To catch anyone up who missed Saturday’s game, there were actually a decent number of positive stories despite the 5-2 loss. The story of the game on the negative side and the biggest reason for the loss was the play of Eddie Lack. He gave up 4 goals on 13 shots in about half of a game. When he departed the Canes were down 4-1 despite playing fairly well. Of the 4 goals, 3 were the very bad variety that saw Lack mostly make saves but have all 3 sneak through his pads and either dribble into the net or sit there to be quickly tapped in by a Sharks player.
There is no candy-coating the fact that it was a horrible game for Eddie Lack.
This post will address what it means bigger picture-wise on multiple levels.
The game itself
First, I do not mean to make excuses for Eddie Lack’s play. But the Canes did not even come close to help a backup who had not played in 11 days find his way into the game. At 1:20 intot the game, the first shot he faced was a talented Tomas Hertl coming in alone from the face-off circle after he inside-outed rookie Noah Hanifin off the rush. He made the save but did not keep the puck giving Joel Ward a tap in rebound goal. About 7 minutes later he faced Joel Ward in alone skating in between the circles. Ward beat him off the bar and in on the 1 goal that was just a tough break for Lack. Sure, Lack could have been better on the first goal and the next 2 that followed, but the Canes did not do much to help him get his feet under him before or after the first bad goal.
An aside on the TV broadcast
Tripp Tracy’s handling of the thing annoyed the heck out of me. He did the right thing calling the goals soft goals. He did the right thing recapping the horrors when Lack was pulled at the midway point. And the post-game inevitably had to include a heavy dose of Lack’s struggles because it was a deciding factor in the game. But I did not get the need to repeatedly chuck Lack under the bus during the second half of the game. Move on, especially when there is still a hockey game being played. I would be curious to hear if others thought this went unnecessarily too far during the second half of the game or if I was just irritated with the Canes losing and it being real late at night.
What does it say about Eddie Lack going forward in 2015-16
I think actually less than it seems right now. It is challenging for backup goalies to climb out of these situations simply because they might not see the ice again for a week and then again another week later. Sometimes the time an distance from a tough game can be a positive in that it allows time for perspective and to reset mentally. Sometimes a player is better off just shaking it off and getting back into a game real quick.
Regardless, I think too much will be made about this game in terms of what it means for his role with the Hurricanes in 2015-16 and his general ability as a goalie. As horrible as it was, it was 1 bad game.
But I do not mean to downplay the mental aspect of it
But the game was bad enough especially for a new player trying to do well for team mates, that Eddie Lack and to some degree the coaching staff have a pyschological challenge sitting in front of them to get him back on track. Ideal would be if the team could give him a game in which it plays well, controls the game and hands him an easier night especially early when he might be trying to fight off demons with the pucks. It is obviously not as simple as ordering up 1 of these games.
Does this mean Eddie Lack is no good?
Eddie Lack does not enter this season with a ton of NHL experience, but I am much more inclined to rate him overall based on his 82 NHL games prior to this season than 2 in the 2015-16 season. Just last spring, he put up 3 solid months as a starter in Vancouver and led the team to the playoffs. In February, March and April he posted reasonably similar sub-2.50 Goals Against Averages and records of 5-2-0, 9-3-2 and 2-2-0 respectively in the 3 months with a solid save percentage in the .920 range.
He was a good NHL goalie over the course of 3 months with playoff pressure include.
At a bare minimum, this proves that Lack is capable of getting hot and playing well over an extended period of time if he finds a groove. It is WAY premature to declare Lack’s season a failure. It was 1 bad game.
Vancouver indicates that maybe this should not be a huge surprise
During his run to the playoffs in February through April of 2015, in 27 games, he gave up 4 goals 4 times and also gave up 5 goals 4 times. That makes for 8 games out of 27 with totals similar to last night (realizing that he did not finish the game at the point when he gave up 4 goals).
I think this is a positive and a negative at the same time. First, it shows that a bit of inconsistency maybe should have been expected from the beginning which maybe makes Saturday’s game less of a big deal. On a more positive note, last season seems to indicate that he has the ability to bounce back after tougher games.
Another comparison from the past
Eddie Lack very much reminds me of Justin Peters – the good version of Justin Peters. Both are big, reasonably agile goalies whose strength is making first saves which is a positive. But both are also a bit loose in terms of technique, efficiency of motion and playing the net bigger than it is. The biggest upshot of this for both goalies is the challenge of rebound control as a reactionary goalie.
Justin Peters actually had a similar run of rough hockey when initially tossed into the Canes lineup, but he recovered and actually went on to have a solid enough stretch of hockey to win himself a 1-way contract and NHL backup job with the Washington Capitals.
In my opinion, the keys for Peters were threefold.
- First, he needed to settle in a bit to take some of the motion out of his game and calm down. I think this very much applies to Lack right now. He needs to somehow settle in.
- Second, Peters hit a stretch where he was great on first shots. I do not think Lack is that far away in this regard. Despite his struggles with rebounds and the leakiness, he has been pretty good on first shots. In giving up 7 goals in 2 games in a Hurricanes uniform, Lack has really only been beat cleanly twice and both were tough saves. The other 5 goals were rebounds and/or pucks that he mostly stopped but had leak through him.
- Third, the team needs to be very good at coming back to the net, boxing out opposing forwards and clearing rebounds. This was a vital component to a good Peters’ start, and I think it will be the same even for the good version of Eddie Lack.
This kind of problem is easier to solve for skaters. They usually get the chance to go right back to it a couple days later to move forward. Sometimes a backup goalie must stew in his last start for a week before he gets a chance to redeem himself. The best thing for Eddie Lack would probably be to start again on Tuesday to try to shake off the last game. But with a hockey team, the sole goal is not to get Eddie Lack going. In fact, the primary goal is to win hockey games, and the best way to do that is to play your best goalie. And right now Cam Ward is playing really well. So for better or for worse, Eddie Lack will probably need to wait a bit before he gets another chance. The Canes do play a back-to-back on Thursday and Friday this week and 4 games in 6 days, so perhaps Coach Bill Peters gives Lack 1 of those games.
The path to getting there is suddenly challenging, but it probably just takes 1-2 better starts to get Eddie Lack back on track and into the game as a Canes goalie.