With the Flyers win on Saturday afternoon and the Hurricanes loss on Saturday night, the Canes were officially eliminated from the 2015-16 playoff chase.
As disappointing as it is to miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, the 2015-16 campaign has many more positives than negatives. The team became significantly younger and significantly better at the same time which offers optimism for a better future.
As easy as it is to be positive about the 2015-16 season in total, it is hard to find much positive about the Canes 5-1 loss to the Blue Jackets on Saturday night. The game was actually the reverse of many recent Canes wins and overtime losses. The good guys came out with jump and were the better time by a wide margin in the first period. Jeff Skinner staked the Canes to a 1-0 lead with another of his crazy pretzel man plays that saw him contort, evade a defender and then somehow shoot despite seemingly having skates, arms and his stick all going random directions. But after jumping out to a 1-0 lead, a bad turnover by Jay McClement combined with Noah Hanifin leaning a bit too far forward led to a Brandon Saad breakaway goal, and the first period ending at 1-1 despite the Canes winning the shots on goal battle 16 to 6 for the period.
After a strong start and generally solid first period, the second period was more or less a train wreck. The Canes had an uncharacteristically high volume of mistakes and blown defensive zone coverage. The result was 3 Columbus goals and a 4-1 deficit after 2 periods. The first goal featured a Columbus pass right through Hanifin who was defending the puck carrier and more significantly Jay McClement and Brad Malone who were generally in the right place but not aware of Brandon Saad jumping in behind them. The third goal saw Justin Faulk in the right place defending the front of the net but the pass zipping right past his stick to Brandon Saad for a tap in and hat trick. The final goal cam with 0.1 seconds remaining after Jaccob Slavin panicked on the penalty kill and flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. The Canes lost the draw, then saw Eddie Lack spit out a rebound and finally saw Columbus put an exclamation point on a rough period with a late goal.
The third period was not as bad as the second period, but it was not great either. Another fit of sloppy defensive zone coverage saw a point blank chance get by Eddie Lack who was off his angle to make it 5-1. At that point, the game was about over and t
A few player and other notes:
1) Jeff Skinner
He continues to be the team’s best player since the trade deadline. He did not have as many scoring chances as a few other recent games, but he made things happen for a goal in the first period and with it pushed to 28 goals on the season.
2) Jay McClement
He had a real tough night. He had the turnover that led directly to Saad’s breakaway goal in the first and the blown coverage on Saad’s second goal. He was on the ice for 3 of the 5 goals against and had 2 bad miscues which is about 2 too many for a player whose strength on good nights is his safe and defensively sound style of play.
3) Learning night for the young D
There were some good shifts but just too many mistakes from the Canes young defensemen. The bigger mistake was made by Jay McClement in each case, but Noah Hanifin figured in both of the Blue Jackets’ first 2 goals. Justin Faulk was victimized by a pass through the crease for the third goal. And Jaccob Slavin, who had a good night overall, took a bad delay of game penalty with 8 seconds remaining in the second period when he could have eaten the puck in the corner to run out the period just before Columbus’ fourth goal. Brett Pesce’s errors were not as much the flashing lights variety, but he was not great either.
It is important to remember that the group is young and still learning, and also important to remember that even good blue lines have tough games. The key is to avoid bad streaks that span games or weeks and to instead bounce back quickly.
4) Eddie Lack
The defense in front of him was shaky on Saturday night, but Lack could also have been better. The backbreaking goal at the end of the second period was the result of a juicy rebound, and the fifth Columbus goal saw him off his angle with room to beat him on the short side.
5) Some interesting tinkering late
The lopsided score saw Canes coach Bill Peters tinker a bit with combinations. In the last 10 minutes, he went with Hainsey/Faulk, Slavin/Pesce and Hanifin/Murphy. I like the idea of getting both Faulk and Pesce ice time with Slavin to get an idea of how the various combinations look together.
Next up for the Canes is a road match up in Boston on Tuesday night before the home finale on Thursday against Montreal.