty kill is struggling, the first thing you’re always screaming is to just get it down and just kill the penalty.”
If the Canes can consistently present themselves as a legitimate threat to create chances shorthanded, they should continue to have a much easier time keeping the opposition off the board while in the box.
“There’s no question,” said Maurice. “It makes [the opposition] respect your forwards a little bit, and when there’s a turnover and your forwards get it, they’re not just casually waiting for you to dump it down. They have to hold the line, and it changes the amount of time they have in their in-zone pressure.”
- Maurice shifted his right wingers around at practice. Tuomo Ruutu was back with Eric Staal and Sergei Samsonov, while Justin Williams moved to Matt Cullen’s line with Ray Whitney.
That change was actually made in the second period of last night’s game, even though Maurice said going in that he intended to keep those groupings consistent.
“Willy blocked a shot in the first period on the power play, and I think that didn’t help him any out on the ice. I just felt at that point that that line was going to be the difference for us, so we just put Ruutu back there. I think you’re going to see some movement on those two lines over the course of games just on how guys are going.”
He was right about the revised combinations being the difference – they scored the winner in the dying minutes.
- Niclas Wallin practiced in a non-contact jersey, while Dennis Seidenberg and Scott Walker remained out.