By all accounts the Carolina Hurricanes could have won a hockey game on Tuesday night in Brooklyn versus the New Jersey Devils. The Canes brought the hard hats and lunch pails necessary to do the work in a hard-working battle by both teams. The Canes got good enough goaltending. And the team even climbed out to a 2-1 lead heading into the third period. But just as the Canes scored 2 somewhat odd goals to build a lead, the New Jersey Devils scored 2 equally unlikely goals to rise up and steal a 3-2 win in the third period.
The game shows why it is so hard to make up even 5-7 points in the standings in the NHL. Even when a team is playing well, there are numerous ‘one of those nights’ pitfalls waiting for them. It can be the travel schedule that has a tired team playing a rested one — Canes dodged that on Sunday in Chicago. It can be catching a really hot team at the wrong time — Canes lost that battle last Tuesday and get it again versus Washington on Thursday. Or it can be a couple weird bounces that turn a winnable game into a loss — Canes lost that battle on Tuesday. Except for the truly elite teams that have a higher margin for error, it is extremely hard to string together any kind of extended streak even when doing the right things.
Now having seen the Devils 3 times in a month’s time, the team reminds me of the New York Islanders and to some degree the Columbus Blue Jackets during their formative years. The Devils are light on top-end star power right now, but to a man the team works hard, competes for every puck and is just miserable to play against at times. Nothing comes easy and if you do not show up and do the work (like the Canes 5-1 loss to the Devils on December 3), they make you look really bad.
Tuesday’s game featured another Canes leader rising up. In a game in which both teams competed hard, but neither team could find and semblance of rhythm that led to real good scoring chances, it was mostly a battle for pucks and ice without much excitement for the first half of the game. But in the second period Eric Staal turned 2 mediocre at best scoring chances into 2 goals and a 2-1 Canes lead. On the first, he took a nice Kris Versteeg pass and beat Devils’ backup Kinkaid with a quick release from an angle. On the second even more improbable goal, Eric Staal beat Kinkaid from behind the end line. After killing a penalty late in the second period, the Canes had a win on the tee heading into the third period up 1. But adding to their first goal that saw a flip from behind the end line go off John-Michael Liles and in, New Jersey then scored off a skate through traffic and then off Justin Faulk’s leg and in. When it was all said and done, 5 quirky goals split 3-2 in favor of New Jersey and left the Canes feeling like they deserved better.
Now sitting at 2-1 since the break and staring at another match up with NHL juggernaut Washington, the Canes need to find a way to win Thursday to keep a promising start after the break to fading into another round of treading water at 2-2.
A few player and other notes:
The duo which has generally been pretty solid had a tough night Tuesday. The first Devils goal came when Pesce lost a battle behind the net and the puck then was shot off Liles and in. That play was as much quirkiness as error, but it did characterize a night when the duo struggled a bit to win and advance pucks from their own end.
2) Eric Staal
The result did not dampen a big night for him. I would not say that he was dominant. No one really was in this game. But he found a way to put 2 pucks in the net on a night when nothing came easy. He deserves credit for that despite the outcome.
3) Cam Ward
Tuesday was a goalie nightmare. I have been quick to point out when Ward has given up 3 or even 2, and it was a negative for the team. That was not the case Tuesday. He generally played well and made saves when asked. All 3 goals against were the variety where you mostly just shrug and grumble.
4) The penalty kill
The group has not seen a ton of work, but in limited action the penalty kill seems to be rounding into form. Whereas earlier in the year, they were mostly just trying to survive, the group has had a decent string of penalty kills in which it gave up very little in terms of quality chances.
5) The elusive break even mark
After losing a couple games to start the season, the Canes have come close but not made it back to break even on the 2015-16. The first try to claw back came in early November after a successful conclusion to the western road swing. Tuesday was a second failed chance to claw back to a .500 record, but it was not to be.
5) Big minutes for the kids on D
With John-Michael Liles out part of the game due to injury (he did return), the kids on D logged heavier minutes nad looked fine in the process. Pesce played 19:46, Slavin 19:13 and Hanifin 18:15. The future is coming – or is it already here?
Next up is a big New Year’s Eve tilt in Raleigh at 6pm. The Canes played well and came real close against Washington just before Christmas and will get another chance on Thursday.