At a very basic level, I think the Panthers were just physically superior to the Hurricanes. Whenever this happens there is usually some element of working hard, paying the price, etc. But I think for the most part the Panthers really were just physically superior on Tuesday night. The Panthers players were bigger without being slow, and they were more physical without lacking skill. When the game went to the boards, the Panthers won, and when the Canes finally won the puck, the best they could do was try to chip it forward a step or 2. The game also had an air of the Nashville loss as the Canes gave up a goal against and saw another leader (Faulk this time) take a penalty within the first 3:30 of the game before even getting their feet under them. And also like that game, the Canes inability to hit a team mate’s stick in the neutral zone was brutal and had the ice tilted toward Eddie Lack for the entirety of the first period.
When the Canes scored midway through the second period to tie the game at 1 and gained a burst of energy in the process, it started to look like the Canes had weathered the storm early and just might be able to capitalize on scheduling that saw the Panthers play and travel yesterday. But after a short pause to catch their second wind, Florida resumed their physical dominance, score twice quickly on rebounds on the rush and ultimately won 4-1 after an empty-netter.
Chronology aside, I would pin the loss on 2 things:
1) The Canes top players including a new goalie failed to do much.
2) The Panthers were physically dominant through much of the game.
Player notes mostly of the not good variety:
–Andrej Nestrasil. Nestrasil was 1 of the few Canes who seemed cut out for 1-on-1 physical battles of strength and will all night, and he also took his turn in front of the opposing goalie.
–Brad Malone. He only played 9:07 but did what he could stake a claim to more ice time when the lineup is healthy. He played a physical game and had a nice assist on the Lindholm goal.
When you look for positives and the 2 that jump out first are from fourth-liners, I think that says something about how the game went.
–Eddie Lack. On Tuesday night, he reminded me a bit of the good version of Justin Peters. He was big and pretty aggressive and generally good on first shots despite playing significantly wider than the net, but he lacked for rebound control. As long as the Canes were first pucks cleaning things up, it was not pretty but it worked. But in third period when Florida continued to send bodies and pucks to the net, the dam eventually broke for 2 tap in rebound goals when Panthers bullied their way into the crease for rebound goals. When you break it down over the game’s duration, the first period 1 goal against had the potential to be the ‘holding the fort’ that Cam Ward could not provide during the Canes down periods in the first 2 games, but in the end the combination of a second Panthers’ surge and continued rebound control problems ultimately did Lack in.
–Michal Jordan. He struggled. He was uncomfortable at best trying to handle the puck on his off side, had trouble moving the puck, had a few minor defensive lapses and just struggled in general. I am still leading a ‘try Brett Pesce at least until he proves he is not ready’ faction.
–Horrible system play and basic skill moving the puck up the ice. This was the story of the Nashville loss. It seemed to disappear versus Detroit, but it was back again in full force on Tuesday. Trying to accomplish a trifecta of winning a puck in the defensive zone, getting it free and clear to do something with it and making a good first pass seemed like about the same odds as picking 3 horse race winners right today. In addition, the Canes inability to move the puck as a unit made it look like they were playing 2v4 in all 3 zones of the rink (maybe because they were).
–Ryan Murphy. He was a bit of a mixed bag with a few miscues, but after alternating between decent and bad, I would rate Tuesday as a small step forward not backward for him. He looked comfortable with the puck on his stick for the most part and was decent defensively, so I am declaring the game a net positive.
–Noah Hanifin. He still looks like he is ready to give the NHL a go on his learning path, but today more than any game thus far, he looked like a rookie with a couple of the really bad variety of turnovers including 1 in the defensive zone early that led directly to a Panthers blast from between the circles and a turnover at the offensive blue line late that led to a 2-on-1 the other way and 1 of the third period goals against.
–Elias Lindholm. I am even mixed on him. He obviously gets credit for making a scoreboard-changing play when he had the chance, but otherwise I thought his game was ‘meh’ again. Much like the other Canes top players, he just was not a difference-maker on more than a few shifts.
Now heading into the fourth game of the season and with nothing earned in the standings and adversity and frustration officially in tow, the Canes continue to look for a leader or 2 to step up and seize a win.
Sadly, the most interesting thing to happen on the ice this week could turn out to be the Canes practice tomorrow. After a lackluster effort and with 3 days off before the next game, I have to think that Bill Peters punishment tomorrow could rival the massive line skate after the disappointing second preseason game.