Down the stretch, the Hurricanes have actually been a surprisingly good hockey team late in the season despite the volume of depth players and AHLers on tryout populating the roster. And the team has won its fair share or more of games lately. So at the end of a playoff-less season for a team and fan community that has not seen playoffs in 7 years, one would hope that the hockey gods would least step in and make sure that the last 3-4 wins were spent wisely to send the fan base off into the summer with as much positive as possible. But the past 2 games are clear evidence that this simply is not how it works in competitive sports. After a feel good road win that saw Cam Ward as a hero in Boston on Tuesday night, Ward and the team in general were not very good in their last appearance at PNC Arena until next October. Such is the life of a sports fan.

Even early when the game was fairly even and the Canes were climbing out to a 1-0 lead on a nice Jeff Skinner pass to Riley Nash who finished, the game had a few too many reminders of the bad Columbus loss last Saturday. Defensive zone coverage was ‘iffy’ at best early and did not really improve. But some amount of survival mode coupled with the Nash goal had the Canes nearly out of the first period with a 1-0 lead when Darren Dietz fired through a screen with 10 seconds left in the first period to pull the Canadiens even at 1-1.

The second period saw the Canes jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the second period on a Noah Hanifin shot through a screen. But the Habs pulled even at 2-2 when Max Pacioretty fired a shot high, off Ward and up and over him into the net. Then 1 of the coverage issues finally cost the Canes to make it 3-1. Hanifin got caught a bit forward in the offensive zone. The Canes recovered pretty well when Pesce got back to defend the puck and Malone filled in behind Hanifin, but when Malone and Hanifin both got mesmerized watching the player with the puck that Pesce was defending a deflected shot found Daniel Carr unguarded for a tap in at the far post while everyone watched. Things went from bad to worse when Ward again had trouble controlling a rebound on a high shot, and it was quickly banged in after finding a Habs’ stick.

Especially during the time when die hard Canes fans are struggling to let go of the 2015-16 season, it would been ideal to have the feel good games hit the last 2 home dates, but no such luck. All in all, the 2015-16 season has been a positive 1 at least in terms of heading in the right direction and doing it with a younger roster.

Perhaps it is a good day to focus on the bigger pictured rather than getting mired in a tough home finale.


A few player and other notes:


1) Patrick Brown…from the AHL try out category

His NHL play and track record project his scoring ceiling to be that of a fourth-liner not so much a player who would be a regular in the top 9. But he is making a strong case to provide depth somewhere between #11 and #14 at forward. He brings a good mix of size, skating ability and responsible positional and 2-way play that is a good fit for a depth role. Ideally, the Canes will get deeper this summer in terms of players with top 9 scoring potential such that a couple of them are pushed to the fourth line. If not, Brown could compete for a fourth line slot next fall. If not that, he would be a valuable player to have in Charlotte and at the ready when injuries hit.

Derek Ryan and Sergey Tolchinsky have shown more upside offensively, but I think either of those 2 players would be competing for a somewhat different role in the top 9 and asked to produce offensively to win a spot.


2) Riley Nash…from the NHL

And from the group of NHL depth players (I include Malone, Gerbe, Terry and Nash in this category), I think Riley Nash continues to be the other winner of the ongoing try outs from March and April. With more ice time, offensively capable line mates and even some power play time, his production has jumped. In his last 27 games (so one-third of a full season), Nash has an impressive 7 goals and 8 assists which projects to 21 goals and 45 points over a full 82-game season. That is not top line volume, but it is pretty solid depth scoring especially if you can push it to the fourth line and not lose too much from reduced minutes and power play time.


3) Going out with a bang

After a pretty shootout winner in Boston on Tuesday, Noah Hanifin added another goal on Thursday. He also led the team with 23:10 of ice time which beat his previous high of 21:35 in an overtime game. Now nearly at the end of his rookie season, the upside that Canes fans hoped for when he was drafted #5 overall last summer is clearly intact. Like any 19-year old, there are aspects of his game that need to improve, but he has every bit of natural talent needed to become a great NHL player.


4) Cam Ward

The order of the last 2 games is utterly cruel with regard to Cam Ward. He was the best player on the ice and more or less stole a win in a great performance on Tuesday in Boston. Then in the home finale that could be his last NHL game in a Hurricanes uniform in front of home fans, he had a tough night. Per my comments above, best is to look at the big picture.


5) Scoreboard watching

Ideal would be if Canes fans were watching the scoreboard with playoff ramifications, but that is obviously not the case. But tonight’s Los Angeles Kings vs. Anaheim Ducks match up does possess Hurricanes significance. The Canes rights to the Kings first round pick from last year’s Andrej Sekera trade could swing fairly significantly based on this game. If the Kings win the Pacific Division, the pick figures to be something like 27th-28th as either the third or fourth best division winner if they do not make the Stanley Cup Finals. If the Kings lose to the Ducks tonight and lose the division title because of it, the gains for the draft pick could be significant. The Kings would fall below the Ducks and also the Panthers who would be division winners, and they would also fall below the Blues, Blackhawks and Penguins and possibly the Rangers and/or Islanders. The result could be as many as 7 draft slots as long as the Kings do not make the Finals at which point the regular season stuff becomes irrelevant.

Shorter version: Go Ducks! A Ducks win tonight boosts the Canes second first round pick by 5-7 slots.


The Hurricanes finish the regular season on the road against the Florida Panthers on Saturday.


Go Canes!


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