The offensive hornets' nest posed by the Carolina Hurricanes during last Thursday's 6-1 win has quickly dissipated into a movement-lacking void less effective than Tomas Kaberle during his brief 'Canes tenure.
Suddenly, the 'Canes have no significant net-front presence, no puck circulation through the zone, no spacing on transition attacks. They're not forcing many rebounds and they're not gaining possession of rebounds at all.
All of the good habits the team had begun to build during its five-game winning streak have sputtered down the drain. As a result, six periods have passed without a goal, as the 'Canes have lost 3-0 and 2-0 decisions to inconsistent Columbus and lowly Calgary, respectively.
What exactly has gone wrong? An illustrated breakdown of the Hurricanes' offensive problems lies below.
Puck and Player Movement: What Went Well
A crucial goal that regained Carolina's two-goal advantage late in the first period against Toronto came as a result of some of the best offensive-zone circulation of the season.
Andrej Sekera protects the puck behind the net while Patrick Dwyer crashes the crease. Dwyer receives no pass and finds himself stuck with Sekera behind the goal, but Nathan Gerbe is able to repeat Dwyer's movement and gets a shot off in the slot.
Leafs goaltender James Reimer makes the save, but the 'Canes continue pressing; Jordan Staal tries a backhand, which is blocked, but Dwyer, who has circled around and found the open space on the left wing, gathers the puck and slides it past a perplexed and heavily screened Reimer.
Watch the sequence unfold below, with red lines representing player movement and black lines indicating the path of the puck:
Puck and Player Movement: What Has Gone Wrong
In a sequence from the visit to Columbus, Jordan Staal has won a nice board battle and finds Nathan Gerbe open at the half-wall.
No. 14 has enough space to shoot if he wants, but the 'Canes inexplicably have no one in position to challenge Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky's save. John-Michael Liles (No. 26, far left) certainly isn't; he's facing the wrong direction entirely.
Thus, Gerbe is forced to pass the puck out to Jay Harrison, just entering the zone at the point.
But Harrison has no options, either. The constant stream of Hurricanes in shooting stances has evaporated into a four-man clique of observers. Liles (top right) is still facing the wrong way. Radek Dvorak (top middle) isn't a very worthwhile target. There's no one in the lane.
Harrison has to dump the puck on Bobrovsky, who bodies it down and calmly covers it on the ice.
Separation on the Rush
Dvorak (No. 18) has just stolen the puck from Columbus' Matt Calvert and has an isolated right-side counter-attack developing with Tuomo Ruutu, the one other 'Cane visible in the image.
Dvorak hands Ruutu a short pass, but the Finnish Olympian gives him the puck right back while following the same parallel line as Dvorak into the Blue Jackets' defensive coverage.
He essentially loses relevance in the play, and Dvorak has no choice but to wrist a soft floater far side, which is easily blocked away by Bobrovsky to a teammate and basically becomes a 'Canes turnover.
In a second example, Riley Nash does the exact same thing to Jiri Tlusty during a counter opportunity against the Flames.
If anything, Nash (top) blocks Tlusty's path to the net and forces an easy shot into Calgary netminder Karri Ramo's midsection.
The absolute absurdity of this new 'Canes habit hardly warrants explanation.
The two-on-one finishing skills that were converted into two goals against Toronto, one goal against the New York Islanders and two goals (including the overtime winner) against the Washington Capitals haven't been remotely present in Carolina's last two contests.
Forcing and Converting on Rebounds
The Hurricanes' lack of an experienced crease grinder has been obvious and well-documented all season long.
Eric Staal finally created an excellent screen on Ramo during Monday's game, blocking his sight line on a Ryan Murphy slap shot quite effectively.
While Ramo still managed to smother the puck, it's doubtful he would've been in much trouble even if he did surrender a juicy rebound—the prime real estate in the slot was void of a red-clad forward.
Establishing frequent goalie screens would be a good step forward for the 'Canes, but the tactic is utterly useless if no teammate is available to cash in on the desired rebound.
By the Numbers
The 'Canes attempted a mere 52 shots in the loss in Ohio but managed to get a surprising 36 of them on goal.
Their shot attempt total rose to 54 against Calgary, but only 22 went down as Ramo saves.
The two performances aren't that much different on paper than the Hurricanes' previous four games (all wins), in which they averaged 59.75 attempts per game.
However, more concerning are the lengthy five- to 10-minute streaks of nonexistent offensive pressure.
The matches against Columbus and Calgary were littered with "flat-line" sections in Carolina's Fenwick total (which includes shots on goal and shots that went wide but were not blocked).
Compare the above two images to the Hurricanes' Fenwick chart from the Toronto match, where the team maintained a remarkably steady pace of shots throughout the night (even with the big lead):
The team had a challenging practice Tuesday, as they will seek to take advantage of a four-day break leading up to this coming weekend's home back-to-back. As reports Chip Alexander of the News & Observer:
The Canes skated. They went one-on-one and two-on-two. They worked on finishing off the rush, on getting people in front of the net, on getting to rebounds. On scoring.
"We put together that practice that was upbeat. We laid out the plan for the week and today was a work day. They had a hard practice but they accomplished something, too," [said Kirk Muller].
Will the 'Canes be able to take advantage of the lessons learned from the disasters against Columbus and Calgary? Will they be able to break their 121:09 scoring drought and send the PNC Arena crowd home happy, twice?
Only if they can fix the problems that have plagued the offense so oppressively of late.