After a weekend away from hockey for more important stuff (there are a few of those), I caught up with Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Detroit via DVR. It is also important to note that I did know the outcome and the basics of what happened before watching which does change perspective.
Overall, the Hurricanes played a great game. By pretty much all statistical accounts fancy and non-fancy the Canes should have won. The good guys had a huge margin in terms of shots, shots on goal, scoring chances, power plays earned, etc. But maybe unfairly, in the end the game was decided by big players making big plays with results. If you had to select the 2 players who made the most huge plays that resulted in goals being put up or not put up on the scoreboard, I think Henrik Zetterberg and Petr Mrazek would rate first and second. Zetterberg scored on a completely individual play and also worked the puck behind the net to label a pass to between the circles for another Detroit goal. Otherwise I think Zetterberg had a decent game, but I would not label it as dominant overall. Mrazek made a good number of pretty good saves and through some combination of luck and skill did not let much of a high volume of shots, deflections, pucks around the crease, etc. through him and into the net. On the other side of the coin, if you selected 2 top players who missed on chances to be the same difference-makers, I think the winners would have been Cam Ward and Jordan Staal. Ward just did not do enough when asked. He saw only 7-8 decent scoring chances and let 4 through. We could go through each play 1-by-1 and decide how great of a chance he had on each, but I think it is actually simpler. With a much higher volume of chances Mrazek let in less. And if you break down Ward’s game period by period, he saw very little work through 2 periods and then when Detroit dialed it up a bit for the third period, Ward was tattooed for 4 against. Jordan Staal was the player beat 1-on-1 by Zetterberg from the end boards to right out in front of Ward for a goal. Another goal when he first lost a face-off, then lost a puck battle behind the net and finally failed to take away a passing/shooting lane. The result was Detroit’s deflection goal.
Regardless of the broader stats, when another team’s best players are better than your best players, the other team has a decent chance to win.
But overall, I think as a Canes fan you really have to like this game minus execution issues. The Canes were the best team in the first 2 periods but a HUGE margin, and even in the third period, I do not think the team was as bad as the scoreboard would indicate. There is much more to keep from this game than to try to discard.
From my preview:
1-Start on time. The Canes rebounded in this regard.
2-The new blue line. Playing without James Wisniewski for the first time, the blue line held up well. The group had a pretty good night top to bottom.
3-Who steps up? Per my introduction, I think the answer is plus for Zetterberg and Mrazed and minus for JStaal and Ward. I also think that was the biggest decider of the game.
4) Who goes where? I am on record as mostly not being sure what the make of the line combination situation, but this was mostly a non-story on Saturday night. The Canes controlled the play, won the possession battle and had enough chances, so there is nothing to see here in terms of blaming Saturday’s loss on lines, chemistry or Bill Peters’ combinations.
A few player notes:
–Eric Staal. I really like his game through 2 games. He has been strong and very good playing down below the end line in the offensive zone winning pucks and has significantly increased the average amount of time he is spending in/near the crease through 2 games. Despite the team losing twice and him not having a big scoring outburst, I would not change much with his game.
–Jordan Staal. He has been the opposite of his brother with a disappointing start to the season. He took the high sticking penalty 1 minute into the game at Nashville and had the costly plays noted above. As a player whose calling card is shutdown defense, he has not lived up to billing in that regard. And his lines have been fairly quiet offensively since the regular season started even with igniter Kris Versteeg inserted into the mix on Saturday night.
–Cam Ward. He needs to be better. Period. Sometimes we like to get bogged down about how much of a chance Ward had on each goal and to what degree a defensive breakdown contributed, but at the end of the day, he was significantly below average on Saturday.
–Elias Lindholm. Too quiet. He has not been horrible, but he as not been a solid top 6 forward either.
–Jeff Skinner. He had a good number of shots and even probably enough of the higher quality variety. That is a positive, and I think if he gets chances like Saturday he will start to collect some points. I still fear that “Skinner firing at random as often as possible” is still a recipe closer to his floor at 20ish goals and that the path to a much higher ceiling must include more playmaking help to get him more chances where he is the trigger man for more high-end receive/shoot chances.
–Justin Faulk. At a basic level, I like his game. Most significant is how he is flying through the neutral zone with the puck. When he moves his feet and skates well, he plays well. His early season struggles were also tied to not skating and therefore too many passes from deep in his own end from a near standstill. So far, so good in that regard. For Detroit’s all-important second goal, Faulk did get lose a puck battle on the boards today in such away that the loss also yielded an instant passing lane to the front of the net which is a no-no.
–Jay McClement. He had a surprisingly tough time in the defensive zone. He was theoretically about where he should have been position-wise on Detroit’s second goal but had the pass go right through to a Detroit stick waiting to finish in front of the net. He another similar play that turned quickly into a tough save for Ward.
–The power play. Even the power play was okay, but again it comes down to that production thing. The Faulk goal with 1 second left boosted the power play percent but was too late to matter. The other chances were not.
–Noah Hanifin and Ryan Murphy. This duo was very good on Saturday night. Murphy especially rebounded after what I thought was a tough game for him in the opener. His good judgment on a keep in, a heady play making a passing land a great pass led to the Canes second goal. He also was just good all night with and without the puck. Noah Hanifin just looks real comfortable for his early stage of assimilation into NHL speed and pressure. If you still have the game handy on the DVR, check out his patience, poise and skating to move the puck from his own end at about the 5:20 mark (somebody holler if I have that wrong because I forgot to put it in my notes and am going from memory). He starts to exit the zone but runs into a bit of a dead end. Then rather than making a bad turnover or just chucking the puck forward, he makes a pretty impressive couple turns to circle back, reassess and then feed the puck across to his partner. There was no goal at the end, so it does not look like anything special on the surface but the combination of mental processing and his confidence with his skating is really pretty impressive.
I am still behind on reading other stuff, so I am not sure what, if anything, we heard about Riley Nash and Victor Rask’s injuries, nor have I heard any word on the goalie starter for Tuesday. I would figure that to come after Monday’s practice and will be absolutely shocked if we do not see Eddie Lack on Tuesday.
I like the Canes chances if they can bring this kind of game going forward.