The Hurricanes 3-game gauntlet run through 3 of the 4 Stanley Cup Finalists over the past 2 years ended on a sour note on New Year’s Eve against Tampa Bay.
Playing a back-to-back against a good team on the road, sometimes it is just tough sledding in games like this. The sting for me is more about the 2 points that the Canes probably deserved but let get away in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. If you flip that loss to a win or even an overtime loss, the Canes net either an impressive 4 points in 3 games or at least a break even 3. Instead, the Canes finish the week at 1-2.
But looking bigger picture, the Canes just finished the middle set of 3 sets of games and made the 3-2 record that I said they needed a few weeks back. Looking forward to 2017, the table is set for a run of 5 out of 7 games at home and 1 of a couple of stretches of schedule that represent a good opportunity to keep pushing up in the Metropolitan Division standings.
The incredible story greater than the game – Jorge Alves
But before going to deep the game itself which was not as much fun, a great starting point is the feel-good story of the day. When Eddie Lack turned up ill late afternoon, long-time equipment manager and regular practice fill in goalie Jorge Alves the call to fill in as an emergency backup. The nearly tearful interview with him during the first intermission is worth finding if you did not see it live. The story is great 1 in any organization because of Alves’ place as a long-time member of the organization who started as a volunteer, is a former Marine and an is NC State club hockey alumnus to boot. Alves is 37 years old and like most of us had no chance of ever playing in an NHL game. Until today he did exactly that. His ice time was fewer than 10 seconds, but seeing an everyman like Jorge Alves in net in a professional hockey game is a tremendous feel-good story to close out 2016.
The Alves story made for a tremendous bright point on a win-less hockey night for the Hurricanes faithful who tuned in during or before their New Year’s Eve festivities.
Recap of Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning
After the pregame fun, the actual hockey game started inauspiciously with the officials first missing a high stick that caught Noah Hanifin and then a couple shifts later whistling Hanifin for a phantom tripping penalty.
The front part of the second period saw the Hurricanes respond but fail to capitalize. The team earned 2 power plays but did not score on either and also had Joakim Nordstrom and Derek Ryan get partial breakaways but not score. When the Lightning scored on a rare soft goal on Ward that beat him short side from an impossible angle, it seemed like all was lost. But a heady stretch pass from Jaccob Slavin hit a streaking Sebastian Aho at the offensive blue line who deftly finished to pull the Canes to within 3-1 and give them at least a chance. The Hurricanes mustered a couple more chances but were unable to get inside of 2 goals before the end of the second period. The Hurricanes were the better team in the second period but not by enough to dig out from the first period and the 2-0 deficit that resulted.
To their credit, the Hurricanes pushed again in the third period, but it just was not their night. Arguably, their best chance to claw back into it was an early power play that looked decent but ultimately became part of an 0-4 on the power play on the night and a 2-goal special teams deficit with Tampa Bay going 2-3. A last desperation push that saw the Canes pull Ward with 3:47 also failed.
All in all 2016 has been better than 2015 which makes 2017 as exciting as we have seen in a long time.
‘What I’m watching’ check in
If you missed the game preview and want to catch up, you can find it HERE.
1) Ability to muster same pace in back-to-back
As is usually the case, the Canes were a bit sluggish out of the gate and the Lightning definitely had the upper hand early. Give the Canes credit for pushing back in the second period. The team mustered 2 power plays and 2 partial breakaways before Sebastian Aho finally broke the ice with a goal on another breakaway by virtue of a heady spring pass by Jaccob Slavin hitting Aho at the offensive blue line.
2) The goalie position
The goalie position was a story of the game both pre-game and in-game. Alves obviously stole the show in the time leading up to the game. Inside the game, Ward having a sub-par night did play into the loss. The second Tampa Bay goal saw Jonathan Drouin seemingly fool Ward by maybe looking like he was going to pass and getting just enough nibble that he then beat Ward from a way out. And the third goal was the soft variety that has been virtually non-existent in Ward’s game of late. Ward failed to get to the post and was beaten on a soft short side backhand that was reminiscent of Ward’s struggles in the first few games of the season.
The positive not to be ignored is that my memory is not good enough to pull up Ward’s last weak start. It would take research digging back through game recaps which says a lot about how good Ward has been and for how long that has been the case.
Even great goalies are not perfect. Flush it and move forward to the next game.
3) The defense
The Canes tightened up as the game wore on, but especially early on there were elements of the loose play that has plagued the team intermittently in recent games.
Aho/Teravainen/Stempniak: In yesterday’s recap, I wrote about Lee Stempniak’s chameleon-like ability to shift seamlessly to being effective offensively despite playing very little with the puck on his stick. His line mates have been good too obviously. I think one could make a strong case that Teuvo Teravainen has been the Canes’ best forward over the past couple weeks. He is dangerous shift in and shift out right now. And despite winning top “recently” honors, I think Teravainen was topped on Saturday by fellow Fin Aho.
The power play: On a night when the Canes were down early and needed to find or make a break a power play goal in the second period or early in the third period could have been huge, but the Canes went 0-3 i that time frame.
Case for getting points when you can especially against good teams on the road: When you play good teams on the road, sometimes it just is not going to be your night. The refs dragged the Canes down early. The nearly perfect penalty kill was dinged. And Ward had a rare off night. It happens. As I said above, games like this just make it that much more important to capitalize when the chance is there like Wednesday against the Penguins.
Decent position entering 2017: Despite Saturday’s loss, the Hurricanes enter 2017 in the best position they have been in when flipping calendars in a long time. At 5 points behind the eighth place Flyers with 2 games in hand, the Hurricanes are still very much in the playoff chase and that is something to be thankful for entering 2017.
Next up for the Canes is 2 days off before a Tuesday game at home against the New Jersey Devils starting the important stretch of 5 out of 7 games at home in PNC Arena where the team is a scintillating 10-0-1 of late.