What’s gone wrong with the Canes’ power play?

Carolina Hurricanes searching for answers

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour addresses the problems with the power play -- 0-for-23 in the past six games -- after the team practice at Raleigh Center Ice on Dec. 30, 2018.
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Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour addresses the problems with the power play -- 0-for-23 in the past six games -- after the team practice at Raleigh Center Ice on Dec. 30, 2018.

There are various theories on why the Carolina Hurricanes suddenly can’t score on the power play.

“We have to execute and make plays,” center Sebastian Aho said Sunday. “I feel like no one wants to make a mistake. But that’s overthinking. Sometimes, instead of thinking too much we just need to do it.”

Sounds reasonable enough. Would simpler be better?

“Well, that’s what we’ve been trying to do, so maybe not,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We couldn’t get much simpler than the way we’ve approached it this season.

“That one is on us (coaches) to figure out the right guys maybe to get out there, but really it’s on them to execute. That’s where it’s totally lacking. The little things that make the power play work well haven’t been there.”

Defenseman Justin Faulk, like Aho, has been on both sides, used on the Canes’ power play while also seeing time as a penalty killer.

“The old saying is you have to outwork the penalty kill but we all know they’re trying to work as hard as they can, too,” Faulk said. “They’re trying to make it hard at the blue line and any time there’s a bounce or loose puck put the pressure on. Those are your pressure points.”

The past six games, the Canes haven’t handled that pressure well on the power play. The Canes have gone 0-for-23 after an 0-5 showing Saturday in the 2-0 road loss to the New Jersey Devils.

Carolina (15-17-5) is eighth in the league in power-play opportunities (130), so that’s not the issue. The Canes’ play at even strength has been good enough to force penalties, albeit not enough goals. But they’re 28th in power-play percentage (14.8), lacking finishers, and one of reasons they were 10 points out of playoff position after Sunday’s games.

Brind’Amour, who appeared frustrated after the Devils game, worked with the power-play units in practice again Sunday at Raleigh Center Ice, looking for answers.

“Guys are a little tentative and you can’t play that way,” Brind’Amour said. “But it’s natural. I’ve been there. Once you start fighting it a little bit that creeps in. You’ve got to keep sticking your nose to the grindstone and try to do it right.”

The Canes did get a few pucks past goalie Curtis McElhinney in their power-play practice. Then again, it was five-on-none, with just the goaltender defending. Five on four, it has been a different, perplexing problem and was again Saturday.

With the Devils game scoreless in the second period, the Canes went on their fourth power play after defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk was tripped. Justin Williams won the draw but later misfired on a short pass to Jaccob Slavin at the point, the puck sailing down the ice and played by McElhinney.

In the second minute of the power play, Faulk attempted to connect with Victor Rask on a stretch pass from the Canes zone, the puck getting past Rask and leading to a board battle. The Devils’ Brian Boyle muscled between Rask and Andrei Svechnikov, winning the two-on-one to poke the puck free and the Devils’ Pavel Zacha took it from there.

Lunging to knock the puck past Faulk at the point, Zacha was off on a breakaway, having his initial shot stopped by McElhinney but lifting the rebound into the net for the shorthanded goal -- for the Canes, a gut-punch.

New Jersey Devils center Pavel Zacha, left, of the Czech Republic, celebrates his second period goal with Brian Boyle during an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Julio Cortez AP

“When the power play is clicking it doesn’t matter what kind of entry we use or what play we’re running,” Aho said. “And confidence is a big part of that, too. When you get those goals you can see those seam passes, you can see when it’s time to shoot. It’s been a big problem for us but we are working hard and I’m sure it will be better.”

In practice Sunday, Brind’Amour had Faulk on the point on a unit with Aho, Williams, Micheal Ferland and Teuvo Teravainen. A second unit had Dougie Hamilton and Slavin at the points with Rask, Svechnikov and Lucas Wallmark.

Brind’Amour also has a third unit: Clark Bishop, Janne Kuokkanen, Brock McGinn, van Riemsdyk and Brett Pesce. That’s the one he sent out to start the fifth power play Saturday, in the third period and the score 1-0. That got everyone’s attention.

“We knew something like that might be coming if it continued to be bad,” Faulk said.

Kuokkanen got off a shot that handcuffed goalie Mackenzie Blackwood. When Aho’s unit took the ice it nearly scored, with Blackwood forced to make a diving stop on an Aho shot.

“We had that desperation level,” Aho said. “We have to have that same desperation on every PP (power play).”

The Canes last scored a power-play goal against the Washington Capitals in the Dec. 14 game at PNC Arena -- a season-high three, in fact. Aho, Williams and Teravainen had the goals and Aho also scored shorthanded, although the Canes lost 6-5 in a shootout after failing to convert on a 4-on-3 power play in overtime.

Carolina was 0-5 on the power play the next game, overlooked in a 3-0 win over Arizona. It has been oh-for’s since.

“You’ve got to have that consistency of ‘this is what we’re trying to do when we get it in (the zone) and where we’re going to be,’” Faulk said. “We seem to be struggling with that. No one seems to be on the same page.”

The Canes close out 2018 with a New Year’s Eve game against the Philadelphia Flyers at PNC Arena. Of note: the Flyers are last on the power play and 29th in penalty killing. That should have the Canes’ attention.

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.