This round of NHL Predictions sees the Carolina Hurricanes limping back from Western Canada to Ottawa to take on the Senators for the second time this season. The first matchup came on opening night for both teams and saw Carolina take a 5-3 victory. It’s been fairly lacklustre seasons for both teams so far. Ottawa sits at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with 22 points but also has only played 22 games. In their last ten they have gone 6-4. Tim Stutzle leads the team in points with 26 while Drake Batherson has seven points in their last five games. Ottawa is looking to find some consistency to climb their way back into the playoff picture.
On the other side, the Carolina Hurricanes are on a four game losing streak, all resulting from a trip through Western Canada. Embarrassing, disappointing, frustrating, and confusing are words that come to mind to describe that trip. While the season is still relatively young, that trip exposed some holes the Hurricanes will need to fix to have any success this year. And that starts in Ottawa. Here are three keys to a Hurricanes victory.
NHL Predictions: Carolina Hurricanes vs Ottawa Senators
Three Keys to Victory for the Hurricanes
Tighten Up on the Power Play
For Carolina to get out of their funk and have a chance to win in Ottawa, the power play has to be tighter. And this refers to both form and function. For the season, Carolina’s power play has been alright at 20.7%. However, during their latest four games it was 9.1%. For a team struggling to find any spark lately, a few more power play goals could have been the difference. What is frustrating is that when their overall game is struggling, it seems like the power play reverts to “playing it safe.” What I mean is instead of making passes and moving, interchanging players in and out of spots to break down the penalty kill, they stand still and pass hoping to get a shot from far out that finds a lucky way into the net. Even the net front presence seems to disappear.
What’s worse is that this “playing it safe” style actually isn’t playing it safe. The Hurricanes are leading the league in shorthanded goals against with seven. In their recent game against the Calgary Flames, it was a shorthanded goal against that was the game winning one for the Flames. This came off of a broken play at the blue line leading to a Blake Coleman breakaway the other direction. This is too common for this team and absolutely kills any momentum.
Ottawa sits at 21st on the penalty kill and Carolina has to take advantage of those opportunities. Or at the very least just don’t give up shorthanded goals. It’s these sloppy plays that are breaking Carolina right now. The margin of error is too small. Stay creative on the power play but stay sharp and use it to your advantage. That will be a big part of winning this one for Carolina.
Forget the Past
The Hurricanes may look back at this difficult stretch come June and say the adversity was what they needed to succeed. But they cannot overlook the present and focus on the future too much. Is it possible this team is too focused on the playoffs right now? Possibly. That is not what Rod Brind’Amour has ever preached but maybe the players feel overconfident in their ability to make the playoffs.
Whatever the case is, it is clear from post and mid game comments from Brind’Amour and the players that frustration has set in. Certain players appear to be failing to carry their weight and buy into the system. And this is a team that relies on its system more than individual performances. The Western Canada road trip ended with a players’ only meeting that hopefully will be enough to snap the team out of its funk.
For whatever internal issues are going on, the only way out is to look forward. The team has to put the past in the past and focus on the present. Hockey is such a mental sport. And not just for goalies, but for everyone. You lose one game, learn from it, brush it off, and then play the next one the way that you know leads to success. If the team stays stuck in the past it will lead to overthinking. This will be a major necessity in this matchup in Canada’s capital.
Limit Easy Chances
If there is something that Carolina is still doing this year that is consistent from years past and with their identity it is limiting shots from the other side. They are the best in the league in limiting shots against per game to 25. Their 89 high danger shots against is also in the top ten best for that category. Again, they lead the league in Corsi and Fenwick as well. So they are limiting shots against and doing ok at limiting high danger shots. But the problem is the heavy majority of the goals they actually let in come from the doorstep and middle of the ice. If you look at the charts below from hockeyviz.com, you see that they give up most chances close to the goal. Which coincides with the showing that most of the goals against are also near the goal.
This is largely due to Carolina’s consistent defensive lapses and breakdowns. Especially of late. What is also noteworthy in this matchup is that Ottawa favours shooting in that spot below the right circle (from a defensive zone perspective) as shown in the chart below.
Carolina absolutely has to be sharp in covering that area of the ice in this one. Any easy chances from that spot seems destined for disaster for the Hurricanes. Keep the shots to the outside and clean up rebounds will be a key to success here.
Much like the last NHL Predictions involving Carolina, it’s a hard call for the Hurricanes right now. As of late, they have not shown any reason to believe in them to put it bluntly. They almost have found ways to lose. On the other side, Ottawa has been fairly solid as of late even though their overall record reflects a little worse. There is a lot Carolina has to fix right now but checking off the three boxes provided here could go a long way. With rose colored glasses on, look for Carolina to grind out a tight victory to break their losing streak.
Prediction: Carolina wins 3-2
Main Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports