On Sunday in Raleigh, the Hurricanes drifted just enough from the recent pillars of their success, namely goaltending and solid defensive play. Cam Ward was not bad and not directly responsible for the loss, but on a few shots where he seemed to have a chance and the Canes needed another save, he did not have 1. By the time the Canes surged late offensively the 4-1 Lightning lead was too much. And the Canes defense which has been pretty air tight during the winning streak took a couple too many penalties and got caught multiple times in quick transitions providing Tampa Bay with good scoring chances off the rush.
Getting within a win of break even and losing at home hurts, but the bigger picture is still promising. The 3-1 week is a keeper any week. And the Lightning are going to beat a bunch of other teams this year too. Best is to consider the week a success, take advantage of the rest and practice time and be ready to go again next weekend. This is definitely a time to look forward to the home-heavy November schedule and to capitalize on it.
If you look at the game from start to finish, it had multiple momentum swings:
First period: Both teams seemed to be feeling it out. The puck went both ways, but the volume of high-quality scoring chances was minimal. I think the Canes had a small edge, but it was not a big ‘rested team vs. tired team’ type of gap.
Second period: I think this is where the momentum changed. The Canes gave up a goal early to net the game at 1. After that the Canes rebounded and seemed to be getting strong as the second period wore on. Consecutive Canes penalties killed the Canes surge and ultimately let the air out of things when Tampa scored on a power play to exit the second period with a lead in a period in which it seemed like the Canes had the better chances.
Third period: Early on, Tampa gets a couple chances and makes no mistake finishing them to the tune of a 4-1 lead. The Canes finished strong and fought to within 4-3 (though last goal was with only 1 second remaining), but that only made the could’ve/should’ve/would’ve greater.
Player and other notes:
He had another solid game offensively and is playing really well right now. The Eric Staal goal early was nothing pretty, but Eric Staal going to the front of the net and Kris Versteeg figuring out how to get the puck there is a quality repeatable recipe for scoring.
He was quieted when Tampa surged, but he scored a big goal early to stake the Canes to a lead and continued to play a physical power forward game. Though the last second goal by Jordan Staal did not matter in terms of the outcome, it was a very nice reminder that if Eric Staal goes to the front of the net and screens the goalie, goals happen.
Finishing off the first line of EStaal/Rask/Versteeg, Victor Rask had a great game offensively with 3 assists. Both of the last 2 assists were nice passing plays. He sprung Versteeg in alone on goal with a nice assist on a stretch pass, and he put the puck right in Jordan Staal’s wheel house on the last second goal. He obviously had a solid 2014-15 season after rising up from deep on the depth chart and playing solid 2-way hockey oftentimes in the top 6, but I think bring more offensively, especially in the playmaking/assist category, is the next step to being more of a true top 6 center who brings enough offensively.
This group was quiet, too quiet. In a game where there was scoring chances to be had as the game wore on, this line had too few.
Rookie learning game #1-Noah Hanifin
When you have an 18-year old rookie and a 20-year old rookie playing significant minutes on the blue line, you have to live with some ‘learning nights.’ Sunday night was 1 of those.
He struggled on Sunday. He had 2 more plays when he stepped up to defend at the offensive blue line and had the puck go by him for an odd man rush. I think this is the most glaring thing in his game that should be fairly easy to clean up. At lower levels it might have been possible for him to actually defend here because of his skating and reach. At the NHL level, you either need to get to those pucks first (or at least tie such that you can play the body while you try to win the puck) or otherwise you need to start building speed backwards. The positive is that the adjustment here is a fairly easy 1. He continues to look a bit tentative with the puck with the majority of it camouflaged by Ryan Murphy’s growing confidence and willingness to play with the puck on his stick on that pairing. On Sunday, he had the play where he tried to skate across and almost hand it to Pesce instead of skating north-south. The puck instead ended up on Stamkos’ stick right between the circles. He also took the penalty on the Stamkos’ second period goal and misread the situation when he failed to turn and go to J.T. Brown who was heading in alone with the Lightning changing. He has twice looked out of sorts defending on the rush on the left side (other was when Hertl walked around him to the inside), so it might be something to keep an eye on.
My biggest concern is not the mistakes that are inevitable for a rookie who is learning but rather his tentativeness with the puck on his stick. I would be much happier living mistakes while he tries to translate his style of play to the NHL level.
Rookie learning game #2-Brett Pesce
Pesce was not horrible, but his game did take a small step back in this game. When Liles let a forward inside of him on the opposite side, Pesce made the right play to slide over to keep the Lightning player to the outside but failed to take away the passing lane which led to a goal. He also took a penalty and failed to clear a puck on the penalty kill shortly before Stamkos’ goal. He also had some of the same troubles moving the puck from stick to stick that troubled the Canes in general on Sunday night. The positive with his game is that he is gradually starting to feel comfortable and do more with the puck on his stick after leaning heavily on Liles in his first couple games.
I continue to really like his game. He ultimately needs to succeed or fail playing the game of a skating, puck-carrying defenseman. Sure, he needs to be decent defensively, but the path to success for him is not by trying to morph into a conservative stay-home defenseman. So he is playing his game aggressively right now, and the results have generally been good. Had the Canes forwards been better at getting to the front of the net on Sunday night, he might have notched a couple assists like he did on Friday. He finished with 4 shots on goal and 3 more shots that were blocked on the way through and was not on the ice for a goal against.
It is not fair to pin this loss on Ward, but I do think there were points to be had if he could have made a couple more key saves on shots where he had a chance. He had little to no chance on the Callahan goal once that pass got across. The others were all good shots, but he did have a chance.
- The Stamkos goal was deflected, but it was deflected from well out giving Ward time to react but it beat him into the blocker side top corner.
- The Brown goal was well-placed, but it was also a reasonably soft backhand from a bad angle. A glove save or possibly just a slightly better angle might have stopped this shot.
- The Johnson goal was another tough stop off the rush, but Ward went down early which game Johnson a target, and he also gave up the short side.
Again, I do not mean to say that this loss should be hung solely on Ward. The defense and coverage off the rush especially was loose compared to the rest of the week. But all of the last 3 goals were within the realm of possibility for great saves to preserve a chance for a late comeback.
He did not have a phenomenal game, but I thought he looked better skating-wise which makes his rough outing on Friday look like an anomaly not a trend which is obviously a good thing.
All in all it was a very good week for the Hurricanes, but they do need to find a way to string together a bit of a run during a home-heavy November.