The importance of broader perspective
I think an important starting point for talking about Wednesday’s 6-1 home loss to the New York Rangers is to recognize that it is possible to both call Wednesday’s game what it was, an utter disaster, but also still be positive on the Hurricanes 2017-18 season on the whole thus far.
Through 20 games and using standings based on points above .500 to adjust for games played, the Carolina Hurricanes and their fan base will sit down to Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow tied with five teams for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
That is a good place to be on Thanksgiving.
Further, since the ugly loss still only counts as one loss, the Hurricanes are 5-3-2 in 10 games in November which is a playoff-ish 97-point pace. And the fact that a similarly ugly loss to the Islanders last week was followed by two wins suggests that it is not unreasonable to expect a bounce back.
The game itself
Because the results were so wildly different, I think most fans will view Wednesday’s 6-1 loss as significantly different than the two wins over the weekend. I actually think this game follows the trajectory of those games defensively with the biggest difference being that the Hurricanes goaltending did play lights out to mask the defensive problems.
I did not go so far as to predict impending doom, but a common theme this week at Canes and Coffee has been the recent decline of the Canes defensive play that has been masked by lights out goaltending. Tonight with Scott Darling returning to Earth and nothing to erase the mistakes, arguably the biggest story of the game was the porous Canes defense and its inability to defend in their own end be it off the rush or against pucks being worked around the offensive zone and through seams to wide open players in good shooting areas.
The crazy glove miss on a pop up for a goal by Scott Darling definitely helped set the tone, but the fact of the matter is that the Hurricanes were again not good enough defensively regardless of Darling’s play.
The other big story is the failure to start on time. Again, Darling was a big part of that, but it was not as if the team was playing well in front of him, and he was the only problem. By the time the Hurricanes showed up, they had carved out a two-goal deficit which is a recipe for losses against Lundqvist and the Rangers.
‘What I’m watching’ preview follow up
1-A return to sounder play defensively
It was not the intent, but the first point in my preview turned out to be an ominous warning. The need for the Hurricanes to return to a better brand of defensive hockey has been a regular theme this week. Wednesday’s Daily Cup of Joe discussed Jaccob Slavin’s defensive struggles in recent games. Earlier in the week I talked about the goaltending hiding what were not good games defensively on Saturday and Sunday despite the wins. And the need for better defensive play was front and center as point one in my game preview.
Thursday’s loss was hopefully capitulation day and a bottom point for what has been a negative trend. When Darling was unable to stand on his head like he and Ward did last weekend, the glaring defensive lapses were exposed. The Hurricanes had trouble sorting things out off the rush especially when the Rangers moved the puck and attacked secondarily after the initial carry in. And the Hurricanes also had massive problems defending passing lanes and the middle of the ice in their own end. The Rangers passed puck across the front of the net and from behind to in front of the net at will and in the process generated a high volume of grade A chances.
When the Hurricanes defense has been strong over the past year plus, the core has always been Slavin/Pesce. The duo in total and especially Jaccob Slavin had another tough game on Wednesday. The first goal occurred when Sebastian Aho lost his man coming up the ice and put Slavin and Pesce in a bad situation trying to defend a Ranger player flying in alone. Neither was able to find the passing lane and Pesce left Chris Kreider plenty of space to receive a pass and fire into the net from close range. The Rangers fourth goal was technically a power play goal but the goal occurred on what was basically a 2v2 rush. First Mats Zuccarrello blew by Pesce to the outside. Then Chris Kreider blew by Slavin to the front of the net for the goal. The Rangers fifth goal saw a passing lane somehow open from the boards on one side to the middle of the face-off circle on the other when Pesce and this time Hanifin were both real deep an unable to take away the passing lane. Another goal saw Trevor van Riemsdyk and Noah Hanifin both lose battles defending the front of the net on not one but two rebounds.
And so on…
The game just was not a good one defensively. Passing lanes seemed to be here, there and everywhere needed, and the defensive zone coverage in general just was not good.
2-A second source of scoring
The lone goal was another by Sebastian Aho which leaves the Hurricanes still looking for another line to get going offensively.
As already noted, Darling did not have it on Wednesday night, and I would not say that anyone else really did either.
The power play
I am not sure I would go so far as to declare the power play a huge success, but it did score again continuing a run where the production has been better. In addition, the simple ‘shoot whenever possible’ approach while not always pretty is not a bad thing. The Hurricanes had 12 shots on net across the five power play chances. Faulk had some decent looks stepping to and inside the top of the face-off circle from his point position and seems due to become the next player to break out offensively. The offensive zone time and puck control were also decent on Wednesday.
Whereas the power play had a decent number of positives, I did not see as many at even strength. The team did send players to the net on the power play where it was clearly someone’s job (Phil Di Giusepped spent a ton of time parked in front of Lundqvist), but at even strength, the Hurricanes resorted to far too much ‘let’s try to beat the goalie.’ Not surprisingly that mostly did not end well against Lundqvist.
One positive is that Aho stayed red hot finishing on another quick blast off a cross-ice pass to his recent favorite place to shoot from near the face-off circle.
There are definitely things to look at and tidy up after Wednesday’s game, but there is also an element of recognizing that these games happen to everyone, and that the key is to look forward and rebound quickly before a bad game turns into a losing streak. The Hurricanes did exactly that last week. After a disappointing and sloppy loss to the Islanders on Thursday, the Hurricanes rebounded for two wins over the weekend.
The chance to quickly right the ship and get back in the win column comes in the for of another home match up against the Toronto Maple Leafs at PNC Arena on Friday.