Check out also Saturday’s Raleigh snow day Canes polls to vote on how you think the rest of the 2016-17 season will unfold.
For me, the Hurricanes 2-1 loss in Chicago on Friday was a ‘two sides of the coin’ story.
On the one side, the Hurricanes 40 shots on goal were seemingly enough to net 2 or even 3 goals. But at the same time, I think this game was very much the “hot goalie” story from years past that saw the Hurricanes chuck many a puck at the net but maybe not have enough hunger to get to the paint when the puck was there for rebounds or when it might be coming to set screens. On the power play, the team mostly seemed too content to blast from the point maybe with someone off to the side looking for a tip. And otherwise, the Canes seemed content to take a bunch of medium quality shots hoping to beat Darling on a night when it was going to be tough.
I also thought the Canes game was sloppy defensively especially early. The 2 goals against looks decent, but just like the goals for could easily have been a couple more so too could have been the case for the Blackhawks. The volume of miscues in the defensive zone by the Canes defensemen was high. Some combination of near misses, decent recoveries and Cam Ward standing tall made the goals against look much better than the level of play defensively.
That said, the positive that I noted on Twitter during the game is that watching the Hurricanes in 3 games against Chicago and Pittsburgh in the past 10 or so days contrasted against the miserable effort against New Jersey has presented a visual and measuring point for the striking transformation that is in process. The Hurricanes are much more comfortable playing against teams that want to skate and play hockey as compared to the teams like New Jersey whose goal is to win by shutting down all hockey. The Canes are fast enough to run with teams like Chicago and Pittsburgh and even match them or exceed them for scoring chances.
For me, there are 2 remaining deficits. First is that the Hurricanes do not yet have as much pure scoring skill as those elite teams which makes them more prone to have mismatches of shot totals versus goals scored like tonight. Second is that especially on the road the Hurricanes still have a way to go in terms of defensive acumen and soundness in their own end. The Pittsburgh loss was a case and point for how shot volume can often be trumped by shot quality when a handful of bad mistakes lead immediately to grade A scoring chances that are the scoring chance equivalent of 8-10 run of the mill shot attempts.
Recap of Hurricanes 2-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks
The Hurricanes got off to a strong start skating-wise and had the first couple good chances only to be stoned by Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling. Despite a quickly mounting Hurricanes’ shot advantage the Blackhawks scored first on a pretty passing play. It started when Justin Faulk seemed slow to a puck on the boards that he seemed to be closest to. Very quickly he lost the puck and was behind it on the wall as the Hawks played tic-tac-toe with 3 quick passes and a goal. On the back of a couple power plays, the Hurricanes mounted a big 19-9 shots on goal advantage exiting the first period but were down 1-0.
The Hurricanes continued to push in the second period but had no luck trying to beat Darling. When Artemi Panarin beat Ward cleanly on a blast from the face-off circle the Blackhawks were up 2-0, and it seemed like all was lost. But the Hurricanes showed some resiliency finally beating Darling sure enough on an ugly goal from the crease area. Jeff Skinner made a strong play to get a puck to Ty Rattie between the circles. His shot was blocked but went right to Victor Rask at the side of the net who made no mistake finishing from a place where Darling had no chance to again be heroic.
The Hurricanes had some chances and also gave up some chances in a back and forth third period but were unable to find a second goal to at least push into overtime.
As I said on Twitter, the problem this week is not so much that the Hurricanes had to settle for a split in a tough road back-to-back but more so the lackluster effort at home on Tuesday against a lesser opponent. The loss puts the Hurricanes at 1-2 for the week making Sunday’s match up against the Bruins a big one. A win nets a ‘treading water’ 2-2, whereas a loss sucks in water with a 1-3 mark.
‘What I’m watching’ check in
If you missed the game preview, you can find it HERE.
1) Skating, pace and intensity
The Hurricanes again scored well in terms of pace and skating. The Hurricanes played fast and generated enough possession time and at least reasonable chances to score. As noted above, a little more hunger to get pucks and people to the crease at the same time might have made a difference, but the issue was not so much pace and intensity.
Especially in the first half of the game, Cam Ward did what he could to keep his team in the game long enough to have a chance late. he was not tested as much as Darling, but he did see and save a good number of tough chances on a night when the Canes defense was intermittently sloppy in front of him.
3) The blue line
I thought the Canes defense had a rough night pretty much across the board. Ryan Murphy had a tough mix of mishandles with the puck on his stick and coverage issues in his own end so much so that the Peters used him sparingly in the second half of the game. Hainsey and Faulk had trouble moving the puck out of their own end early and the first goal came when Faulk was soft going to a puck on the wall that he seemingly had the inside track to. A defenseman pinched, took the puck from under Faulk and then quickly passed it behind him where it was quickly tic-tac-toe and a goal with Faulk 1 of a couple of Hurricanes on the outside of the magical triangle as a spectator. Even usually solid Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce had a couple tough moments. Pesce was inside-outed by Jonathan Toews early and also turned over a puck in his own end for a dangerous Blackhawks’ chance from between the circles. Jaccob Slavin’s miscue came when at the end of a shift he decided to check to see if he needed to hustle to get an icing on a Blackhawks’ dump and in the process lost the race which quickly became a point blank scoring chance for the Blackhawks. I do not have anything on Hanifin in my notes which I think could be considered a positive omission on a night when the ‘oopses’ both big and small by the Canes defense were numerous on a sloppy night. The Canes’ blue line sloppiness paired well with Darling’s strong play for a win because the vast majority of the Blackhawks’ offense came from pressuring the Canes into miscues.
4) Leaders rising up
I thought Ward did all he could to give his team a chance for as long as he could on a night when they really did not catch a break. Past Ward, I did not think the other leaders were bad, but unlike Thursday when Staal drove 2 scoring plays and Skinner scored a huge game-winner, the Canes leaders just could not must the couple big plays it was going to take to steal a win in Chicago.
The power play: On a night where the Canes needed to find another goal to at least get a point in the standings, the power play went 0 for 3. There were shots and a couple decent chances with the best maybe being Faulk’s quick shot from the side on a Rask pass, but the recent trend of trying to beat beat a goalie clean is just not as effective as taking away the goalie’s line of sight and scoring ugly as much as pretty. The Hurricanes really miss Bryan Bickell’s consistent willingness to park AND IMPORTANTLY STAY in front of the goalie to help net an ugly goal here and there to keep things moving forward when the pretty goals dry up for stretches. If I was Bill Peters, I would be doing interviews with depth players seeking a willingness to commit to parking and staying in front of the opposing goalie on the power play. Right now, Stempniak is the only player who does it with any consistency.
Victor Rask: He has been quiet of late but was 1 of the Hurricanes best players on Friday. He had the goal obviously and also a pretty pass to Faulk on the power play. He has had a mid-season slump in years past, so hopefully this game is the 1 that launches a strong second half for him.
The penalty kill: The group did get dinged for a rare goal against on Friday, so it was not a perfect night. But the penalty kill’s incredible run of generating 2-3 grade A scoring chances off the rush continued with Jordan Staal being robbed by Darling on a 2-on-1 rush.
Next up is a big game against Boston in Raleigh on Sunday. As noted above, there is a big difference between treading water at 2-2 and taking on water at 1-3.