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Gameday: Hurricanes vs. Canucks

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
Twelve days ago in the Carolina Hurricanes last home game, the team had a 5-on-3 turned 6-on-3 advantage with the extra skater in the waning minutes of a 3-2 game against Pittsburgh. They couldn’t find the equalizer and dropped their fifth game in regulation in a row.

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Now back in Raleigh after a four-game road swing, the Canes have started to see improvement in the power play, as they’ve gone 4 for 12 in the last three games. Going 2 for 6 in Edmonton proved the difference in a 5-3 win. And a late third period power play goal in Toronto earned the Canes a point on Tuesday.

“I think, first of all, our execution has been good. I think they settled down a little bit,” said head coach Kirk Muller. “We’re trying to preach that you don’t have to score in the first 20 seconds – you’ve got 2 minutes to capitalize. So it’s been just a little bit more of a mentality of setting up, running the plays consistently and just reading the options that you have.

“Our D is doing a good job of moving on the blue line and taking the shots when necessary. I think everyone is executing well off the half-wall, attacking and capitalizing when we get the chances.”

All of that movement was on display in Toronto on Tuesday. The Canes dumped the puck in, Eric Staal gave chase and Alexei Ponikarovsky and Jussi Jokinen slid down low to help out. Staal got the puck out to the point for Jamie McBain who slid along the blue line to open up the defense. McBain found Jokinen coming off the half-wall, and Jokinen fed Staal along the goal line. Staal then threaded the needle to Ponikarovsky cross-crease who capitalized on the tap-in for the game-tying goal.

“Give some credit to Kirk. He’s pretty good at identifying some of the personnel we can use, watching some video, kind of getting some concepts in our head and plays that are there,” Staal said. “We’ve been working at it a lot. You continue that repetition, continue that work, and things start to go your way. It’s been better.”

“Just being in front of the net and battling. That worked for us last game, so we’re just going to continue that,” Ponikarovsky said. “We’ve been working on the power play every day. We’re trying different things and different bodies.”

Tonight, the Canes man-advantage will be tested against a very good penalty killing team in the Vancouver Canucks. They’re penalty killing percentage sits at 86.6 percent, which ranks sixth in the NHL. On the road, they are even better – 89.2 percent, ranking third in the league.

The Canes spent some time in the morning skate working on the power play, but they don’t plan on changing their approach too much.

“They are a good penalty killing team,” he said. “The plays that are made – we’re going to have to execute. We’re going to have to be sharp in that respect. It’s not going to be easy.”

“We know what we have to do because they are pretty aggressive,” Ponikarovsky said. “Against an aggressive PK, you have to move the puck quick. Everyone has to move and support each other – that’s the only way you beat the pressure.”

The Canucks’ power play is also lethal. Converting 33 of 129 attempts (25.6 percent) gives Vancouver the best power play in the league. On the road, they’re 27 percent conversion rate ranks second. The Canes are in the bottom five in both power play and penalty kill percentages, so tonight might be a good measuring stick of how much improvement they’ve made.

If the last three games are any indication, their power play is moving in the right direction, even without key pieces in Joni Pitkanen and Jeff Skinner.

“Everything comes down to motion, getting pucks at the net and getting the rebounds,” Ponikarovsky said. “We have to be relentless and hungry. Even if we don’t score, it can build momentum for the team.”

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