Hurricanes hold auditions for net-front presence

RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes put in a solid 60 minutes of practice at Raleigh Center Ice on Wednesday.

Following a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Monday, the team’s third consecutive loss and fourth during a five-game home stand, head coach Bill Peters focused the session on improving net-front presence and second-chance scoring opportunities in the low slot.

The Hurricanes’ recent problems are simple – they can’t put more than one puck in the net per game.

“You gotta’ continue to work and I don’t think that has been the issue,” Peters said.

“Goin’ back to the previous game, I would have liked to see the desperation we had in the third, earlier. I thought that’s what we needed in the earlier in the middle portion of the game when it was 1-0. Obviously we wanna’ make it two, three-nothin’. We had some chances, it didn’t happen. So, I thought we gotta’ away from it a little bit there. Then we got desperate and we’re squeezin’ the sticks a little bit and it doesn’t go in. We definitely need more traffic. We need to make it harder on the goalie, we’ve gotta’ be in his eyes. That was a big focus today in practice – it’s gonna’ a big focus from here until the end of the year.”

According to Peters, many of the team’s shots on goal, dozens and dozens per game now, are becoming easy pickups for opposing goaltenders.

If a goalie can see the shot coming, they will make the save – and they have accordingly.

However, the more traffic you put at the top of the crease, the better chance there is for a shot to make it through and into the net, or for a rebound or blocked shot to be cleaned up in order to get the same result.

Outshooting the Devils 17-1 during the final 20 minutes of play, the Hurricanes couldn’t tie the score even with optimal scoring opportunities coming from all directions and distances.

As much as a man in front screens the keeper – read as ‘gets in the goalie’s eyes’ – that same player must possess the hands to either redirect the puck into the net, or clean up the anticipated rebound off the shot coming in.

It’s Hockey 101 when you’re talking about low-slot play around the crease – the greasy area – and it’s not a new part of the game.

It is however, a facet that requires more commitment and, believe it or not, skill than blocking shots does on the other side of the puck.

Not only is someone tasked to purposely stand in the line of fire, but to also have the ability to make something of the situation offensively.

The chance of getting hit with the puck by a teammate’s shot from 20-40 feet out is high and happens often.

That is why moving out of the way and using hand-eye coordination to redirect that puck as its traveling in excess of 100 miles per hour is an art form.

Having the reaction time to get a stick on a rebound and loose puck with pressure on you while being cross checked and punched in the back of the head is another trait that an effective and productive net-front presence player must have.

Not many can do it well and those who do possess an almost sadistic mindset and a confidence accordingly.

No different than how many of the game’s pugilists must be prepared to endure pain if called to action during a fight.

It is a role not for the weak-minded and anyone who lacks the ability to maintain consistent focus during a game.

Does Carolina have that type of player?

Up to this point, no one has stepped up to claim that role – otherwise net-front presence would not be the topic du jour.

However, auditions are now underway.

Peters isn’t quite sure exactly who will be designated for that spot on each line, but it is now a top priority.

Look for more of Eric Staal, Nathan Gerbe, Andrej Netrasil, and others to assume new zip codes as their place of residence in the offensive zone during the Hurricanes’ next set of games away from home.

For those that take on and accept the challenge, the rewards could be fruitful as they will be the closest to the net to clean up the opportunities that present themselves – meaning scoring more goals.

Carolina has scored only seven goals in its last five games at home, but came off netting 15 goals during a five-game road stretch before that.

Unfortunately, the Hurricanes won just three of those 10 games and are in last place in the Metropolitan Division and sit 11 points out of a playoff spot heading into their matchup with Tampa Bay on Thursday.

Of the seven losses, six of them were dropped by one goal difference, and four of them suffered when they scored only one goal total.

Thus, making a commitment to put the puck in the net from in close with guaranteed pain to follow – the price of success – is now Carolina’s task at hand to earn and salvage wins.

The opportunity for heroism and triumph is now present.

“It’s just a willingness to go there,” Peters said.

“Take your turn there. It doesn’t matter who you are – you’re big, you’re small, you’re a medium-sized guy – you can go to the net. We gotta’ make sure we goin’ there with a purpose, we’re goin’ there with the intent to stick around.”