Aiming to close out a three-game home stand with a plus in the win column, the Carolina Hurricanes took to the ice against a good Boston Bruins team.
The game started on pretty even terms in a first period that had great pace and also pretty sound play. Despite both teams flying up the ice, the volume of high quality chances early was minimal. Scott Darling was sharp early. He fended off some easy early chances and seemed to be tracking the puck well as he was assertive and strong with his rebound control. When the Hurricanes had a couple break downs later in the first period, Darling also stood tall making a good save and poke checking away another odd man chance. The back and forth affair was fairly even throughout the first period. The Hurricanes survived an early penalty kill but were still giving up the blue line with speed which would come back to haunt them later. But at least early, the special teams battle tipped positive via courtesy of some lunch pail work by Valentin Zykov and Micheal Ferland. First, both stepped in to help win a joust face-off. Then both went straight to the front of the net. When Aho flung the puck at the net, Zykov was literally in the crease and Ferland who was parked right at the top of the blue paint found the puck and a quick goal.
The front part of the second period saw the Hurricanes pick up the pace and start to mount a shot advantage, but the surge was short circuited by a couple costly mistakes in the second half of the period. First, David Pastrnak squeaked a shot through a hold from a horrible angle. Later Warren Foegele made a poor decision to challenge 1-on-3 in the offensive zone while shorthanded with his team changing behind him. When he was stripped up the puck, the result was Brad Marchand in alone and finding Darling off his angle just enough for a goal on the far side and a too many men on the ice penalty to rub salt in the wound. The Hurricanes did score a power play goal in the middle on a Dougie Hamilton snipe right off of a face-off, but the period ended sourly at 2 goals apiece after the late miscue and Marchand snipe.
The third period started with the Hurricanes surviving a penalty kill but then seeing Darling victimized again. Marchand won a race and freed himself of Justin Williams carrying up the left side. When Darling inexplicably played Marchand wide of the net instead of stopping at his post from where he could push off, the other side of the net was easy pickings. When van Riemsdyk was a tiny bit slow getting to the other side, Marchand deposited the wrap around into the empty net with Darling struggling to refind his bearings. The Hurricanes pushed some, but the Bergeron line did too. When Brett Pesce saved a likely back door goal by deflecting a pass, the stage was set for a last push with the goalie pulled. The Hurricanes had offensive zone time late but not much for real scoring chances.
When I net it out, the Hurricanes had a couple too many ‘oopses’ against a good team and were again unable to slow an elite scoring line that tallied all three goals (two were on the power play).
From my ‘what I’m watching’ preview
My watch points were on target today.
1) Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak versus Foegele/Staal/Williams
More damage was done on the power play, but the story was still the same. The formula of using Staal’s line to shut down the other team’s best is not working right now and played a key role in Tuesday’s loss. The line was actually split up in the second half of the game, but the trio collected 17 shots on goal. Bergeron was the best player on the ice in the third period, and Marchand and Pastrnak both found opportunistic scoring. MacKinnon’s line did similar in a Canes home loss last weekend. With Brind’Amour’s stick to it type patience thus far, it will be interesting to see if he makes changes because Staal’s line as currently constructed is struggling in its usual role.
2) Scott Darling?
The question mark in the preview had to do with whether he would finally play. He did an had an odd game. He looked sharp and would have easily been one of the three stars had the game ended at the midway point. But then he struggled in the second half of the game letting in a soft short side goal and then wandering out of net to give Marchand an easy one on the other side. Unfortunately, the measure of a game for the goalie position is more about how many bad plays you make and less about how many good ones you make. I do think there was enough early that Darling has something he could build on even though the final result was ‘meh’ at best.
3) Special teams
The positive was the two power play goals. But they were offset by two also for the Bruins, and I think the play at the end of the second period was the single biggest play in the game. Ready to head to the locker room up 2-1, the combination of Foegele’s misjudgment, the team’s haphazard line change behind the play and Darling giving Marchand just enough to shoot at significantly changed the trajectory of the game.
4) Playmaking from the bottom centers
Still nothing doing in terms of depth scoring driven by the centers.
Player and other notes
1) Scott Darling
I mostly addressed this above. Had someone watched only the first half the game, he or she would have walked away feeling really good about Darling’s return to action. But that evaporated into the night in the second half of the game. Regardless of how well a goalie plays for half of a game, two soft goals are just too many to live with at the NHL level. That said, in terms of looking forward, there was a lot of good early that is potentially something to build on going forward.
2) Sebastian Aho
With a heady play to get the puck to the crease with two Canes big men there, Aho extended his point streak to add a positive.
In recent years, a key ingredient in many home wins had been Jordan Staal’s line locking down the other team’s best scoring line and pushing the decision farther down the lineup. That is not working right now. The Hurricanes have now lost to Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, Colorado and Boston courtesy of big nights from the opponents’ top scorers.
4) Dougie Hamilton
Hamilton seems to be settling in. He is increasingly finding his spots to step up into the play behind the aggressive forward play. He had the power play goal obviously, but I think more telling might be the volume of times he is touching the puck in the offensive zone.
5) Too many mistakes
Arguably or the first time this season, I think this was a loss that you can chalk up to too many ‘big oopses’. Between Darling’s two and the domino effect train wreck on the goal late in the second period.
6) Results matter
The loss tips the three-game home stand to a 1-2 mark. The Hurricanes home mark now sits at a break even 3-3-1 which is sub-par in terms of chasing a return to the playoffs, and after a scintillating 4-0-1 start, the Hurricanes are now very close to a treading water level at 6-5-1.
Next up is three days off before the Hurricanes start a four-game road trip against the Arizona Coyotes on Friday night.