Those who did not watch the Hurricanes game on Wednesday and see only the 3-2 score and loss would be unlikely to guess how it all went down. In short, the Hurricanes played a strong, attacking game from wire to wire, dictated play and attacked offensively all night and were victimized by hockey gods that took the night off and just rewarded the better team on the season with a win without assessing who actually deserved to win.
The Hurricanes had more jump out of the gate and used it to tilt the ice into the offensive zone, get the puck to the front of the net and come close to scoring multiple times including a post, a few other loose pucks around the crease and a puck that somehow got behind the Pens’ goalie Matt Murray but not into the net. The Hurricanes did strike first when Noah Hanifin made a pretty pass to Elias Lindholm between the circles who quickly beat Murray. With Lindholm’s goal, the Hurricanes did exit the first period with a 1-0 lead but could have had much more. The shots were not as lopsided but the scoring chances favored the Hurricanes by a 7-2 margin and the volume of getting the puck to places where goals often happen was at least that much in the Canes favor.
But the story of the night would ultimately be the Penguins ability to hang around and opportunistically finish efficiently on a relatively low volume of scoring chances. The first of those came on what looked like a somewhat harmless rush only 30 seconds into the second period that saw the Penguins quickly move the puck from stick to stick entering the offensive zone and find Sidney Crosby between the face-off circles. Crosby had very few chances and really did not dominate the game, but he made no mistake beating Cam Ward who was at least partially screened by Brock McGinn on the shot and was slow to react. From there, the Hurricanes went right back to work attacking in the offensive zone. Whereas Jordan Staal’s line carried the mail in the first period, it was Skinner/Rask/Ryan who seemingly could have scored 3 goals in the second period but netted only a Skinner crossbar for their strong period of work. Despite Skinner unjustly being held off the score sheet, the Hurricanes again exited the period with a 1-goal lead when Lee Stempniak buried a rebound off the rush after a great play winning a puck by Sebastian Aho and a nice move and heady low shot to Stempniak’s side by Teuvo Teravainen.
Again early in the period, the Pens found a rare scoring chance and capitalized. With 4 Hurricanes players generally in the vicinity of the play with the ability to defend either the pass, the player receiving the pass or the shot, the Canes saw Phil Kessel feed a pass through Matt Tennyson to Chris Kunitz between all of Ron Hainsey, Jeff Skinner and Derek Ryan. Kunitz buried the chance to again erase a Hurricanes lead early in the period. The dagger came on a series of increasing breakdowns. First, Elias Lindholm and another Canes forward lost a puck battle at the center line leading to a 3-on-2. Then usually reliable Matt Tennyson took a big swipe and a miss for the puck at his defensive blue line. The play ended with Noah Hanifin admittedly in a really bad spot defending a rapidly developing 2-on-1. When Hanifin sagged and took away neither pass or shot, Hornqvist used the space to push farther in freezing Ward before labeling a pass for Hagelin to finish.
The game was the kind that had to have the good guys scratching their heads in the locker room in the aftermath. The Canes outshot the Penguins 13-9 in the first period, 14-8 in the second period and then 19-9 in the third period for a season high total of 46 shots for and only 26 against. And this was not the old story of firing a high volume of low percentage shots. Rather, the Hurricanes generated offense pretty consistently across the full 60 minutes and were easily the better team save for a couple plays.
The negative is that when you catch an elite team on the road and find a game where you have a chance to beat them, it is critical to capitalize, and the Hurricanes did not. The positive is that if the team can continue to bring the level of play that it brought on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, better days are ahead.
‘What I’m watching’ check in
If you missed it and want to catch up, you can find the full game preview HERE.
1) Defending the best
For the most part, the Hurricanes defense held up reasonably well probably largely because the Hurricanes generally played with the the puck and/or in the offensive zone. The story of the game was not at all Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin dominating the Hurricanes’ defense. But there is a lesson to be learned in terms of attention to detail each and every shift against an elite offense. The few small openings that the Hurricanes left saw the Penguins capitalize.
2) The reconfigured blue line minus Justin Faulk
In terms of volume of minutes, the Hurricanes blue line held up pretty well, but the miscue that saw Tennyson make a bad decision in a really bad place and then Hanifin unsure what to do to minimize the problem in a tie game in the third period is exactly the kind of play that worst fears were made of before the opening face-off.
3) A chance to rise up
In terms of making a 1-game statement that they could play with the mighty Penguins, the Hurricanes did everything except convert a strong effort to a win. Unfortunately, that is the most important part. But as I said above, the overall level of play from Wednesday night is a positive that will yield many more wins if than losses if repeated.
Noah Hanifin: Other than his role (and he was admittedly more of a victim than a perpetrator) in the Pens’ winning goal, I really like Hanifin’s game. He made a few heady plays offensively including his pretty assist on the Lindholm goal and was generally solid defensively using his skating ability to get to pucks and close gaps. In total, the game was a positive for him.
Ryan Murphy: Murphy did not stand out negatively in 18:36 of ice time against an elite offense which, in itself, is a big positive for a player who has not seen NHL ice time since November 10. (He did play at the AHL level on a conditioning stint.)
Teuvo Teravainen: He is really starting to settle in at the center position. Though Stempniak netted the goal, it was Teravainen’s shifty move to navigate a path to the front of the net that was the big play on that goal.
Much to keep despite loss: As noted above, there is much more to keep than to toss out despite the negative result. The Hurricanes attacked offensively all night across multiple lines and easily could have net 3-5 goals. Here is hoping that the team can keep the offensive attack and just tidy up the handful of lapses.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a back-to-back weekend set that sees the team play at home against the Blackhawks on Friday and on the road on New Year’s Eve against the Lightning on Saturday.
For those who find this on Thursday morning and are also looking for the usual Daily Cup of Joe post, there is none for Thursday, as I gradually work my way back into the swing of things after the winter holidays.