Recap of Hurricanes 3-2 shootout loss to the Devils
Do not look now, but Cam Ward has now played at least ‘good enough’ if not better in 4 out of his past 3 starts including 3 in a row. The game started fairly evenly, but the New Jersey Devils built momentum as the first period wore on. The period finished with a big 19-8 shots on goal advantage for the Devils and a similar advantage for other shot metrics. Ward was sound and solid and beaten only on an odd man rush attempt by P.A. Parenteau at the 16:50 mark. All in all, getting out of the first period down only 1-0 was a good accomplishment for Ward and the team. The period was a decent blue print for how to survive a tough period on the road with good goaltending and defensive zone coverage that keeps high-grade chances to a reasonable level despite the deficit in terms of puck possession.
The second period was more even and a back and forth affair in terms of puck possession and attacking, but the Hurricanes won the score board. First, Jordan Staal scored on the power play after a phenomenal Jaccob Slavin play where he beat 2 New Jersey defenders at the offensive blue line and then mesmerized the other 2 before getting the puck to the front of the net where Staal whacked it home. Later Klas Dahlbeck scored his first goal as a Hurricane firing through a Elias Lindholm screen and beating Cory Schneider who did not seem to track the puck.
But for the sixth time this season, the Hurricanes lost a lead on the way to losing a hockey game. The third period was fairly even, and the Hurricanes were the better team late, but the Devils netted the only goal when Nick Lappin finished a rebound with his feet in the crease. Ward and Schneider were both solid when asked in the third period and in overtime leading to a shootout. After a shootout win last weekend in Nashville, the Hurricanes got back to their historical bad mojo in the shootout losing 2-0.
Getting 1 out of 2 points on the road is not a bad result, but leaving the extra point behind for the fourth out of five tries now could really hurt come March. The loss pushes the Hurricanes road record to 2-3-4 and sets the stage for the stage for a run of 5 home games to work on the other side of the slate.
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1) The Faulk-less blue line
In the first game minus Justin Faulk who has been lost to an upper body injury, the Hurricanes blue line fared reasonably well. Slavin/Pesce stayed together, and Peters went with Dahlbeck/Hainsey and Hanifin/Nackladal for the other 2 pairings sending Ryan Murphy to the bench. Slavin/Pesce did not look in over their heads against Taylor Hall and company, but they were victimized for 2 breakaway type chances. The first occurred when Pesce got caught up a bit in the offensive zone and Slavin incorrectly played the rush like a 2-on-1 which led to a goal when Pesce did not quite get back into the play. The other saw Ward rob a Devil of a goal in the third period. The other goal came when Noah Hanifin got to the front of the net to defend, but did not really do anything as 2 Devils players converted a rebound into the second goal. But overall, the defense did a much better job of surviving in its own end by minimizing the quality of chances even when they were losing the territorial battle.
2) Return to scoring ways
Depth scoring from the forwards continues to prove elusive. The first goal was driven by an individual effort by Jaccob Slavin and the second goal was what looked like a fairly harmless shot again from a defenseman. On the positive side, Elias Lindholm was involved in a scoring play for the second consecutive game when he helped win a puck on the boards and was the screen on the Dahlbeck shot. Sebastian Aho also mustered a couple decent scoring chances despite playing on the fourth line. But overall, the Hurricanes did not generate enough offensively.
3) The goalie
As noted above, for the third consecutive game and the fourth in 5, Cam Ward was at least good enough. He at least equaled Cory Schneider, gave his team a chance to win and was again a positive on the night. He has been gradually pushing his way into the 2016-17 season over the past couple weeks which is obviously an encouraging sign.
The right way to lose: The Hurricanes definitely lost the third period, and I think you could say the game in total in terms of shots, chances, puck possession and other metrics. The key differences between this game and a few of the debacles earlier in the season are that Ward was solid and did not make a bad situation worse and that even when playing much of the first period under duress in the defensive zone, the team fought for ice in the dangerous scoring areas and maintained its coverage to minimize the quality when the shooting gallery was running full power. The game was a reminder that it is possible to be outplayed without being buried in the NHL.
Nordstrom/Staal/Nestrasil: This game was probably the closest that this line has coming to reproducing what it did consistently in the middle of last season. They drove the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone and just generally played a heavy game that made it difficult for their opponents to win and keep the puck.
The next level for Slavin/Pesce – a win and a learning point: Especially with Faulk out (though I think it was the case anyway), Slavin/Pesce is the top pairing for the Hurricanes. The next step up for the young duo is to generate more offensively and also avoid the occasional ‘oops’ that almost always costs you when playing against other teams’ top lines. Slavin’s individual play on the Jordan Staal goal was a positive on the offensive side. On the negative side, despite the strong night overall, Slavin/Pesce had a couple ‘oopses’ that led to grade A scoring chances against.
Dahlbeck and Nackladal: After a stretch out of the lineup, I thought Nackladal and Dahlbeck had the good kind of quiet outings for the most part. Dahlbeck’s goal was also a huge bonus for a Canes team trying to scrape together scoring right now and needing that goal to get to 2 and to overtime.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a run of 5 home games that starts Thursday against Anaheim.