The negatives coming out of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings were mostly related to broader circumstances and the team’s general trend. The Hurricanes pushed their win-less start to the current road trip to three games with the overtime loss. The team also missed out on the extra overtime/shootout point for the seventh time in 10 tries, leaving valuable points on the table. And with the Metropolitan Division still surging the Hurricanes lone point kept them battling the Flyers for the bottom spot in the division well below the rising pack that includes all of the other six teams in the division.
But if one instead looks at Saturday’s game by itself, there are many more positives than negatives. The Hurricanes mostly righted the ship as compared to Thursday’s defense and special teams debacle. Despite not being rewarded past two-thirds of the game, the Hurricanes put forward one of their more consistent (even if not truly great) efforts in recent times. And most significantly, the team dug down and fought for the game in the third period despite being down two goals to the top team in the Western Conference on a night when their goalie seemed unbeatable. Against that context, collecting one out of two points was a good night that falls short only in making up for other recent shortcomings.
But the other recent shortcomings do matter, and though Monday’s game is again just a single game, the urgency to win and then do it at least a few times more is increasing.
Against that backdrop, the Hurricanes will play the first game in a back-to-back on Monday against the Anaheim Ducks before making the team’s first visit to Las Vegas on Tuesday.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Anaheim Ducks
1) A carry over from Saturday
As noted above, the effort and general level of play on Saturday were actually pretty good. The biggest thing was that the Hurricanes mostly cleaned things up in terms of volume and magnitude of break downs. On top of the quality of play, the team’s ability to stick with it into the third period and finally get rewarded was a positive. Perhaps the fact that the Hurricanes lost despite the late surge will eliminate the exhale that has sometimes followed good efforts. On Monday night, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can again find a good combination of sound and solid and also determined.
2) More in the middle and in front
Against another Western Conference team with good size and a physical forechecking style of play, it is important for the Hurricanes to make every effort to force play to the middle of the ice. One of my negatives on the Los Angeles Kings game was the degree to which the Kings forced the Canes offense to the outside entering the offensive zone and to the walls once they gained entry. As good as Jonathan Quick was, the Hurricanes also played right into his hands falling into the recurring habit of settling for too many exterior shots without traffic and the low-probability game of “try to beat the goalie.” It was not merely coincidence that Elias Lindholm’s game-tying goal was the result of first screening Quick such that he could not control a rebound and then quickly pounding the puck past him before he could recover. The Hurricanes were fortunate on Saturday in that they did not do enough of that but were rewarded for one of the the few times that they played the game the right way. On Monday night, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can find a way to get/keep the puck in the middle of the ice on the rush and playing with pucks and bodies at the top of the crease once they enter the offensive zone.
3) The goaltending
Scott Darling was not bad on Saturday, and he hit Coach Bill Peters’ target of giving up only two goals in regulation. But the goalie at the other end of the rink was better, and for me, Darling was just ‘meh’ on a night when the defense in front of him was actually pretty good. The Kings second goal saw a player streaking just behind the defense for a quick tip off the rush. A good shot was going to be a tough if not impossible save for Darling on that play, but he did not do his job and force the shooter to do that. Instead, he was a bit slow getting out to take away as much angle as possible and he left a gaping hold between his pads such that all Toffoli had to do was get his stick on it not lift the puck or hit a corner which would have been much harder. The overtime goal saw Darling fight off a wide angle shot that ideally would have been directed across to the far side boards. Instead, he spit it right back at the shooter who quickly finished to end the game.
Again, Darling was not bad on Saturday and two goals against is a decent night. But at the end of the day, there was again room for the Hurricanes netminding to be better, and the goalie at the other end of the rink was better.
In a case of deja vu, we have reached the point where goaltending will be a watch point each and every game until the goalie duo put together a stretch that helps goaltending fade into the background of the broader game.
The puck drops at 10pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.
With back-to-back weeknight starts, I have declared Monday and Tuesday a “badge of courage” series for the Caniac Nation. Who is in until after midnight for both games regardless of results?