After finishing up November with a playoff-ish 95-point pace and 15 out of a possible 26 points, the Hurricanes kicked off what will be a road-heavy December on Friday night against the New York Rangers.
December started with a thud and a 5-1 loss. For those who did not watch the game, the 5-1 score is misleading as it includes two empty-net goals and then even an extra power play goal after that from a power play created when a last desperate gasp saw the Hurricanes net a penalty on a failed offside challenge. On the one hand, the adjusted 2-1 score was not nearly as bad as the final score. On the other hand, the circumstances and story were just as bad or worse than 5-1 might make someone feel.
Per my game preview, the Hurricanes started on time and even caught an early break when Justin Williams found the net behind Henrik Lundqvist from nearly wide of the face-off circle for a soft goal and a 1-0 lead only a minute into the game. Other than doing early and often for taking too many ‘bleh’ penalties, the Hurricanes played a solid first period and exited the first stanza with a 1-0 lead.
But start of the second period featured what could best be described as a chain reaction implosion of a high magnitude. Haydn Fleury took a penalty only 21 seconds into the third period. Then Scott Darling allowed a goal on a gaffe that rivaled his glove ‘oops’ from last week. He somehow mishandled a harmless dump in from center ice and in the process left it laying right in the crease for David Desharnais to tap in. Only 45 seconds later Phil Di Giuseppe took an offensive zone penalty. And then at the 1:52 mark while playing 4-on-4, Noah Hanifin did very little to impede Kevin Shattenkirk’s lane to the outside and nothing to take away any passing lane back to the middle. Shattenkirk found Michael Grabner on the back door with Justin Faulk a step or two behind him. The series of plays first saw the Hurricanes looking like a deer in the headlights as things swirled around them and then look like a team that was deflated for awhile afterward.
The Hurricanes were the better team other than the mini implosion, but especially once Lundqvist settled in seemed too content to just try to play ‘beat the goalie’ mostly on harmless shots that Lundqvist could track off the shooters’ sticks all the way to him.
As noted above, the 5-1 loss is misleading. The game was a 2-1 loss with a bunch of extra shenanigans tacked on once it was mostly over.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers
Not talking about Scott Darling’s ‘big oops’ would be ignoring the elephant in the room. On a scale of 100, his mishandling would rate pretty close to 100/100 for horrible. The timing was also horrible. The Hurricanes were up 1-0 and the goal seemed to both add to a strangely bad start to the second period and deflate the team. At a basic level, Scott Darling and the Hurricanes goaltending in total continued a rough patch that is growing, and Darling needs to tighten things up and put an end to a run that seems to see him allow a grade A soft goal more often than not recently. That said, I think it is possible to both not excuse the gaffe but also recognize that his game in total was not bad beyond the unfortunate top highlight. Not counting the inconsequential garbage goal, Darling allowed only two goals and had no chance on the second goal which means that a decent night offensively could have helped bail him out.
The team’s reaction
I think another key story is the team’s reaction. The bad goal happened less than a minute into the second period and made for a tie score at 1-1. I really think that was a point in time where the team needed to respond. Be it a couple really strong shifts with some physical play, a higher level of intensity, a key bounce back goal or something. Instead, Darling’s ‘oops’ seemed to start the snowball down the hill. The goal against was followed by an offensive zone penalty, another goal against on a defensive breakdown and then a stretch of subdued play as the Hurricanes tried to regain their balance.
Justin Williams’ post-game interview was refreshing and case in point for why he was my choice to be named captain. He was clearly agitated and salty about the result, stated very clearly that the results versus the Rangers were not good enough and had nothing to do with taking the easy way out and hanging the result on the soft goal.
I think the Hurricanes need Williams’ dose and a few more of “This is just not good enough, and that isn’t okay” attitude. It’s not, “We just need to focus on the next game.” It’s not, “We didn’t catch any breaks” or “We faced a good goalie.” It’s just not good enough, and it’s just no acceptable.
As the team continues to tread water within range of a playoff spot but also a short burst of badness for being right where they were a year ago, I hope Justin Williams’ cantankerous tone, agitated demeanor and level of desperation are contagious and can help effect a change in mentality.
Too many penalties
Not counting the penalty at the end for the failed coach’s challenge, the Hurricanes took six penalties. After most of the 2017-18 season taking very few penalties, the team has recently been giving up power plays in bunches. I think it goes hand in hand with the general sloppiness and lack of attention to detail that is permeating other areas of the team’s game right now and maybe most notably showing up on the number of defensive break downs of late.
After a run of stronger play defensively, he had a rough game on Friday. He was beaten to the net for the Rangers’ second goal and also had a bad turnover and a few other ‘iffy’ plays when the Hurricanes were struggling.
One step forward, two steps back in terms of net front presence
In total, the Hurricanes have done a better job of getting bodies and pucks to the front of the net of late, especially on the power play. But sitting below the uglier headlines was the fact that the Hurricanes seemed to revert to ‘try to beat the goalie’ again without enough chaos in front of the net. Because the Hurricanes really do not have enough players whose naturally tendency is to go to the front of the net, I fear that this could continue to be up and down all year as Peters and the coaches harping about it is oftentimes offset by long-time habits that see players in different roles.
Next up is a quick turnaround and a game against the Florida Panthers at PNC Arena on Saturday night. With a win, the Hurricanes can salvage a treading water 1-1-1 mark before the December road trip begins in earnest.