Hurricanes Forecheck Shut Down by Islanders

The Carolina Hurricanes put on a forecheck clinic Friday night against the San Jose Sharks that resulted in a 4-3 shootout win. Confidence was high when the New York Islanders showed up for a Sunday evening match with the ‘Canes. Momentum seemed to be high for the home team, especially since the Islanders were on the second game of a back-to-back, with fatigue possibly being a factor.

Try as they did repeatedly, the Hurricanes found themselves unable to put the Islanders on their heels. The relentless forecheck that the Sharks couldn’t fend off was stymied, with the Islanders’ defensemen intercepting passes and slapping them away onto the Hurricanes’ side of the ice. The ‘Canes spent a good part of the game chasing the puck, not at all what they have been doing so far this season.

Aho & Brind’Amour on Getting Shut Down by Isles

After Sunday night’s loss to the Islanders, I asked Sebastian Aho about the difference between Friday night’s forecheck that stayed behind the Sharks and kept coming for two entire periods, and the inability of the ‘Canes to replicate that against the Islanders.

“As a team, they play that 1-3-1 and it’s different. But it shouldn’t be that different in our game. I mean we should just put the pucks behind them and go get them.” -Sebastian Aho

Aho’s assist on Teuvo Teravainen’s goal that tied the game in the second period extended his point streak to 11 games. Aho is now tied with the longest season-opening point streak in franchise history.

I asked head coach Rod Brind’Amour the same question in the media press conference.

“That’s what they do. I hate to say we talked about it before the game. We made a huge emphasis on we know what they’re going to do, we’ve got to get pucks behind them. We’re stubborn, you know. Give them credit. They played their game and it worked out for them.” -Rod Brind’Amour

That’s not to say that the Hurricanes were handcuffed. They owned the shot differential again, with 39 shots to the Islanders’ 20. But, the style of defense that the Islanders played kept the Hurricanes from the torrent of relentless forechecking that has become their trademark so far this season.

Slow Starts a Hurricanes Trademark Again?

Once again, the Hurricanes started slow. This was not supposed to be a thing under Brind’Amour. For the second game in a row at home, the Hurricanes looked sluggish and passive. They were not aggressively moving the puck or attacking.

To be fair, the Islanders were sluggish, also. But they had an excuse in that they had played a road game against the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday night. The Hurricanes had a full day’s rest to prepare and came out like so many of their predecessors under the previous coach essentially not starting on time.

The difference was that the Islanders were fortunate to score a goal during their time of easing into the game.

Bad habits seem to die hard, and the Hurricanes need to shut this bad habit down now. This Brind’Amour-coached team has been starting on time for most of this young season. But lately, they have allowed this most egregious of habits at home to creep back in. It was only a little over two weeks ago that I wrote that Brind’Amour has his team starting on time. That must continue to be a characteristic of this team.

Hurricanes Cannot Give Opposing Defenses Time

The Hurricanes have to get off to a good startespecially at homeand dictate the pace to their opponents. The Hurricanes’ style of play requires a good start in order to be effective. They must go out and figuratively punch their opponent in the face in the first few minutes, instead of skating around for half of the first period or longer and then deciding they are going to play hard and fast.

John Forslund, the play-by-play voice of the Hurricanes, said on the radio postgame show that even though they have shown that they can overcome a poor start, that’s not the formula this team is looking for, especially with the way they play. He said especially at home they need to set the pace on the first few shifts and get the crowd behind them.

Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind'Amour
Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

It sounds simple but getting consistent good starts has been a challenge for the Hurricanes for at least the past five years. Sunday night showed that when an opposing team is not pushed back early, they can take you completely out of your game.

Brind’Amour was right when he said after the game that had a puck or two gone in instead of hitting a post, we’d be talking about a great win for his team. But, a lot can be learned from a close loss. Starting on time is essential, as is paying attention when you know what the other team is going to do defensively. Being stubborn won’t win hockey games.

The Boston Bruins are a team looking for a statement win and will try to stem the forecheck tide of the Hurricanes Tuesday night. This will be another good test for Brind’Amour’s young squad.