What a strange week of hockey. On Wednesday, the Canes played a slow, sluggish and sloppy game with just about nothing redeeming or worth carrying forward to the next game. But the 1 thing worth keeping, namely Cam Ward’s play, was enough to get the team to overtime and win 1-0. Then on Friday in Los Angeles, the Canes were a bit better but got smoked 3-0. The Canes cranked out 40 shots, but a struggling power play and inability to finish rendered them useless. Then on Saturday, the Canes actually played a pretty good game especially when you consider that it was the second half of a back-to-back. Eddie Lack struggled mightily in net staking the Sharks to a 4-1 lead before being pulled and the Sharks hung on. Even with the 4-1 deficit at the midway point, the Canes had a chance to claw back into this if they could have banged in a couple of the rebounds that were there to be had to go with the 2 prettier goals.
But if I could pick only 1 of the 3 games to take the most things forward into next week, it would easily be the 5-2 loss the Sharks on Saturday.
The player notes mostly say why:
For anyone who watched the game, nothing even needs to be said. But for those who maybe did not, Lack surrendered 4 goals in 13 shots in about half of a game. 3 were the real soft variety when pucks leaked through him 5-hole either into the net or to be sitting there to be tapped in. This game was bad enough to be potentially traumatic and is something from which he will need to fight back.
Jeff Skinner – Riley Nash – Kris Versteeg
Riley Nash was a difference maker in his return. He scored a crafty goal and seemed to be the missing ingredient in a Versteeg/Skinner combination. This is actually the trio that played together way back when in game 3 of the preseason in a game that saw Jeff Skinner score 3 goals (including 1 in the 3-on-3 overtime exhibition). Despite the great game, the 3 have not played together since and Versteeg/Skinner just found each other again yesterday.
In addition to Nash’s individual effort, Skinner was buzzing around, firing pucks at the net and just generally dangerous. Versteeg also had a better game offensively.
I think you could make a great case for Riley Nash being the biggest Canes positive in this game possibly to be trumped by the fact that a rookie defenseman played almost 17 minutes in a top 4 role and looked pretty good doing so.
PLEASE let this line run together for awhile.
You can see him trying to drag the team forward. He is playing a ton of minutes, and I actually think trying to do a bit too much at times offensively taking a few risks stepping into the rush. I guess you need to commend the desire to make a difference and live with it. He had the big first goal to get the Canes back into the game.
I would not say that he was so much a positive, but in 16:58 of ice time in a top 4 role, on the road he was not a negative either. And that is a very good thing for a 20-year old who is only a handful of games past college and making his NHL debut. He did the same thing he did that impressed me in the preseason which is that he kept things simple and showed poise. He leaned heavily on partner John-Michael Liles often taking the safe pass across
Even his 1 small ‘oops’ was a positive sign. He had the puck in the defensive zone with no pass across and patiently assessed what was in front of him. When he made the non-panic decision not to chuck the puck into danger, he was pressured into losing the puck by 2 Sharks. But it was behind the net, was instead of making a bad pass up the middle, and was instead of making a mistake in front of his own net. He also recovered to win the puck back a few seconds late. It is this poise when plan A and even plan B do not work that usually comes slowest for young defensemen. I continue to think that Pesce is ahead of the curve in this important area, and I think that this is what makes it possible that he is ready to learn at the NHL level despite his inexperience.
I have been saying for a week that I have yet to see anything that suggests Pesce is not ready to learn at the NHL level and that Francis should take it game to game. He will surely have some bumps along the way, but he definitely earned another game on Saturday night.
The power play
Justin Faulk’s goal came on a power play that looked better in addition to notching a goal. The pace and crispness were better, so hopefully that carries forward to next week.
After a couple games being the low man (or very close) for ice time, he played 15:31, and it was because he earned it. He made things happen on the power play. He had a nice deflection right on net early, and got a puck to the front of the net that Versteeg batted over the net later. He also just played with a good pace both on the power play and at even strength. More succinctly, Saturday was Chris Terry’s best game of the young season.
He just continues to play solid hockey. He was paired with Brett Pesce who leaned on him and often took the safe pass across. Liles did a great job of making himself available, moving the puck forward and being careful not to put his partner in bad situations. Peters went Liles/Faulk and Hainsey/Pesce in the third period. I hope it is the case that this was just to top load the pairs to try to generate offense. After watching Hainsey struggle with Bellemore when the duo could defend but could not move the puck out of the defensive zone and up the rink, I much prefer to give Pesce help in Liles at least until he settles in.
This loss stings. The Canes played well enough to win, and it was not just in the tried and true ‘take a huge volume of low-quality shots and then talk about the hot goalie’ way. Ward’s outing on Friday would likely have been enough to convert this game into 2 points in the standings.
The positive is that the Canes get another shot at Detroit who was the opponent in 2 of the Canes best games and is struggling right now. A win would get the Canes back to break even for the road trip with only 1 game remaining.