On the heels of a 2-0 start to the week that saw that Canes win once in a shootout and once in overtime, the Canes took to the ice Saturday afternoon in Buffalo looking to go 3-0 and hoping that the Red Wings team that they are chasing would lose in New York against the Rangers. Neither happened. The Canes did pick up a point losing in overtime. Detroit did the reverse winning in overtime making for minus 1 point in the standings and dealing a setback to to the 2015-16 season in the process.

The game had some of the characteristics of recent Canes struggles that have mostly been masked by wins. The team was sluggish and unable to move the puck up the ice in the first period spending stretches of time hemmed in their own end followed by missed passes to the middle of the rink and an immediate chance to play defense again. But as with the 2 slow starts that grew into wins earlier this week, the Canes managed to hang around and give themselves a chance. Despite the slow start, Phil Di Giuseppe opened up scoring on a rebound after Skinner rambled his way to the net creating chaos and confusion while leaving the puck sitting there for Di Giuseppe. But the 1-0 lead did not really help the Canes find a higher gear, and the disjointed play and struggles moving the puck from stick to stick never really subsided. A Michal Jordan turnover led directly to a high-quality shot against and goal to tie it up. A nifty play by Sam Reinhart to open up a passing lane through Jaccob Slavin for a Jack Eichel tap in put the Sabres up 2-1. A third period Victor Rask power play tally on a nice pass from Riley Nash pulled the Canes even and ultimately sent the game to overtime. Jack Eichel ended it literally with 1 second remaining when Skinner pushed forward in his own end to forecheck had the puck flipped behind him for a Jack Eichel breakaway that he skillfully put through Ward’s legs to end the game at 3-2 Sabres.

All in all, it was a tough learning night for the Canes young blue line. The standings drive a negative perspective for this game. If the Canes did not need the points so desperately right now, closing out a week at 2-0-1 with an overtime loss point on the road would be at least a decent result.


A few player and other notes:


1) Hanifin/Pesce

The duo continued to struggle. My hope is to write this up in a bit more detail for 1 of the next few daily posts, but the short version is that the combination of a somewhat freelancing Hanifin who is still learning to support the puck is not meshing well with Pesce whose strength in his early NHL rise has been his ability to both support the puck and use support to move the puck north-south as a 2-man unit. The duo had numerous turnovers and was the worst of the 3 sets in terms of being unable to move the puck. In watching, you can see where Pesce has started much more to look for chips forward even if they are ‘safe turnovers’ in the neutral zone versus using his partner as he did at a high rate when playing with John-Michael Liles. These evaluation points and coachable moments are part of the path for the Canes young blue line to grow and be even better next year.

At a basic level, I think Noah Hanifin still plays a your turn (you have the puck)/my turn (I have the puck) type of game. It makes some sense since at lower levels, his skating was so good that he probably mostly just did the heavy lifting moving the puck himself. He is still very raw in terms of making the constant adjustments positionally to always make himself available for a pass across that then opens up a lane to either carry the puck or move it quickly to a forward in the neutral zone.


2) Skinner/Rask/Di Giuseppe

The line was not as dominant as it has been in recent games, but it still had its moments and did kick in an important goal. The line continues to be the team’s best and Jeff Skinner continues to play dynamic hockey. In consecutive games, Phil Di Giuseppe has netted a goal on a similar play that saw Skinner with the puck on his stick just inside the offensive zone with not much doing for anywhere to go with the defense in decent position. In both cases, he forcefully carried the puck to the front of the net creating a bit of chaos and ultimately a grade A scoring chance for his line mate who finished. Both plays also saw Di Giuseppe matching Skinner’s pace and being up in the play such that he could benefit from Skinner’s work. There are many Canes positives right now, but this has to rank as 1 of the most significant since the trade deadline in terms of building out a competitive roster at forward for the 2016-17 season.


3) Michal Jordan

After a run of pretty solid hockey, he had a tough day on Saturday. His bad turnover led directly to a goal against and a mishandle at his offensive blue line forced him to take an obstruction penalty. He was another on defense who also coughed the puck up too much.


4) Not even Jaccob Slavin was exempt

On a tough night for the blue line pretty much across the board, young stalwart Jaccob Slavin was not exempt either. He logged a big 26:40 and made a ton of plays but also had issues turning the puck over and was victimized by the Reinhart pass when he gave up the passing lane straight to the front of the net where Eichel waited for a tap in goal.


5) Riley Nash

He chipped in another point of the “making the play” variety when he made a nifty short pass to Victor Rask on the power play to set up an important game-tying goal that was worth a point in the standings and nearly 2.


6) Overtime ‘ugh’

Jeff Skinner’s incredibly strong play 5-on-5 of late has recently netted him another chance in overtime with mixed results. Earlier this week, he had a play where he tried to forecheck the opposing goalie on a dump back pass and left his 2 team mates to defend 3-on-2 behind him. Then on Thursday, his rush to the net set up the game-winning goal in Boston. Finally, on Saturday he made the incorrect decision to take a lunging swipe at a puck when both of his line mates were already caught deep with only a few seconds remaining in the overtime. When he did not come up with the puck, there was only Cam Ward to defend Jack Eichel in alone and it did not end well. At 5-on-5 Skinner has made incredible strides this season making better situational/positional decisions and when to go for it and when to live to fight another day. I think it would be fair to say that Skinner’s all in/goal for goals style of play still needs some calibration in overtime.


Next up is a tough match up in Washington on Tuesday night.


Go Canes!

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