For those who have been tracking Canes hockey of late but were unable to tune in for Saturday’s matinee, the game looked about like you have seen in other recent games.
The goaltending was solid and gave the team a chance with a nod also to the defense that was not perfect but continues to do a pretty good job of giving goalies a chance on shots that they can see and make a save on.
The offense in general was mostly non-existent. Right now, the Hurricanes have only one player who can regularly generate/create offense. Coupled with a couple good complementary players that makes for one scoring line. Past that, the best the Hurricanes can seem to do is advance the puck and hope a low-percentage chance finds a lucky bounce. Pair the lack of any kind of depth scoring with the power outage right now for the power play and the team is consistently struggling to get to two goals on the nights when Aho’s line does not go off.
Playing another team at the bottom of the division standings, the Hurricanes held their own in an even but uninspiring first period. What stood out to me about the first half of the game was the lack of anything for great hockey plays. Through its first half, the game was mostly a slog through the mud without much for high-end offenses. Coupled with solid goaltending at both ends, and the game pushed deep into the second period as a scoreless tie. After three and most of a fourth sputtering power play attempt by the Hurricanes, the scoreless tie was finally broken. Unfortunately, the goal was via a shorthanded tally by the Devils when a soft pass back by Andrei Svechnikov to Justin Faulk sent Pavel Zacha off to the races. Curtis McElhinney made a great save on the initial attempt, but Zacha retrieved the rebound and showed great hands to get a second shot off and up and over McElhinney near the end of the second period.
After Brind’Amour went to a grinder line of depth forwards on the power play late, the team seemed to catch a spark. On the second half of the power play Aho had a point blank chance stopped, and Teravainen fired high from between the face-off circles. For the first time what seems like and might actually be two weeks, the Hurricanes gained momentum from the power play. Even when the Hurricanes did score on a Teravainen blast, the goal was waived off because Justin Williams was 8-12 inches on the wrong side of the blue paint in setting a screen. File that under ‘no rest for the weary.’ A couple other good chances were also turned away, and New Jersey ultimately slammed the door with an empty-netter inside of a minute to play.
There are always dozens of details, but the basics are the same. This team lacks the ability to generate offense right now either pretty, ugly or otherwise. When Aho does not have a big game game, the layers below him generally are not enough. The goaltending continues to be good enough or better, and the team defense similarly is at least adequate. But when two goals is a stretch, winning is incredibly difficult.
Player and other notes
1) Curtis McElhinney
Just like Petr Mrazek in Thursday’s loss, McElhinney was a huge plus. He was generally flawless and made a few big saves when asked. He was only beaten on a breakaway rebound that saw Zacha make a great play to receive the rebound and lift it into the net while flying by.
2) Dougie Hamilton
This might sound odd, but I actually think he is trending in the right direction. He is still prone to an occasional lackadaisical play (which per reports was the case even when he was at the top of his game in previous seasons), but I like two things about his game on Saturday and in general in the past few contests. First, he is looking to score. The result is arguably a few too many low-percentage shots, but I think Hamilton having a mentality that he needs to shoot and score more is right on target. Second, Hamilton is going out of his way to engage physically and bang bodies. No doubt he is still trying to play his way out of a slump, but there are signs that he is trying to fight up and out of it which beats meekly accepting it and at least gives him a chance to emerge. Maybe it is just wishful thinking, but I feel like he is about to break the fever.
3) Brind’Amour’s call on the third period power play
To start a power play midway through the third period down a goal, Brind’Amour went with five non-regulars…let’s call it the third unit…with Brett Pesce and Trevor van Riemsdyk on the points and Brock McGinn, Clark Bishop and Janne Kuokkanen up front. I like the move. The regular units had done NOTHING in three previous tries on Saturday and pretty close to nothing for multiple games. By no means do I believe this group will become a regular power play unit, but in the name of accountability, trying to spark something just not doing doing the same failing thing repeatedly, I like the move. The result was easily the best power play shift in a few games when Aho’s regular unit played the second half of that power play.
4) Need more than one who can ‘generate’ offense
It takes a good group to have a high-end and balanced offense, but at the end of the day the most important component for scoring is having players who can generate offense. Right now, the Hurricanes lineup has exactly one player (Sebastian Aho) who can create offense and drive a productive line. As much as ‘half full’ on Wallmark legitimately gives him credit for being competent, at this early stage of his NHL career (and subject to change as he settles in) he just does not generate offense. Pair that with Jordan Staal and Victor Rask also being complementary/limited at best centers offensively, and the Hurricanes just do not get enough good scoring chances.
5) Squeezing the sticks
In that same vein, the team is no doubt pressing. Aho was stymied twice on breakaways and also on a point blank backdoor chance on the power play. The positive with Aho is that he continues to surge intermittently and is doing the right things to generate chances on a regular basis. Foegele failed to get a shot off on a breakaway, and Teravainen sailed a shot over the top of the net on a point blank chance from between the face-off circles. The perfect and horrible storm of not generating a ton of great chances combined with not finishing when they do makes for tough sledding in the goal scoring department.
6) Micheal Ferland
He looked good with Aho and Teravainen in the third period and seems finally ready to resume his role as a top line power forward after being derailed by his injury. He had two nice passes and just generally looked more aggressive and assertive.
Up next for the Hurricanes is a New Year’s Eve match up against the Philadelphia Flyers that will see the team needing to win to avoid entering 2019 in last place in the Metropolitan Division.