Saturday night in Raleigh featured 2 struggling Metropolitan Division teams who both desperately needed a win.
The game started well enough. The Hurricanes played a strong puck possession game and managed to hem the Flyers in their own end often resulting in a turnover even when they did get it. The shot totals reflected the Canes early domination, as the Hurricanes’ shot totals kept rising while the Flyers were stuck on 3. The period ended with the Canes outshooting their opponent by nearly 2-to-1 margin, with shots on goal at 9 to 3 and with a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard. Even better, the goal came from Elias Lindholm who got the monkey off his back getting on the score sheet for the first time in now a month (October 13 was his other goal). All seemed good.
And it got better when Victor Rask scored a power play goal on a nicely placed shot from a tough angle on an Eric Staal pass to put the Canes up 2-0. But ironically, that 2-0 lead just seemed to set things up for a repeat of the Minnesota Wild loss on Thursday. Just 6 minutes later Cam Ward was surprised, possibly screened by his own defensman and beaten from a horrible angle all the way at the far boards at or slightly inside the face-off circle. Just like the Wild goal, the goal seemed to provide life and hope to a team that was being beaten handily, and the Flyers used it to gradually build a game probably feeling good about being down only 1 despite being handily outplayed. The Canes outshot the Flyers 9 to 4 in the second period and exited with a 2-1 lead but the dominance was ending. Also to note, Ryan Murphy left the game after a hit from behind into the boards 5 minutes into the second period.
That set the stage for a disappointing third period:
- Was it a Canes team that lacks the killer instinct and confidence to finish off a game like this and instead tried to survive?
- Was it the loss of 1 of the better puck carriers in Murphy that made the timing perfect for the Flyers to dial up the forecheck in desperation?
- Or was it the Flyers pounding away through 2 periods that just wore out the Canes?
Regardless, the third period looked nothing like the first. The Flyers got pucks deep and hemmed in the Hurricanes defenders much like the Wild did in the second period. With a couple consecutive games of tape sending 2 forecheckers through the passing lanes at Canes defensemen behind the net and daring them to beat it with a good first pass, you can bet the Canes will see even more of this. When pressured, the Canes simply could not string together multiple short passes and enough system cohesion through the neutral zone to move the puck up the ice. The result was a third period of playing shift after shift primarily in their own end and without the puck. Not surprisingly, the Flyers eventually broke through with a nice tip goal by Wayne Simmonds with about 4 minutes left. As a Canes fan, you could see the writing on the wall when that second goal was not credited to Gostisbehere for his first NHL goal. Instead, it would be Jakub Voracek with his first of the season to win it in overtime when he sneaked behind Justin Faulk and received a nice pass for a quick finish at the front of the net.
The end result was a consolation point but another home loss and an 0-1-2 week that pushes deeper into a home-heavy November schedule with nothing gained.
Frustrating would be an understatement.
Player and other notes:
The finish on his goal was pretty nifty and poised. When the pass handcuffed him just a little bit, it was set up to be 1 of those shots where he just does his best to put it on net and probably fires it right into the goalie. Instead, he had the presence to realize that he actually had a bit of time and space, so he handled the puck to a better place and picked a corner high for a goal. He just continues to be a good hockey player in all 3 zones. He takes away angles and reads where to go/what to do nearly perfectly in the defensive zone. He creates good passing outlets for a first pass from defensemen and successfully carries the puck through the neutral zone. He wins face-offs to drive possession (only 7 of 15 Saturday but recently much better). And his offense/scoring continues to improve from a modest base in 2014-15. He continues to be 1 of the best Canes stories hidden amidst the disappointment.
Good for him getting the monkey off his back. His last scoring point had crept to more than a month ago (October 13), so one can imagine the pressure he was feeling. Here is hoping that it relieves pressure and helps him find a higher gear on a regular basis. He is 1 of the players who should make the Canes more than 5 deep at forward per this post from a few days ago.
Just like Thursday, it was not so much the volume but the when and what. With the Canes dominating the game and winning 2-0 late in the first period, Ward was beaten from a tough angle glove high getting Minnesota back to 2-1 and headed to the locker room feeling pretty good about their lot in life despite being outplayed for the entire period. On Saturday with the Hurricanes again winning 2-0 and dominating the game, Ward got beat on an even stranger shot pulling the Flyers to within 2-1. At that point in the game, the Flyers were generating nothing offensively and 2-0 had to seem like a huge hole. But suddenly at 2-1 the Flyers seemed to get the burst of energy that they needed to play their way back into a hockey game that they were previously out of. Along the way, the Hurricanes played a game that they seemingly could have and maybe should have won, and the other team’s goalie being better was again a part of it.
Challenges moving the puck against aggressive 2-man pressure
It seemed to go away for awhile, but the second period against Minnesota and the third period against Philadelphia harkened back to the Nashville and Florida losses early in the season. In all 4 games, the Canes struggled to get the puck out of their own end against an aggressive forecheck. Minnesota made an adjustment after the first period to start aggressively sending 2 forecheckers to the puck behind the net taking away the first quick passing lanes, gambling a bit and daring the Hurricanes to beat it which would yield some real good rushes the other way. They never really solved it. The Flyers did somewhat similar in the third period, going all in on the forecheck without too much regard for what happened if the puck got behind it. The Canes never really did get through the first wave and instead spent the entire period hemmed in their own end or at best able to volley the puck to the far blue line for a line change. Anaheim brings big bodies and a strong forecheck, so you can expect the Canes to see a bunch more of that on Monday and probably on an ongoing basis as teams see the same thing consistently on a run of game tapes.
Sure it is a pipe dream, but tonight’s game also put a Wayne Simmonds trade out of reach. With another Flyers loss the level of frenetic and irrational would have dialed up a notch in the Flyers’ management and just maybe Simmonds becomes the wrong scapegoat. Instead, a Flyers’ win decreases pressure a bit and causes a delay on hitting the panic button. And Wayne Simmonds playing like a warrior all night and getting rewarded with the game-tying goal by winning a battle at the front of the net unfortunately provides a reminder that Simmonds is part of the solution not the problem.
Where from here?
Part of it is that the players need to fight through this, find a way to win a game or 2 like this and build confidence and process to repeat it.
In terms of personnel, I am still where I was earlier this week which is the basic “When something is not working at least try something different.” As much as I would love to see Francis go make a long-term addition that adds a higher-end forward and equally importantly more compete like Simmonds, those deals are hard to do.
I still vote for the smaller shake up which is to recall Phil Di Giuseppe and Ryan together for a couple reasons:
1) From the Brett Pesce/”If it is not working (Jordan), at least try something new” category, I just do not think the current Canes depth forwards are good enough right now. And I do not think it is as simple as them playing better, finding the right chemistry, etc. Am I sure that Di Giuseppe/Ryan can push their success to the NHL level? No. But what does it hurt to try when the status quo is clearly not working?
2) It backs up Ron Francis’ verbal message with action. Arguably, the 2 best forwards in Charlotte get rewarded. And the message is sent to the NHL players that ice time is earned not given especially when the team is not being successful.
Next up is a home tilt against Anaheim at home on Monday. I figure Eddie Lack gets the start against the Western Conference opponent but then I would have figure Eddie Lack for a start tonight, so who knows.