After some time to digest Friday’s 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, I said on Twitter that this loss bothered me much more than any so far this season. Exact cause for murky frustration can be hard to pinpoint, but I think it is 2 things:
1) Despite struggles, the Canes played their way real close to overtime. At a minimum, that would have yielded a point against a good team and made Saturday a double-down game to decide the week.
2) I think the bigger thing was that I left the game even before the late collapse feeling like the current Carolina Hurricanes team is farther away than I want to admit this early in the season. The first period especially but also the game in total was a stark contrast in moving the puck from stick to stick up the ice and in the offensive zone. The Canes could not make 2 passes through the neutral zone to enter the offensive zone with possession of the puck to save their lives. And Dallas offered too clear of an example of what is possible and how far the Canes are from it right now.
Would love to get others’ feedback (here or Twitter) on whether this game was as hard to take for them as it was for me and if anyone thinks I am making too much of a game that got away against an elite team.
As for the game, the first period was horrible – 1 of the Canes worst this season maybe not so much in terms of making big mistakes but in terms of mostly being able to do nothing. Someone can dig up the official totals, but the shots were roughly 80/20 in favor of Dallas and the Stars collected a solid 2 periods worth of shots and chances in a single period, and it was not the usual story of a bunch of power plays to do it (had only 1). The 0-0 score exiting the period was a gift from the hockey gods. Eddie Lack was good. Dallas also had a bunch of near misses. And to the positive the Canes did mostly avoid bad coverage breakdowns while spending the entire period defending.
But at the end of it all, the Canes survived the period and got out of it tied and still in a hockey game.
The second period was not a model for future success either, but at least the ice untilted and the Canes managed a few chances and even a goal.
Exiting the period, I told my seat mates despite the struggles through 2 periods, it would only take 1 good period to win a hockey game or at least get to overtime. And the latter looked to be the hockey gods’ choice as the third period wore on. The third period was a weird shift by shift mix. I thought the Benn/Seguin line became increasingly dangerous, but I also thought the Canes started winning most of the shifts with the other players on the ice.
Then it happened. Stepping forward harmlessly to collect an Elias Lindholm face-off win in the offensive zone, Ron Hainsey whiffed at the worst time and with the puck finding the worst possible Dallas Star player (Tyler Seguin) only 9 minutes away from overtime. Justin Faulk was obviously put in a horrible spot defending a 2-on-1 on the rush with speed. When Seguin won the game of chicken when Faulk went down to block a shot that never happened, the passing lane to the back door was an automatic tap in for Patrick Sharp. I do not really even know what happened after that, but the game was over before the Canes could even push back quickly becoming 3-1 and then 4-1 with the empty-netter.
Player and other notes:
Eddie Lack’s play is a positive trend right now. After a rough outing that now seems much farther in the past, he won with a solid effort last week and put forward another 1 tonight. On a night when the other team was better, he came real close to getting his team to overtime, and there was very little that he could do about the plays that foiled the valiant effort.
I honestly think I could write this line up pretty strongly as negative or positive based on actual events in the game and not be a complete liar either way. At the point of the Ron Hainsey ‘oops’ that unfairly earned them a minus to go with the other random minus on the empty-netter, they were playing shift after shift against probably the best line in the NHL right now and they were plus 1 goal. It was far from pretty and at times a little bit lucky, but that does not make it any less part of potentially winning a hockey game. The negative was that it was much from ‘surviving against statistical odds given the shot stats’ than ‘stifling a great line.’ And I think if you broke down their ice time shift by shift, they were more either lucky (Seguin missed the net on 6 shots) or a beneficiary of Eddie Lack’s work.
But again, at the end of the day, what they did could easily have been a key ingredient in a ‘hard fought, not pretty…wait for it…WIN.’
I would not go so far as to say all of the rest of it was a throwaway, but I think that is the extent of positives that are truly worth mentioning and not trying to paint it prettier than it was.
The Hainsey ‘oops’
It was just brutal. It is tough to pin entire hockey games on single plays, and the Canes still had 9 minutes to convert it to ‘resilient’, but the game did completely turn on that 1 play. To also give credit where it is due, his intentional shot/pass off the end boards to Eric Staal was a key part of the Canes lone goal, and he was a part of the group that survived against the dynamic Benn/Seguin duo other than the aforementioned ‘oops.’
Up until today, my negative with Jeff Skinner was almost solely with what he has been unable to do, namely score, but I have actually seen progress in what he has been doing. Friday night that was not the case. He decided not to go hard and engage on a couple key plays. It was going to be tough hand-eye coordination play on a bouncing puck that he whiffed on early, but he chose to take a quick swipe at it and mostly live with whether that worked or did not instead of digging his feet in and hacking away. He was similarly content to glide in a take a quick reaching stick swipe on the stretch path that went past him and to the goalie instead of digging hard to get to the puck and a potential goal. He also had 2 rebounds where he arrived after the rebound happened instead of stepping into the fray near the crease before the rebound even happened.
More succinctly, the path to more scoring for Jeff Skinner will come at least partially from having a nose for the net, and he did not have it on Friday night.
Inability to make 2 passes and get through the neutral still with possession of the puck
Other than the Hainsey turning point, that was the story of the game for me and the stark contrast between a team scoring goals in bunches and a team trying to scrape out 2 per game. We could debate for hours the complex mix of ingredients that are causing the Canes scoring woes, but is the biggest 1 simply the fact that there are not enough good chances because of the struggle to effectively move and keep the puck? The fact that the scoring woes are affecting pretty much everyone do suggest that the cause is an overriding team/system issue like this and not just a complete set of players all not performing on their own accord.
Evaluation relative to my preview keys
- While the Canes did not manage to button things down like against the Islanders, Eddie Lack’s strong play got the same low-scoring with a chance to win in the third result.
- As noted above, the EStaal/JStaal/Lindholm broke even with the goal against being not their fault, so I guess you give them credit for results without getting bogged down in aesthetics.
- Brett Pesce was pretty sound again and not on the ice for a goal against. Noah Hanifin had a mixed game. He had a rough shift in which he turned the puck over twice at his own blue line and was on the ice for 2 goals against, but he also logged 20 minutes of ice time and had 1 of the up ice rushes that I have been clamoring and fed a nice pass to the front of the net. Is it a foreshadowing of things to come?
- The much-anticipated ‘after 4 days of practice’ power play never made it on the ice in a game with only 1 penalty (on the Canes).
As disappointing as Friday’s loss is, the Canes get right back on the horse with a home game against Ottawa on Saturday. A win treads water at 1-1 in a light week.