Friday night in Raleigh, the Hurricanes ran their losing streak to 5. Losing in the shootout did continue the trend of picking up points along the way, but 1 point was not really enough for the standings, the locker room or the faithful in the seats. To say that we have hit a tough stretch of Canes hockey is an understatement.
This game did deviate from the common recent formula in a negative way. Whereas most of the other recent losses have featured strong offensive games for the Canes that just lacked finish, this 1 was light in that regard. The Canes did pile up a decent number of shots on goal, but too many were the old variety of firing the puck at the net from well out without anyone at/near the net. 19 of the Hurricanes 34 shots on net were from defensemen and too many were from well out without traffic in front. It was as if the defensemen got the message to fire at will through traffic to beat a hot goalie, but the forwards missed the message on providing traffic. Overall, I thought the game was some combination of tightly played defensively and sluggish offensively for both teams and that the 1-1 score at the end of regulation was about right.
A quick check in on my ‘what I’m watching’ preview
1) Jaccob Slavin. What I really liked about his NHL debut was that he stuck to his guns and played his game. In prospect camp against much lesser competition, I would have described as an offensive defensemen with a penchant for trying to make plays offensively and without fear of carrying the puck in the offensive zone if no one stepped in front of him. To his credit, he brought that style of play on Friday. He had a tough first shift and a few struggles here and there, but overall it was a good debut. The thing that stands out with him which is similar to Hanifin is his combination of size and skating ability that enables him to cover a ton of ice with relative ease. Both are still figuring it out defensively, but physically both easily project to be very good ‘new NHL’ defensemen in a league where skating rules over all else.
2) The other D pairs. The defense at least defensively was not the problem tonight. I liked Liles/Hanifin in my preview and was okay with it afterward. I did not like Hainsey/Pesce in my preview but thought it was okay in the game.
3) Scoring/finishing. Nope. Still nowhere in sight.
4) A comparison in systems. I did not think either team looked good in terms of cohesiveness moving the puck, so I call it a draw that looked like about what it was – 2 bottom of the league hockey teams trying to grind out a win.
5) The positive stories. Despite the continued struggles in the win-loss column, I continue to find joy in watching the future develop.
Player and other notes
Brad Malone. Good for him. He continues to do his job when called upon. He did pick up a minor penalty early on a marginal call, but otherwise he did exactly what one would hope from him plus more. In 10 minutes, he was physical and noticeable shift in and shift out. He banged bodies, finished checks and pushed back at Dion Phaneuf after he ran at a few Canes players. Sustainable offense was nowhere to be found all night, but the fourth line probably had as many good shifts as any line, and his goal which was worth a point in the standings was icing on the cake. The fourth line of Gerbe/McClement/Malone also bested the other 9 forwards in total hits 13 to 11 despite being outnumbered 9 players to 3 and also seeing less ice time.
Elias Lindholm. I think he is hitting rock bottom. He is too regularly losing battles of any and all varieties on the boards, in open ice and most other places. His troubles seem to be past the point of a goal, a favorable line combination or something simple jumpstarting his game. He seems to need either a ton of patience while he works through it or some kind of kick in the pants to fire him up. Here is hoping some combination of Lindholm and the coaching staff can figure it out.
The power play. Ugh! When about 45 seconds of 5-on-3 time at the end of the 1 period and then at the beginning of the next period both went by the wayside, it was hard to feel optimistic that Friday would end well.
Brett Pesce is 2-for-2. So I count twice that a player has taken a whack at his goalie after the whistle and a perfect 2-for-2 that Pesce stepped up and put the perpetrator immediately in a head lock. Today’s effort against 6-3 220-poundish Shawn Matthias also showed that there is no comfortable decision to be a hero only when it is nice and safe. Pesce continues to be an incredibly good story on many levels.
Inability to create offense off the rush. Out of everything, the most frustrating play for me was when Justin Faulk took a quick couple strides in the defensive zone and made a perfect stretch pass right on Jordan Staal’s stick at the offensive blue line. Staal had nothing 1-on-1 versus the defenseman in front of him and the next player up on the rush was somehow Faulk. Even with a couple key ingredients for a pretty offensive scoring play, there was no cake or anything even close to it.
Noah Hanifin. On the list of continued progress for him is the growing ability to for him to handle pucks and get shots past the shin guards in front of him and toward the net. He does not have the blast that Faulk does that will beat goalies outright very often, but on plays like his goal through a Terry screen on Monday, he has the ability to contribute more offensively if the Canes can get bodies to the net for screens, deflections and rebounds.
Trying too hard. I think overtime might have been telling with regard to where Justin Faulk is. On his second shift, he came on 2 get the Canes 2 fresh bodies on the ice against a tired set of 3 for Toronto. The stage was set for the winning overtime formula from the western road trip that saw the Canes get a mismatch in terms of freshness/skating legs and capitalize. Trying desperately to take matters into his own hands, he took low-percentage shot that was held by the goalie and enabled the Leafs to change out 3 tired players. Then shortly thereafter he took the slashing penalty that finished overtime. I will take desperation as a sign of heart and character and live with it right now.
Skinner/Rask/Lindholm. That line was quiet. Despite the fact that it did not net actual goals, I still liked Skinner paired with Versteeg. He was at least getting a ton of high-quality chances and seemingly just waiting for the curse to be lifted.