On Saturday night in Winnipeg, the Carolina Hurricanes faced their first road test and came up short in a 2-1 loss to the Jets.
If I had to summarize the game in one Twitter-size comment, I stand by my Tweet immediately after the game ended.
Most troubling in #Canes loss is inability to generate anything offensively even when desperation level dialed up in 3rd period.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) October 15, 2017
The game was somewhat similar to Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime loss to Columbus. Jeff Skinner managed to notch a goal, but in total the Hurricanes offense was mostly ineffective and generated minimal even decent scoring chances despite holding their own territorially.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets
From my ‘What I’m watching’ preview first…
1) The blue line
As I suggested might happen a few days back, Peters shifted to balanced defense pairings over the top-heavy ones preferred at home. The top 4 was not perfect, but in total I think they had a solid night. Noah Hanifin had his best regular season game of the young season, and despite a few mistakes, the rest of the top 4 also held up its end of the bargain. Pesce and Slavin probably had a couple significant ‘oopses’ turning the puck over in bad places; luckily the team survived those. But Pesce especially also had some strong plays defending one on one. Despite the miscues, I would take the outing from the top four defensemen.
The third pairing struggled. Putting it bluntly, I just do not think Klas Dahlbeck is a serviceable third pairing NHL defenseman on his off side. Whereas some players can shift sides with only a minimal downgrade in play, Dahlbeck unfortunately is not one of those players. He does not understand the footwork to more often receive pucks on his forehand or quickly get to it. The result is that he regularly struggles to move or even receive the puck. Haydn Fleury was not horrible, but he did have a deer in the headlights moment when the third pairing was caught on the ice with a scoring line, overmatched and tagged for a goal against. On the play, Fleury was slow to sort things out and/or take away time and space and ultimately ended up being a nice screen on Darling for a point blank chance and goal against.
Past Trevor van Riemsdyk hopefully returning to the lineup soon, it will be interesting to see what direction Bill Peters goes with this. Trevor Carrick who was recalled today is another left shot defenseman, so throwing another rookie with only a handful of NHL games experience into the fire playing on his off side seems ‘iffy’. I guess the other two alternatives I see for Peters are riding his top four or five defensemen really heavily the next couple games which could be possible given the volume of days off. The other alternative could be to move Jaccob Slavin who is comfortable playing on his off side to the right side to get back to having three capable right and three capable left defensemen. The issue there is that it would effectively elevate either Dahlbeck or Fleury into the top 4 which maybe is not ideal either.
I voted all summer for adding one more proven depth defenseman to the mix and still think given the modest cost that it could help.
2) Bill Peters’ tinkering
Peters was remarkably steadfast in his line combinations on Saturday despite the fact that not much seemed to be clicking.
3) The power play
I have been critical of the power play largely based on results through two games, so it is important to fairly give credit where it is due. The Hurricanes power play scored a big goal to pull even at 1-1. I still think the special teams unit looks a bit too static, but the goal featured quick puck movement which opens shooting lanes and forces the goalie to adjust, and the goal in four tries on Saturday night was a positive.
I touched on it above. Hanifin had a strong game and just looked steady and solid all night. Only three games into the season, we are still very clearly at the stage where we are getting a read on where the young players are development-wise, but after a really tough outing in the opener followed by two better outings, I think it would be fair to categorize Hanifin as capable (two solid games) but inconsistent (the tough opener) in terms of being in the top 4 through three games.
Skinner has not yet found the gear where is dominant regularly throughout a game and puts the team on his back. But he has managed to score two goals at times when the team needed it. I easily count that as half full with Skinner doing the goal scoring thing already and certainly with upside from here when he inevitably finds a higher gear and goes on one of his streaks.
He put forward another effort capable of earning a win. He did not face the volume of really tough chances as the opener, but he did have to be sharp at times on Saturday and fared especially well when things got ‘scrambly’ around his crease. The generic formula for winning in the NHL is trying to score three goals and trying to give up two goals. So Darling and the defense checked the box on the defensive side of the ledger.
MUCH too quiet offensively
The possession and shot numbers do not look abysmal, but the real truth is that the Hurricanes generated very little in terms of good scoring chances on Saturday. Per my starting point, what concerns me most is that even late in the third period when the Hurricanes should have pinned their ears back and dialed up desperation mode they really did not generate much. Skinner gets credit for scoring a goal, but I would not say that a single other Canes forward was even remotely close to being dynamic, an offensive catalyst or anything more than serviceable as a top 9 forward.
Through three games, the Hurricanes top 9 forwards have mustered only two goals at even strength. (Rask and Skinner have one each.) Needless to say, that is not enough.
It is too early for knee-jerk reactions and panic. At the same time, for a team that finished 20th in scoring last season and did not add a pure offensive catalyst to its lineup, I think it is also unwise to ignore even a short early season trend and just assume everything is going to be okay. The team needs to figure out how to start generating more offense.
What say you Caniacs?
Who else used the great weather for a true North Carolina State Fair road trip doubleheader going to the State Fair and then catching the Canes game? What did you see in Saturdays’ game?