Games like Tuesday’s afternoon debacle in Toronto are the hardest games to write game recaps for. The game was such a disaster so early on that it makes it nearly impossible to judge all of the components of the game objectively.
With a couple break downs early and Scott Darling having nothing for an answer, the 4-1 period felt like the complete disaster that it was on the scoreboard, but I think the reality is that attention to detail early with no help from the last line of defense paints the worst possible picture.
So already mentioned is Scott Darling’s play. Put simply, he got off to a rough start, at least survived in the middle and then suffered round two when the Leafs piled on late. Important to note is that the team in front of him was not good either. Noah Hanifin had another relapse game defensively. Justin Faulk continued to struggle. And the defense in front of Darling was porous throughout most of the game. When you couple that with a minus four night for special teams including another shorthanded goal against, it becomes a poster for the vast majority of all of the bad stuff from the 2017-18 season thus far. And though some players featured more prominently than others, no one is exempt in a game like this.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 8-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs
1) Scott Darling
The telltale sign that Darling does not have it is his inability to track the puck and/or react. Both of the first two Leafs’ goals just flat beat him. Then the third featured a juicy rebound on a decent save followed by his inability to find a puck that he had for a moment at least. Of the eight goals, four just flat beat him with good but savable shots. Two more were lose change type rebounds. And then there was the bank shot off Faulk and the five hole finish on the pretty centering pass to Bozak from Marner. Put simply, he just did not have it from the very beginning.
2) Peters decision to leave Darling in
As much as Darling looked like a deer in the headlights on most if not all shots in the first period, Coach Bill Peters matched that level of deer in the headlights when he decided to leave Darling in for the second period. I have no idea what Peters was thinking. The first period was not the ‘partly bad luck’ variety shellacking. Darling just was not on, and he was visibly frustrated on both the third and fourth goals. At that point, I think the only decision was whether or not to let him finish the period before relieving him before things got out of a hand. And get out of hand is exactly what happened in the third period with four more goals including another of glove whiff variety. I guess the thinking was that maybe he would recover and salvage something from the start and the idea that Peters was showing confidence in him. But for as much as Darling just looked frozen for the batch of goals in the first period, I felt like Peters was taking a huge risk that things became worse with very little to gain in terms of upside.
3) Justin Williams with his finger on the pulse
For the third time this season, Justin Williams dropped his gloves amidst a Canes collapse. The other two did not actually result in fights because the referees stepped in, but in making a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Williams did pick up a fighting major. I am torn on whether fighting helps at all in situations like this, but I think the one thing it does do is make a statement that this is not okay. And for a young Hurricanes team that oftentimes seems unable to dig out from duress, I think that in itself is meaningful. I am not suggesting that the Hurricanes young skill players need to start dropping the gloves when things go awry, but there does need to be a very clear sense of urgency, some tension and a push that goes with it. What happened on Tuesday can NEVER be comfortable or okay.
4) Noah Hanifin
Though the offensive part of Hanifin’s game continues on an upward trajectory, he continues to put forward intermittent train wreck games. His last was in the San Jose loss. Tuesday’s featured two lackadaisical turnovers that led to odd man rushes the other way and goals against. For as much as Hanifin’s game has developed offensively, nine times out of ten he looks like a deer in the headlights trying things for the first time trying to defend an odd man rush. The first goal saw him turn the puck over and then just keep backing up as Komarov gained speed and stepped into his shot off the rush. The second goal on Hanifin was another puck handling miscue that led to a breakaway.
5) Justin Faulk
The shot that was banked off him and in was more misfortune than anything, but the Bozak goal that saw Marner navigate around Faulk from the side boards as if he was a cone in a drill was something that continues to happen to frequently. Early in the season, it might have been possible to say Faulk was a slow starter and was just not quite up to game speed yet, but now in December it is time to call it like it is. Right now, Faulk lacks the quickness and mobility necessary to be a steady top 4 defenseman at the NHL level.
6) Special teams catastrophe
The special teams dipped to about the same low they hit in allowing two power play and two shorthanded goals against the San Jose Sharks. On Tuesday, the Maple Leafs scored on all three of their power play opportunities, and the Hurricanes were unsuccessful on four power play opportunities and yielded a shorthanded goal to boot. The total was a minus four on special teams for the game.
7) A couple small positives
Sebastian Aho is skating really well right now. With the puck on his stick through the middle of the ice, he is regularly gaining the offensive blue line and more on his own and looking to make plays from there.
Jeff Skinner getting on the board could pay dividends going forward if it helps him find the mid-season scoring burst that he has had in years past.
As bad as it was, the game only counts for one loss. IF the team can rebound with a win in Nashville on Thursday, all will again be right in the Canes world heading into a Saturday home game against the Sabres that could tip the week positive.
Next up is a trip to Nashville to face the Predators on Thursday night.