Saturday night in Washington, D.C. the Hurricanes lost 4-1 to the Capitals. The game was the second of a back-to-back for the Canes, and it showed. The Caps were faster, more aggressive and pretty much more everything out of the gate and throughout the game. To win or just get points in a game like this, it takes 2 of 3 things – great goaltending, winning the special teams battle or either making a couple great plays or catching a couple lucky bounces. Despite 4 goals against, I think you could actually claim that the Canes did get great goaltending. Cam Ward was incredibly good early giving up only 1 goal in a lopsided first period and nothing in a second that also had a Caps advantage. He eventually collapsed in the third period under the weight of a couple weird goals and very little help from the other 18 players. I cannot help wondering what might have happened if the Canes could have mustered a lucky goal or 2 earlier in the game such that they were not playing from behind all night. Regardless, this is clearly not a game that can be pinned on Ward. He was generally good and just maybe would have been good enough had the Canes given him some support earlier.
Despite the disappointing results and lopsided play, I think this game is more of failure because of what led up to it. Had the Canes put a similar whooping and earned results for it when the team had Detroit and then Florida in the second half of back-to-backs, then maybe you just write this game off as a tough 1 on the schedule. But with the Canes oscillating between good and bad outings and trying to climb out of an early hole, everything is magnified. Even still, I write part of this off to Washington being a good hockey team, having a physical advantage on the schedule and importantly playing a very good game.
When you look through basic numbers, it is glaring how little offense the Hurricanes generated:
–Only 8 shots by forwards.
–Only 8 shots at even strength.
That just is not going to win many hockey games.
What I’m watching checklist
1) Continuation for McGinn/EStaal/Versteeg.
Like the rest of the team, this line never really got going on Saturday.
2) More participants – the skaters.
I am not sure anyone really played great, so there really were no additions to the ‘playing well’ list.
3) More participants – in net.
This was arguably the only positive in the game. Cam Ward did rise up and play well with very little help in front of him.
Jordan was on the ice for 3 goals against and played a fairly significant part in 2 of them. On the first Caps goal on the power play, Jordan had the puck on his stick and failed to clear just before the Caps scored. On the last goal, he lost his stick in the corner and was slow catching up, arriving just in time to be in the picture for Ovechkin’s celebration after he scored from between the circles. Liles was a team worst minus 2, but he was equally parts not great and victim of circumstances.
Player and other notes
Cam Ward — I am on record as not being impressed by his play through 4 games, but he was great for as long as he could be with no help in Saturday. He played better than 4 GAA and received no help. We will never know, but it would be interesting to know how this game would have turned out if the Canes could have a mustered an earlier goal to avoid playing from behind the entire game.
Nathan Gerbe/Jordan Staal/Andrej Nestrasil — This line faded into the background as the game wore on, but early in the game, I thought the line actually had some pretty good shifts where they were strong on the puck, able to cycle it and went to the net in bunches once the puck got to the point.
Michal Jordan — I thought he struggled again. He continues to have intermittent trouble handling the puck on his off side. Equally significantly, I think it is starting to creep into the rest of his game per my notes above. Just maybe this it he game that draws Brett Pesce into the lineup.
Power play/special teams — If there is 1 thing that could have tilted this game more favorably, I think it is special teams and especially the Canes power play. The team had 3 power plays after the Caps went up 1-0 and before they went up 2-0 including 38 seconds on 5-on-3 power play time. I think those opportunities, especially the 5-on-3 time could have been a turning point. To further tilt an already tilted game even further the wrong way the Caps scored twice on the power play.
Winning the middle — Right after the game ended, I said on Twitter that if the Canes win the middle of the rink, they are fine. If they do not, they are horrible. Aside from the Detroit loss which was an anomaly, the other 3 Canes losses featured stretches or entire games where the team struggled to move the puck out of their own end such that the best possible was to pitch he puck back to the other teams’ defense. And in the same games the opponents seemed to move the puck through the neutral zone with ease. I think Peters and his staff need to work on some options for shorter passes to get moving north-south more quickly before teams can set up in the middle of the rink and make it real hard for the Canes young defenders to find a first pass forward at anything more than a deliberate pace.
Okay first leg of road trip — If you think of this weekend as the first leg of the 7-game NC State Fair road trip, I think it is actually a modest success. Going 1-1 in a road back-to-back against 2 playoff teams is actually pretty good. Sure the Canes need to make up for the 0-3 start at some point, but maybe for right now hanging at .500 on the road trip if good enough.
Next up, the Canes return home for a couple days of kettle corn like the rest of us before heading out for the second leg of the road trip that starts with a game against the Avalanche on Wednesday.