The short version is a bit more of the same. One could make a pretty strong case that the Hurricanes deserved better, but again the team was in the game but found a way to lose.
After some time to digest the Hurricanes afternoon loss at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers, the basics are still the same for me.
The Hurricanes were dominant through 2 periods but emerged only with a tie partially due to a few great saves by Henrik Lundqvist but also due to the Hurricanes continued inability to find depth scoring and inability to finish. The Hurricanes run of being unable to score more than 2 goals on the road now stands at 10 games dating all the way back to a 6-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on October 22.
The third period also featured a recurring theme of playing poorly in the third period with a game on the line. After being sound and even stifling through 2 periods, the Hurricanes imploded defensively in early October form in the third period. The first 2 periods saw the Hurricanes outshoot the Rangers by a 25-11 margin. The third period saw the Rangers outshoot the Hurricanes 12-3 with too many of the shots being of the grade A variety after defensive breakdowns.
Right now, even when the team plays well, the Hurricanes suddenly have a “how is this one going to go wrong” vibe about them that is disturbing.
Recap of Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers
As noted above, the Carolina Hurricanes start was a strong one which is not newsworthy since it has been the norm for awhile now even in losses. As I said on Twitter during the game, the first half of the game was as if the hockey gods took the afternoon off and that goals were pre-awarded based on records/expectations coming into the game and completely ignoring what happened on the ice during the actual game. The Hurricanes were dominant during the first period with a 15-3 shot advantaged but somehow exited the first period with a 1-0 deficit when a Rangers stretch pass and some speed saw the Rangers get behind Slavin/Pesce and ultimately score on a rebound that Michael Leighton came within inches of keeping out of the net with a lunging save attempt. Along the way, Henrik Lundqvist made a handful of really good saves but also saw all of Nordstrom, Stempniak and McClement and at least 1 other Hurricanes player miss the net from close enough that it was possible to beat even a good goalie. As I said on Twitter, I fear that the scoring woes have reached the ‘squeezing saw dust out of the stick’ level for some struggling Canes’ forwards.
The second period was not as lopsided but still saw the Hurricanes outplay the Rangers. The shots on goal total was 10-8 in favor of the Hurricanes and Rangers’ killer Viktor Stalberg pulled the Canes even when he flat beat Lundqvist short side from in close.
That goal set up another hockey game to be decided in the third period, and in the third period the Hurricanes fell apart. After a few losses that saw the Hurricanes make a costly mistake or 2 in the third period, Saturday’s loss was closer to the mid-October meltdown level. First Noah Hanifin stepped up in the neutral zone springing a Rangers rush that saw speedy Michael Grabner fly past Viktor Stalberg who reacted only too late. Along the way, either Matt Tennyson taking away the passing lane to the center of the ice or possibly Joakim Nordstrom finding the more dangerous player and getting in that passing lane or Michael Leighton making a huge save would have helped. But the play ended with a big miscue by Hanifin to create a bad situation followed by 3 failed attempts to defuse the situation. . Then while trying to borrow a stick to replace the one he lost, Justin Faulk gave up inside position to a Ranger plaery who then found the puck on his stick and shot it off the post and to the front of the net. None of Faulk, Skinner, Rask or Di Giuseppe who were all in the neighborhood in front of the net could get to the puck or find and box out or tie up Chris Kreider who made no mistake quickly putting it behind Leighton and into the net. The final Rangers’ goal was eerily reminiscent of the goal that cost the Hurricanes the game on Tuesday except reversed. Justin Faulk got caught out of position on an offensive zone face-off loss, and the Rangers quickly got the puck behind him for a rush. Hainsey was back but did little to stop a good scoring chance that went off the post and then off Leighton and in.
When the dust settled, the Hurricanes had allowed 3 third period goals after completely dominating most of 2 periods. All 3 goals had an element of defensive breakdown followed by failed chances by other players to defuse the situation.
‘What I’m watching’ check in
If you missed it and want to read it in detail, the preview for Saturday’s game against the Rangers is HERE.
1) More offense, any kind of offense
As noted above, the Hurricanes failed for the tenth straight time to score more than 2 goals on the road. At a basic level, the goal in the NHL is to score 3 and give up 2. The Canes cannot get to 3 right now when away from home. In addition, Viktor Stalberg who is on fire continues to be the only source of depth scoring. To be fair, his goal today happened on a partial line change on a play that did include nice plays from Brock McGinn and Derek Ryan, so I guess one can argue that the third line did produce even if it had to borrow a little help from the (former?) fourth line.
2) Can a hero lead the way?
In a word, no. Viktor Stalberg has been the closest thing to a hero that the Hurricanes have had on the road trip. His goal was a big one at the time but unfortunately not enough to earn a point or 2 in the standings. Victor Rask also had a big goal, but I would not say that anyone really propelled the team forward especially when they really needed it in the third period.
3) Desperation for 60 minutes and a killer instinct
The Hurricanes failed here on both counts. The first 40 minutes were incredibly good, but the last 20 minutes were bad in a mid-October kind of way. And though the Hurricanes never had a lead, one could argue that they had chances to pounce on the Rangers early but just failed to finish. I counted 4 point blank scoring chances that missed the net in the first period.
Viktor Stalberg: It is a shame that much of it has been wasted, but Viktor Stalberg continues to be a huge bright spot. Had you told me before season started that he would score 9-10 goals this season, I would have been pretty happy. He had 9 in 75 games last season, so his current 7 in 22 games and the 20+ goal pace that it represents is huge especially when you consider his line mates and the fact that he gets nothing for power play ice time.
Bad luck: There is an element of the Hurricanes shooting themselves in the foot on Saturday, but the hockey gods also did the Hurricanes no favors. Even with the shots where they just flat missed the Canes could easily have had a goal or even 2 in the first period. And even more unlucky, 2 of the Rangers goals came on shots off the post that then found their way into the net, 1 when it went off of Leighton and another that landed right on a Rangers’ stick.
Squeezing the stick: The Hurricanes had at least 4 good chances where they just flat missed. The scoring slump has reached the point where there seems to be a mental component and trying to hard as part of it.
Facing the music: Not sure if anyone stuck around for the post-game, but what jumped out at me was Lee Stempniak fielding questions after a frustrating loss that saw him in the middle of some of the frustration. He missed at least 1 if not 2 good scoring chances and also took a bad penalty to abruptly end a 5-on-3 power play. He said so in his short interview and took full responsibility for it. There is an element of doing better that is also important, but credit to Lee Stempniak for facing up to it.
One stark contrast: One thing that stood out to me in thinking about the game later was a stark contrast in 2 plays. About midway through the first period, Teuvo Teravainen made a nice play to get the puck to the front of the net where the Canes might of, sort of, did have a good chance or 2, but the collection of 4 Rangers at the front of the crease made such a mess I do not think the follow up chances got through. Meanwhile the Rangers had 2 goals that saw rebounds find Rangers’ sticks with Canes players around but just not stopping anything.
Hainsey/Faulk: They had a rough period that was bad enough to make it a rough night. As I expressed a few days ago, my growing concern is that the boost in their play on the road might just have been the Jordan Staal effect. Faulk in particular just looks a step slow on everything – his reaction time defending in front of the net, his acceleration going from a stop to either getting somewhere or building speed in 2-3 strides and his comfort level in terms of gap off the rush.
The loss and the 0-2-1 record for the week thus far makes Sunday’s home game against Tampa Bay that much more important. Last week, the Canes won the Sunday home finale. Can the team at least pull to 1-2-1 with a win on Sunday?