Buffalo shows power

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

BUFFALO -- Two games. Five power-play goals allowed. That's the line on the Carolina Hurricanes.

It's a staggering number. No matter how good your offence might be, if you're allowing 2.5 power-play goals per game in the playoffs, you're going to be in trouble.

And as analysts look for reasons why the Buffalo Sabres are leading the Eastern Conference final 2-1, those power-play goals are sure to get a mention.

But, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once pointed out, "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data."

The Hurricanes are concerned by the numbers, but not by the manner in which they were created. In other words, they think their penalty killing needs a little tinkering, but it doesn't need a major overhaul.

For starters, the second goal of the five was surrendered in a five-on-three situation. In those cases, the primary form of defence is to run around madly and pray a lot. To escape unscathed playing three on five against a good team, you need to be lucky.

The third goal was a similar situation -- a six-on four created by a penalty and a pulled goalie. That one was scored with 2.6 seconds left. It narrowed the gap, but it was irrelevant.

So two of the five don't really matter.

But the final two came on Wednesday night in a game won 4-3 by the Sabres. They're a bit more worrisome.

The Sabres aren't really doing anything new. They like to create an overload on the left boards, get possession then set up the standard formation.

They'll then try to draw the penalty-killing forwards out to the point and slide the puck past them to get a three-on-two down low.

At this point, they'll often do some subtle interference. But they're good at it and they don't get greedy.

They may not get away with it tonight because after every game, there's an officiating review and the Hurricanes will certainly be complaining about the picks. So the tactic may go into hiding for a game or two but it won't go far away.

Given the quality of the Buffalo forwards, any mismatch down low will sooner or later pay dividends.

As Carolina penalty killer Kevyn Adams said, "When you have players that good out there on the power play, they're going to get their chances. Sometimes you can do all the right things and the puck still goes in."

Another problem for the Hurricanes on Tuesday was that they took four penalties in a row -- and would have made it five had not the Sabres scored before the penalty could be assessed.

"That's tough when you string a few together in a row," said Adams, "because if you kill them, you're on your heels a little, but then your bench rotation gets out of whack.

"You're going to take penalties here and there, but you don't want to be taking three and four in a row."

So far, nothing has been exposed that would indicate that the Hurricanes' need make a radical alteration to their penalty-killing strategy.

Instead, there will probably be a slight adjustment. But they can't drop back too far.

"If you're too passive, you're letting them pick you apart almost," Adams said. "It's tough sometimes to get in shooting lanes if you're far back because they can still shoot around you."

So look for just a touch less aggressiveness from the Carolina penalty killers. It won't be a full-scale drawback, merely a slight retrenching.

No matter what the numbers might indicate, the Hurricanes don't feel that they need to do any more than that.


Videos

Photos