The biggest heartache in North Carolina today is obviously the Carolina Panthers loss in the Superbowl.
In game 1 of a Carolina sports doubleheader, the Hurricanes fared slightly better losing 2-1 in a shootout and picking up a respectable road point. And for the Hurricanes, you really could not ask for too much more other than a win. The team competed hard, played pretty well and had decent chances to win. In the end a hot goalie and inability to catch just 1 more break cost the team a point despite a solid effort.
The Canes finished its 3-game road trip following the all-star break with a respectable 1-1-1 mark. At a basic level, the formula to make the NHL playoffs is to get two-thirds of the points at home and half the points on the road which nets a total of 95 points which is usually about where the cut line is for the playoffs. So a 1-1-1 mark is right on target. At the same time, when you measure up the 3 points in 3 games, it shows how hard the task in front of the team is.
The negative outlook: Even with a respectable 3 points, the Canes burned through 3 more games and fell at least 1 point farther behind all of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Montreal and New Jersey (4 times) and gained points on only Ottawa and Detroit (2 teams).
The positive outlook: The biggest opportunity to push further up the standings still sits right in front of the Hurricanes with 8 home games over the next 10 over the rest of February. Jordan Staal’s line still playing a lights out puck possession game combined with Coach Bill Peters’ ability to dictate match ups at home is a great starting point to winning hockey games.
As for the game on Sunday, overall I thought the Canes played well enough to win. Cam Ward was very good, and only an equally strong game by Ben Scrivens kept the Canes out of the win column. For me, the game was a back and forth between the Canes controlling the game when they dialed in their strong puck possession game on the boards, and the Canadiens getting the better of the scoring chances when they could get the game to open up a little bit and be played in the middle of the rink. But even when the Canes struggled a bit, this game was mostly minus the the bad turnovers and defensive zone breakdowns that have plagued a few recent losses. At the end of the day, I think you keep the effort and level of play and hope for a bit more scoring.
A few player and other notes:
1) Noah Hanifin
I thought he had a particularly strong game and 1 of his best this season. Most noticeable was what he did offensively. On the power play in the first period, he set up a real good deflection chance for Elias Lindholm that went off the post with a heady slap pass and also a decent chance for Kris Versteeg on a different power play. He continued his regular role driving successful entry into the offensive zone on the power play for his unit on a power play that was reasonably good on Sunday despite not scoring. He jumped into the right lane on the rush and received a pass and gained a decent 3-on-2 scoring chance for his effort. And he generally had a solid game moving the puck. More significant than the noticeable offensive plays, he was quietly good defensively on multiple occasions. He made 2 really good plays on 2-on-1s in the first period being strong positionally and then closing at the right time to get his stick on a pass and a shot.
2) The rest of the defense
The blue line in total got back to playing pretty sound hockey. The shot total was fairly high, but the volume of mistakes, bad turnovers and high-quality scoring chances given up was modest giving Cam Ward a chance on most shots.
3) More of the same from Jordan Staal’s line
Like clockwork, Jordan Staal along with line mates Andrej Nestrasil and Joakim Nordstrom continued to play a strong puck possession game. They did not generate as much offensively, though did score on a Jordan Staal goal with help from Jeff Skinner on a partial change, but they were still strong driving play into the offensive zone and in giving up only low-quality chances when playing in the defensive zone.
4) Jeff Skinner
In consecutive games, he has made strong a strong individual play to win, keep and pass a puck that led to a Jordan Staal shot and a goal from Jordan Staal on Friday and today a goal for himself when he went to the front of the net to deflect Staal’s shot into the net. He is not in the middle of 1 of his lights out offensive runs but rather is contributing by working hard and winning pucks right now. The combination of more gradual contributions like the past couple games and his usual scoring outbursts together is the difference between being a 45-55-point player and pushing up to 65+.
5) Cam Ward
He was very good in his second start since returning from his concussion (and also the all-star break). He even gave the Canes 5 minutes of overtime and 4 chances on the shootout to win a game with no luck. The team could not ask for more from him in this game despite the loss. It is good to see him pick up where he left off playing solid hockey heading into the upcoming run of home hockey.
Next up is a 4-day layoff leading up to a back-to-back games next Friday and Saturday that still matter for the 2015-16 season and will also include a tremendous set of festivities for the 10-year anniversary of the Carolina Hurricanes winning the Stanley Cup. If you don’t have a ticket for a great trip down memory lane, get one!