Eerily reminiscent of an 8-1 thrashing the Canes took two years ago in the Maple Leafs annual holiday matinee game, the Canes slept walked into Monday’s 2pm start. Brett Pesce had trouble finding the puck at his feet in front of the net. Instead, Jason Spezza found it and quickly staked Toronto to a 1-0 lead. That was followed shortly thereafter by Brett Pesce taking a double minor for high sticking. The Canes got a bit focused, and William Nylander scored from point blank range. When John Tavares beat James Reimer short side on the second half of the power play, the Canes were suddenly down 3-0. At that point, Reimer was replaced by Petr Mrazek, and the game seemed destined for another afternoon thrashing in Toronto. But Mrazek was sharp despite jumping into a game he was not expected to play in. And when Brock McGinn scored on a 2-on-1 shorthanded, the Canes were playing their way back into the game. A power play tally on a Martin Necas tip on the power play late in the period saw the Hurricanes escape a seeming disaster down only 3-2 at the end of the first period. Further, the Canes had the upper hand in terms of level of play at that point.
The second period had a similar pace and a decent number of chances in each direction but with no effect on the scoreboard for the first 15 minutes. Then the Hurricanes second line with Erik Haula back on the scene scored twice in rapid fire manner to put the Canes up 4-3. First, Ryan Dzingel made an incredibly skilled play to bat down a clearing attempt inside the blue line and quickly feed it to Erik Haula who then found Necas for a blast for his second goal of the game. Then before the Leafs even caught their breath, Necas returned the favor by feeding Haula in front for another goal. Next it was Staal’s line’s turn as a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play saw Jordan Staal make a pretty pass for an Andrei Svechnikov finish on the back door. Suddenly the Canes were up 5-3 and swarming the Maple Leafs. That is how the second period would end.
As expected, the Leafs pushed to start the third period trying to make up the two goal deficit. The game tightened up when Auston Matthews scored to make the score 5-4. But the Canes best line of Dzingel/Haula/Necas struck again to put the Canes back up by two goals at 6-4 at the midway point of the third period. But again Toronto pushed back when Auston Matthews made a pretty play to attract attention, make a passing lane and then find Mitch Marner for goal #5. Next the Canes got caught running around such that Tyson Barrie beat McGinn to the middle for a quick pass and goal. And literally six seconds later, van Riemsdyk was not able to corral a face-off win and Gardiner cheated a bit early figuring he would win the puck. The result was a breakaway goal that finished off three goals in only 59 seconds to put the Leafs up 7-6. The Hurricanes had sustained pressure and some good chances on a late power play. But the Leafs held the fort and scored an empty-netter. Two quick bursts of three goals were enough for the Maple Leafs to win a wild game 7-6.
Being matter of fact, the Canes just did not deserve this one after showing up not ready start and then blowing a two-goal lead in the third period when being unable to answer a push.
Not to be lost though is that the Hurricanes are very, very much in a good place heading into the Christmas break.
Player and other notes
1) James Reimer
As I said on Twitter:
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) December 23, 2019
Reimer would have liked the short side goal by Tavares back, but pulling him was very clearly just Brind’Amour trying to wake up his team. And one tough outing changes absolutely nothing about how valuable he has been in a 1B role all season.
2) Petr Mrazek
Had Petr Mrazek posted an ‘I wasn’t supposed to play today’ effort after joining with the Canes under siege in the first period, Monday’s game would have been over after 20 minutes. Instead, Mrazek was sharp right off the bench and added a bit of calm while the team tried to play its way into the game. The team ultimately scored in bunches but credit Mrazek for enabling the team to play its way back into this one. It seems unfair that he gets the loss for this one.
3) Brett Pesce
In my opinion, he is the steadiest, most consistent of the Canes defenseman, but he had a really tough start on Monday being the leading contributor to the 0-3 start having trouble clearing the puck from the front of the net and then taking a double minor penalty to tee up two Leafs power play goals. Just like with Reimer, chalk it up as a tough day and move on.
4) Martin Necas
He had arguably his best game as a Hurricane generating offense of all varieties. First he scored on a skilled tip. Then he sniped one from out. Then his pretty playmaking effort found Haula for his third scoring point. He finished by being part of a pretty passing goal off the rush for a four point game with a pair of assists and goals. He was the team’s best offensive player on a day when the team again needed to out-gun/out-run some mistakes.
5) Erik Haula
In terms of maximizing the bottom half of the forward group, Haula is absolutely critical. As much as Lucas Wallmark is capable and sound, he just does not have the playmaking ability or wheels to play up as a third off the rush to maximize what Dzingel and Necas can do. Stepping into Haula’s role, Wallmark was reasonably productive himself and defensively capable. But the key difference was that Dzingel and Necas more or less went dormant such that the team was really only two lines deep.
Per my Twitter comment:
The significant difference between Haula and Wallmark is that Haula has enough speed (and maybe more so anticipation) to be 3rd when Necas/Dzingel push with speed. Dzingel/Necas were offensively dormant with Haula out of the lineup. #LetsGoCanes
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) December 23, 2019
6) The ability to out-run and out-gun rough stretches
The positive part of the story of this game was a pretty familiar theme. The Hurricanes yet again showed an ability to just out-run/out-gun the negative part of their game. Who knows for sure, but I really doubt the pre-Brind’Amour/pre-playoffs Hurricanes recover from the 3-0 deficit. Not capitalizing on that comeback stings obviously, and ideally, the team needs to tighten things up at some point.
7) But overall, this team is in a good place!
As disappointing as Monday’s loss was, the Carolina Hurricanes enter the Christmas break in very, very good position in the standings. That trumps the results of a single loss.
Canes and Coffee will take a short holiday break for the next few days with a tentative plan to hopefully return for a game preview for Friday and possibly a Daily Cup of Joe too.
We hope that the Caniac Nation enjoys the holiday season and finds plenty of Canes gear in their stockings!
Next up is a Friday match up against the New York Rangers on Friday.