As I said on Twitter shortly after the conclusion of the game…
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) January 3, 2018
The result was at least half full, but leaving PNC Arena after an overtime loss is still leaving PNC Arena after a loss.
With the Hurricanes playing well of late and coming in with a six-game home winning streak and the Capitals sitting atop the Metropolitan Division standings, the game figured to be a good one. Though it was entertaining because of the volume of goals, the game was anything but well-played. Instead, the game featured a steady flow of break downs and miscues that fueled the majority of the offense for both teams.
The Hurricanes forecheck and opportunistic attack whenever the Capitals turned the puck over for an immediate scoring chance against which must have happened a dozen times were positives for the Hurricanes. But the Hurricanes lack of attention to detail and miscues defensively and sloppiness in their own right trying to advance the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone were both major negatives. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, the Capitals defensemen were absolutely atrocious when pressured on the forecheck and single-handedly generated an impressive volume of grade A scoring chances for the Hurricanes.
Early on the Hurricanes had the better of play in terms of puck possession but had issues advancing the puck smoothly and did not generate much offensively. Things also started positively on the score board when a Caps defenseman literally handed the puck to Victor Rask who made no mistake from point blank range. But then a couple of miscues tipped the score board in the Capitals favor. Justin Faulk and Haydn Fleury were both a step slow defending against a rush that saw a Capitals player go around Faulk in the neutral zone and feed a puck right to the front of the net for a tap in goal for an Alex Chiasson tap in goal with Fleury arriving a step or two late. The Caps struck again when Devante Smith-Pelly beat Ward off the rush after a squishy Canes defense gave him all kinds of room tee up and label the shot. Sebastian Aho was floating around with no one to defend, Trevor van Riemsdyk was too far across to close on the shot. The result was a 2-on-1 with Noah Hanifin defending two players by himself in a small space. The Hurricanes mostly controlled the possession numbers in the first period as they quite often do, but the period was not a very good one in terms of quality of play.
Midway through the second period, the Capitals struck again on a scoring play that had to make Coach Peters groan out loud. Dmitry Orlov carried the puck freely through the neutral zone without being impeded and then flipped the puck wide of the net between Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. When none of Slavin, Pesce or Ward reacted to the carom off the boards, Orlov retrieved the puck behind Slavin and Pesce and deposited it behind a wandering Ward who failed to find the puck or the near side post. With the score 3-1, the Hurricanes needed to find a spark to climb back into the game and they did exactly that courtesy of the power play and another Victor Rask goal. A nifty backhand pass enabled Rask to step into a shot from between the circles. He finished to pull the Canes back within a single goal at 3-2 which is how the second period finished.
The third period saw another round of late holiday gift giving in the form of ‘oopses’ for scoring chances. With yet another shot from right between the circles, Elias Lindholm beat Braden Holtby after Jeff Skinner and Derek Ryan did the dirty work winning and centering the puck from the boards. Following the theme of forechecking the Caps defensemen into ‘oopses’ for scoring chances, Canes enemy Brooks Orpik scored into his own net during a crease scramble after Sebastian Aho made a strong play separating a Caps defenseman from the puck in the corner. But with the Hurricanes defending a lead in the last 10 minutes, Jaccob Slavin gave it back when he handed a previously quiet Alex Ovechkin a scoring chance when he made a bad turnover in his own end.
Some may grumble about the Hurricanes again losing in overtime, but at the end of the day, the Hurricanes basically lost the coin flip. Shortly after Sebastian Aho cleanly beat Holtby only to hit the post, Ovechkin found the puck on his stick with room to skate and he backed up Slavin with speed and then beat Ward cleanly to end it.
Recap/notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 5-4 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals
1) Results matter
One could make strong cases for half full or half empty on Tuesday. The point against division leader and rise into the eighth and final playoff spot are both positives. But losing a third period lead at home and losing a point in the process definitely left some on the table and hurts. The fact that the schedule next features four tough road games made getting the other point even more important. I still say a productive night against an elite team is more positive than negative.
2) The POST!
In addition to scoring four times, the Hurricanes also hit four posts. Brock McGinn had one off yet another forecheck steal. Jordan Staal had one from in close. Justin Faulk had one early. And Sebastian Aho just missed winning the game in overtime with the fourth shot off the iron. For whatever number of issues there were with the Hurricanes’ game on Tuesday, one cannot fault their finishing with four goals and very nearly four more.
3) Victor Rask
Despite controlling play, I thought the Canes (and the Caps for that matter) mostly looked sluggish on Tuesday night. Rask was a notable exception. He had at least three steals either in the neutral zone or the forecheck, the two goals and a generally active night competing for the puck.
4) Brock McGinn
He was another player who seemed to have jump on a night when not everyone did. McGinn had a post after a steal on the forecheck, drew a penalty and played his usual high energy game.
5) Generally a tough night for much of the blue line
In my preview I noted the recent decline of the Hurricanes play in terms of attention to detail despite a winning run. That trend caught up with the Hurricanes on Tuesday. Faulk and Fleury were both beaten on the first Washington goal. Slavin and Pesce were slow to react on the third Washington goal. Slavin’s turnover was really costly putting the puck on Ovechkin’s stick late, and he was also the defender on Ovechkin for the overtime goal.
6) Cam Ward
Somewhat like the rest of the team, Ward’s game was a mixed bag. His basic stats of allowing five goals on only 26 shots are not impressive. He could theoretically have been better by making a few stops. But except for the Orlov goal that he was slow to react on, Ward was largely put in really tough spots on the others. The positive in his game was a strong third period that held the fort under some duress except for the pretty Ovechkin finish in alone. Again, Ward could have been better, but in no way was he the primary problem in Tuesday’s overtime loss.
7) Need to get back to sounder game
As of January 2, the Hurricanes are in a playoff spot. That is an incredibly good thing.
But my biggest takeaway from Tuesday’s game is the need for the Hurricanes to get back to a cleaner brand of hockey in terms of defensive coverage and puck management. Counting on the other team to struggle too is a recipe for inconsistency at best and a run of losing hockey at worst.
Up next is the first of four tough games on the road when the Hurricanes defend their current playoff positioning against the Penguins on Thursday night.