HurricanesDefense

Under Pressure: Carolina’s blue line

“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Carolina Hurricanes, we pick…. their defense.

All of it.

The ‘Canes are one of the league’s most uniquely constructed teams. GM Jim Rutherford has built a quality top-six forward group — Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu and Jiri Tlusty — and locked up goalie Cam Ward (though to be fair, Ward could easily be Carolina’s candidate for Under Pressure this season).

Then, there’s the blue line.

It’s arguably one of the weakest and thinnest in the league and is now without its best asset in Joni Pitkanen, gone for the season after suffering a serious heel fracture.

As a stopgap measure, the ‘Canes inked veteran Ron Hainsey to a one-year, $2 million deal last week. While it’s not a bad signing (and decent value, given Hainsey made $22.5 million on his old contract) it was reflective of a larger theme — Carolina relying on guys with question marks.

Like, for example, Mike Komisarek. He barely played in Toronto last year, got bought out, then signed with Carolina and was pegged as a potential solution to the team’s penalty kill (ranked 28th last year, at 77 percent) by head coach Kirk Muller.

“All he has to do is worry about playing hockey, helping the penalty kill. He can play physical against teams we’re going to have to play against, bring his experience and attitude,” Muller told NHL.com. “I think [Komisarek’s] going to fit in great. He’s going to bring so much fun energy to the room that I think that’s going to be awesome.”

Another issue is Carolina’s lack of offense from the back end. Last year’s leading d-man scorer, Joe Corvo, walked in free agency. (Corvo set a dubious distinction in 2013 by leading with just 17 points. Only Colorado’s Tyson Barrie, with 13 points, led his team’s blueliners with fewer.)

With Pitkanen gone, there’s hope 21-year-old Justin Faulk can emerge as a 35-40 point guy, but he’s never scored more than 22 in a season.

In analyzing the D, we’d be remiss without mentioning Carolina’s longest-serving defenseman, Tim Gleason, who has been a good foot solider but might’ve already played his best hockey. Gleason, who’s been with the team since ’06, has seen his minutes dropped steadily over the last few years. Last season marked the first time since 2009 he averaged less than 20 minutes per night.

All this said, the ‘Canes do have some bright spots.

One is Ryan Murphy. The 20-year-old, taken 12th overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, is one of the most highly-touted prospects from a coveted defensive class that included New Jersey’s Adam Larsson, Boston’s Dougie Hamilton, Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin and Dallas’ Jamie Oleksiak.

Murphy actually made the ‘Canes out of his first NHL training camp, but failed to appear in a game before Carolina re-assigned him to OHL Kitchener.

From there, Murphy suffered a serious concussion while playing for the Rangers, but recovered sufficiently enough to be named Kitchener’s captain, earn a spot on Team Canada for the 2013 World Junior tournament and play four games for the ‘Canes last season, averaging over 21 minutes per.

For the ‘Canes D to succeed this year, Murphy will need to play beyond his years. They’ll also need their offseason pickups — Hainsey, Komisarek and ex-Sabre Andrej Sekera — to improve upon their 3.31 goals per game allowed last season, second-worst in the NHL.

Asking a lot? Probably. But that’s likely what it’ll take for the ‘Canes to get back to the postseason for the first time in four years.

Video: Predators even series with Sharks after franchise-record triple OT thriller

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The marathon is over. The Nashville Predators are back in the series.

The Predators have evened their best-of-seven second-round series with the San Jose Sharks at two-games apiece after Mike Fisher finally broke the deadlock with 8:48 remaining in the third overtime of an instant classic in these 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fisher buried a rebound in front of the San Jose net to give the Predators a massive 4-3 win on home ice.

The goal capped off a frenetic (and lengthy) overtime session that was nothing but utter chaos at times in the opening extra frame. By the end, Fisher was almost too exhausted to describe the winner. Can you blame him?

