Canes fans have now had a full day plus to let the 8-1 matinee whooping at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs sink in. If you missed the game or just could not stomach the recap/notes on Tuesday but are ready now, you can find them HERE.
With some time to recover and process the results, today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a look at that game with some broader league context and an eye for what, if anything, it means going forward.
Was it really that bad?
The first question is about the game itself. Was it really that bad? In a word – Yes. Yes it was. The Hurricanes failed to show up on pretty much every front. Further, the game presented a pretty complete checklist of all of the team’s 2017-18 struggles ranging from goaltending to special teams woes to inconsistency to intermittent shoddy defensive play to lack of scoring. Whereas some games are actually decent efforts that turn for the worse and drift away from that point forward, Tuesday’s loss really was a complete train wreck for which 8-1 was not completely unrepresentative of the game.
So what follows is NOT an attempt to candy coat the ugliness that was Tuesday’s hockey game.
Are the Hurricanes unique in terms of laying a stinker as bad as this?
In a word – No. Over the course of a long 82-game NHL season even good teams are prone to a stinker here and there. In looking at teams that are performing especially well in 2017-18 and also a few teams with strong recent track records, the Hurricanes 8-1 thrashing does not look to be out of the ordinary.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The defending Stanley Cup champions are admittedly not off to a tremendous start, but they are still the champs. Thus far in the 2017-18 season, the Pens have 10-1, 7-1 and 7-1 losses on their resume. So relatively speaking the Hurricanes 8-1 loss does not look all that bad.
Washington Capitals: As the reigning President’s Trophy winner, perennial playoff team and current leader of the Metropolitan Division, one might figure that the Capitals are exempt from extreme stinkers. But that is not true either. The Capitals have 8-2, 6-2 and 6-2 losses to their credit already in the 2017-18 season.
Tampa Bay Lightning: As the best team in the NHL right now, one might figure that the Lightning are completely exempt from debacles like the Hurricanes game on Tuesday. To some degree that is true. The Lightning have yet to lose by more than three goals, but they do have 5-2 and 4-1 losses in their record thus far.
Nashville Predators: As a team that is strong and deep defensively, one might figure that the Nashville Predators are able to stay in each and every game. That is true to a large degree but completely. The Predators do have 6-2 and 4-0 losses on their resume.
Chicago Blackhawks: Somewhat similar to the Penguins, the Blackhawks are a team with veteran superstars who have won the Stanley Cup on multiple occasions. But they too have those nights. The Blackhawks have 6-2, 5-2, 5-2 and 6-3 losses on their resume thus far in the 2017-18 season but are still tracking toward making the playoffs.
Vegas Golden Knights: The Cinderella story that is the Knights thus far in 2017-18 is also not without setbacks. The team has more than its share of nights when it could not keep the puck out of its own net with 8-2, 7-4, 6-3 and 6-3 losses already on the young season despite tremendous success overall.
Los Angeles Kings: Despite being the #1 team in the entire NHL in terms of goals against, even the Kings have a couple stinkers to the tune of 5-1 and 5-2 losses.
When one nets it out, the kind of game that the Hurricanes had on Tuesday is not that uncommon even for good hockey teams.
But what happens next is interesting
But one of the telltale signs of good hockey teams is that they are able to rebound, put a bad game in the rear view mirror and get quickly back in the win column.
For the seven teams above, their record in the games following the poor outings noted above is a stellar 14-5-1. Only the Kings have a losing record in those next games at 0-2. And the two teams with arguably the strongest top player pedigree as measured by Cup wins in the Penguins and Blackhawks are 3-0 and 3-0-1 respectively in those next games.
But closer to home, what does Tuesday’s game mean?
I think the need to show resiliency, rebound quickly and keep a bad game from growing into a losing streak is very important for the Hurricanes right now. The team is within sight of playoff cut line at three points back (adjusted for games played), but is also far enough back that even a modest losing streak has the potential to doom the season right now. So the fast rebound that is common for good hockey teams would be ideal. By no means is Nashville on the road an easy rebound game and by no means does the season end if the Hurricanes lose on Thursday, but the sense of urgency is there and the amount of one step forward, one step back that the team’s playoff hopes can withstand is shrinking.
Oh, but the omens…
For me, I think the single biggest upshot of Tuesday’s game is that Scott Darling just is not right. As good as he looked in his win on Saturday, he looked at least that bad on Tuesday. He just looked completely frozen and slow to react on a bunch of shots. He looked frustrated with each and every goal starting with the third. And the glove miss in the third period also just showed that he is fighting it right now.
In yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe, I said that I thought the single most important player for the Hurricanes short-term is Cam Ward. Can he find at least a short run of solid hockey and give the team the stability and the boost that it desperately needs right now. Long-term, I really think Darling needs to become the guy. But based on Tuesday and equally important other similar data points, I think the “long-term” and the need to get Darling through the current rough patch is exactly that — long-term.
Though the information above illustrates that pretty much all teams suffer similar fates on occasion, I do think the game is a testament to the Hurricanes’ inconsistency. That inability to bring the same level of play for more than a handful of consecutive games makes it even more critical that the Hurricanes not fall too far behind and find themselves needing a run of perfect hockey.
Finally, the game was yet another highlight reel for the massive issues that the team has with special teams right now. The game was the second of the month already that saw the Hurricanes go minus 4 on special teams. In the San Jose loss, the Hurricanes yielded two shorthanded goals and two power play goals. Against the Maple Leafs, the top level statistics were even worse. The Maple Leafs were 3 for 3 on the power play, while the Hurricanes were 0 for 4. When you throw in the shorthanded goal against, the numbers just get worse.
So what does it all mean in the end?
If the Hurricanes win on Thursday in Nashville to gain a decent 1-1 mark in the two road games this week both against strong opponents, then Tuesday’s loss will be quickly behind the team and not a huge factor going forward.
Where exactly this game leaves Scott Darling in terms of finding his game is the bigger carry forward in my opinion. If Ward plays well and the team wins in Nashville, my expectation is that we will finally see Ward take over for the time being as the #1 goalie. I said awhile back that I think the best thing for Scott Darling right now could be to give him a full week or even a bit more to just try to reset and start over. Is there a guarantee that will help? Of course not. But just continuing to push him into the starter role just is not working right now.
What say you Canes fans?
1) With a day to calm down following the 8-1 drubbing by the Maple Leafs, how significant do you think Tuesday’s loss is?
2) Do you agree that the game and its result was maybe more meaningful for Scott Darling than the team as a whole?