In what could easily be considered a four-point game against a Montreal Canadiens team that entered the game sitting in the final wild card slot, the Hurricanes failed to launch out of the gate for the second consecutive game.
A sluggish and sloppy Hurricanes team played the first period either on its heels, a step slow or chasing the puck. They mustered two grade C chances on a power play midway through the period but did not pick up their first even strength shot on goal until past ten minutes into the game. The team was not so much horrible as just lacking jump and any semblance of crispness. Petr Mrazek had answers early and enabled the Hurricanes to escape the first period with a scoreless tie despite being outplayed and out-shot 12 to 4.
Between periods the Hurricanes at least seemed to wake up and arrive at the game. The back and forth second period saw an increase in scoring chances with the Hurricanes actually getting some of them unlike the first period. Andrei Svechnikov scored first on a great individual effort. First, he blew by Shea Weber to the outside. Then he cut back at a tough angle to skate right across the top the of the crease and finish with a pretty backhand. And just like that the Hurricanes took the first lead in the game despite not deserving. But unfortunately the hockey gods would step in to rectify the situation. At that point, the game turned on some sloppy play with the puck on Canes’ sticks in their own end. First, Haydn Fleury played the puck softly behind his net where it was intercepted. In rapid fashion, the puck went from their to the slot and then up and over Mrazek and into the net behind him. Later in the second period a soft Justin Faulk clearing attempt was similarly converted quickly to a goal against. And just like that the Hurricanes were down 2-1 at the end of the second period.
And that set the stage for a wild third period. The Hurricanes tied the game only 23 seconds into the period on another power forward move to the net and rebound finish by Andrei Svechnikov. But the Hurricanes would give that goal back almost instantly when Montreal scored 22 seconds later. Montreal would score again within four minutes to seize a two-goal lead. Jaccob Slavin would score next on a heady pass from Phil Di Giuseppe before the Canadiens scored another immediate answer goal. Sebastian Aho would take a page out of Svechnikov’s book and pull the Hurricanes to within a goal again. But it just was not meant to be, as Montreal potted an empty-netter to finish off a 6-4 win.
The game featured a second consecutive lifeless first period. The wild scoring flurry in the second half of the game saw the Hurricanes unable to make a key save or defensive play to stay within a goal for long enough to climb the mountain back to even.
Player and other notes
1) Andrei Svechnikov
Svechnikov had arguably his best game in a Hurricanes uniform. He finished on two separate power forward rushes to the net and had at least two more similar chances. Svechnikov has shown flashes of the scoring prowess that made him the first forward drafted last summer, but Tuesday’s game was the first was he was a force on a shift in and shift out basis. People rightfully clamor about Svechnikov’s high-end scoring potential, but an underrated part of his game is his skating ability. He regularly shows tremendous ability to stop and spin a hurry to make space and time behind the net. On Tuesday, he demonstrated a great combination of straight line speed combined with strength and balance. Blowing around the defenseman is one thing, but then being able to turn at high speed to cut straight across the front of the net is another thing altogether. With just over two months of NHL hockey under his belt, here is hoping that Tuesday’s game is a harbinger of things to come in the next step of his development.
2) Petr Mrazek
He had an odd game. He was flawless throughout and better when he needed to be in the first period, but when the dam broke, it broke in a big way. To be clear, every goal featured a defensive break down in the formula but Mrazek needed to muster a big save or two when the team needed it in the second half of the game. The first two goals were quick transition goals that came after a bad Hurricanes turnover and a quick shot on net. On both, Mrazek seemed get uncomfortable possibly with a bit of traffic in front of him and went down early leaving a hole to be exploited up over his shoulder. Then the third and fourth goals against were first and foremost defensive break downs, but both saw Mrazek passively just wait for the puck instead of more aggressively attacking it.
3) Justin Faulk
Faulk had a tough night defensively. He got caught flat-footed early in the game and took penalties both times. Then he had the aforementioned soft turnover that led pretty directly to a goal against. Based on his strong and consistent play during the 2018-19 season thus far, it is fair to write this off as an anomaly and just move on.
4) Janne Kuokkanen
Kuokkanen did not ‘wow’ in his first NHL game in 2018-19, but he did not look out of place either. On the power play, he demonstrated a good knack for how to make himself available in the slot with passing lanes to him. Kuokkanen also was regularly around the puck which is a good sign for making plays aside from the score sheet.
After tooting the horn for them earlier in the day, I was not enamored with their play on Tuesday. This said, the duo did net four points on the night. One of my concerns right now is Brett Pesce and to what degree he is still off by a step. A huge strength in Pesce’s game is his quickness and acceleration that help him win races to loose pucks and close on opponents to quickly take away time and space. After a week back, he continues to have times when he just does not seem to have his normal level of jump.
6) Results matter
I am on record as calling current stretch of games significant. Through two of those six games, the Hurricanes are no 0-2.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a quick turnaround for Friday match up against the Washington Capitals.