Twice, the Sharks, who could’ve put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win, thought they had scored the winner. Joel Ward couldn’t quite bury a wrap-around attempt before just about every player on the ice, it seemed, converged in the Nashville crease — some working to put the puck in the net, others working to keep the puck out.

The puck, somehow, never crossed the line, though some members of the Sharks raised their arms in celebration as if they had the decisive goal.

Later in the first OT period, the Sharks again thought they had won the game, only to have a lengthy and controversial review determine Joe Pavelski “…made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease,” according to the league.

Adding to it all, the Predators were unsuccessful on two OT power plays. That opened the door for the Sharks, who were awarded power plays on two Shea Weber penalties in overtime but also couldn’t capitalize.

The Predators were less than five minutes away from losing this game in regulation, and going down 3-1 in the series, before James Neal tied it with 4:21 remaining.

‘We earned it,’ says Spezza after Stars regroup to even series with Blues

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) looks on as Dallas Stars forward Jason Spezza, second from right, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
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The Dallas Stars faced the possibility of going home facing elimination. That was the scenario Thursday, as the Stars battled the St. Louis Blues in Game 4.

The previous game didn’t go well at all for the Stars. They were thumped 6-1, as things turned nasty between the two teams, and, most importantly, they fell behind in the series. There were serious questions surrounding their goalie duo that includes Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. And Tyler Seguin was ruled out for Game 4.

Yes, things weren’t working in favor of the Stars.

But after a poor start in the opening period Thursday, the Stars fought back with Cody Eakin playing the unlikely overtime hero in a crucial Game 4 win. And Lehtonen was able to settle in after allowing that Vladimir Tarasenko goal in the opening period, stopping 24 of 26 shots.

“You really do have to stay level,” Jason Spezza told the Dallas Morning News.

“It’s the best two-of-three now, it’s momentum swings. We survived some breakaways, and the last two periods we played right and we earned it.”

Video: Game 4 overtime between Sharks and Predators has been utter chaos

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Overtime between the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks in Game 4 has been, simply put, crazy.

Take, for instance, this goal-mouth scramble around the Predators crease in which Joel Ward couldn’t convert on the wrap-around and the sequence turned into a full-on scrum as players for both teams fought desperately to either score or somehow keep the puck out of the net. Somehow, the puck stays out.

The Predators need a win to even the series. The Sharks can put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win.

Oh, and the controversial video review as the Sharks thought they had the winner, as Joe Pavelski swept the puck into the net after a collision with Pekka Rinne.

Here’s an explanation from the NHL Situation Room:

At 7:34 of overtime in the Sharks/Predators game, the Situation Room initiated a review under the terms of a Coach’s Challenge to review the “Interference on the Goalkeeper” decision that resulted in a “no goal” call.

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed that San Jose’s Joe Pavelski made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease.

Therefore the original call stands – no goal San Jose Sharks.

Cody Eakin plays unlikely hero as Stars even series with Blues thanks to OT win

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Needing a win to even the series with the St. Louis Blues, the Dallas Stars didn’t get off to the greatest start Thursday.

On a rather embarrassing play in the first period of a crucial Game 4, the Stars were caught on the television feed clearly with six skaters on the ice, but still surrendered a breakaway goal on a stretch pass to a wide open Vladimir Tarasenko — 1-0 Blues. Again, not a great start for the Stars.

Sometimes in hockey, it’s apparently not always about how you start but how you finish. The Stars gained strength during the second period on goals from Radek Faksa and Patrick Sharp just 1:09 apart. Early in overtime, Cody Eakin scored his first goal of these playoffs to give the Stars a 3-2 win.

This series is now tied heading back to Dallas for Game 5. For the Blues, it’s a missed opportunity to put the high-flying Stars on the brink of elimination.

Eakin snapped a 17-game scoring drought that stretched into late-March of the regular season by going top shelf, short side of Blues goalie Brian Elliott just 2:58 into the extra period.

Jamie Benn and Patrick Sharp each had two-point nights for Dallas, assisting on the game winning goal.