With the Carolina Panthers 1pm start, the schedule lined up decent to watch the Panthers game and then jump to the DVR to catch up on the Canes 3pm start. Those who skipped the second half of the doubleheader did not miss anything. Ironically, right about the time the Panthers shut down turning a 31-0 halftime lead into a nail-biter in the second half, the Hurricanes failed to start altogether.
The Hurricanes started slow which has been the case in a few recent games, even good ones. Whereas a couple other recent slow starts featured sound defensive play that held the Canes tied, Sunday was more reminiscent of the dumpster fire in Vancouver a week and a half ago. The Canes had issues with turnovers in bad places, defensive zone coverage and just sloppiness overall. Noah Hanifin had 2 bad turnovers in the first period, 1 of which led to a goal against. Jeff Skinner saw Olli Maata walk right around him from the blue line in and beat Eddie Lack for another first period goal. Jaccob Slavin also uncharacteristically had a couple bad turnovers in the game that did not end up in the net and also missed an open net on a rebound when the game was still close. The Canes exited the first period with a 2-0 deficit and never really pushed back on the way to a 5-0 shellacking. Clinging to life down 2 in the second period, the Canes took 4 penalties and failed to score with 43 seconds of 5-on-3 power play time. From there, the Penguins were off to the races and an early win.
As bad as Sunday’s loss was, I think it is 1 that fans and the team just needs to quickly let go of. With the loss, the Canes are still a good 4-2-3 through much of a challenging January schedule travel-wise. And though down a step after Sunday’s loss, they are still in the hunt and within reach of the pack in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings. With only the overtime loss point to show for 2 games this weekend, I think the loss does add a bit of urgency to Canes next game on Thursday and the 3 games that follow before the all-star break. It took an extended run of solid play to nearly catch up to the pack. It is important to avoid a run of losses that gives it all back quickly.
A few player and other notes with a couple positives first…
1) Ron Hainsey
Especially early when the team was constantly under duress in its own end and clawing to stay in the game and set the stage for a rebound, Ron Hainsey’s name came up on the TV broadcast over and over making defensive plays often to thwart scoring chances.
2) Jordan Staal
He and his line did not muster the offensive surge that I hoped for, but Jordan Staal was not on the ice for any of the 5 goals against and also won 15 of 20 face-offs. His line at least held their own early in the game.
3) That’s about it…
Otherwise, Sunday was mostly a throwaway game for most of the team. I do not think there was anything Eddie Lack could have done to win a point or 2, but he did not have any answers either giving up 5 goals on 32 shots. Past Jordan Staal, none of the Canes leaders stood out in a good way. Jeff Skinner had an uncommon defensive ‘oops’ and the other top players mostly were either quiet or just generally outplayed by the Penguins players.
4) Learning night for the kids on D
After a run of solid hockey that saw Jaccob Slavin playing solid top 4 minutes in winning efforts, the kids on D have hit a small bump in the road. After a costly turnover on Friday that led to a goal against, Jaccob Slavin had a couple in his own end on Sunday that led directly to scoring chances against and also missed an open net on a rebound when the Canes were still clinging to life. With the tough moments already noted, it is important to say that Slavin’s game was a mixed bag with another big minute night in a feature role against the top Penguins lines. Noah Hanifin had a couple bad defensive zone turnovers which led directly to 2 scoring chances and 1 goal against. Both Hanifin and Slavin have been good of late, so best guess is that they just had a bad night like everyone else. This said, with Hanifin, Pesce and Slavin surpassing the number of games played in their college seasons last year, it is important to monitor their play for hitting a wall physically. In that regard, the upcoming all-star break is probably perfect timing to recharge.
5) Just move forward
The team will watch the tape and try to use it to learn and improve just like after any game, but I think the more important part is just putting this game behind them and move forward mentally. The January 2016 Carolina Hurricanes are a good hockey team so far and 1 bad loss does not change that. The key is to get back to that sooner rather than later.
Next up is a needed and deserved 3-day layoff before a last busy stretch of 4 games in 6 days leading up to the all-star break starting with a road match up in Toronto on Thursday.
I am not sure anyone was immune for the malaise on Sunday and truly good. I thought Riley Nash started well and fought for and won pucks.