Recap of Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 loss the Tampa Bay Lightning
With the Lightning playing last night in Ottawa and arriving in Raleigh late Saturday night and the 5pm start, one would have hoped that the Canes would be able to find a higher gear early and often. Instead it was the Lightning who gave the Canes fits with their forecheck early. As has been a problem intermittently throughout the season, the Hurricanes had trouble early advancing the puck from their own end and defending in transition. Those flaws led quickly to a 2-0 lead for the Lightning. First, Nikita Kucherov surprised Dougie Hamilton with aggressive pressure as he was wheeling around the net. Maybe partly because of being hooked a bit Hamilton lost the puck and instead of whacking it too the boards tried to play it across. The puck found Steven Stamkos who quickly finished. Tampa Bay struck again when the Hurricanes had people back but a group of players generally in the right place defending the front of the net but without marking players and passing lanes. The result was a puck pass right across the front of the net for a quick finish. Two shots into the game for the Lightning, the Canes were chasing the game down 2-0. A late power play seemed to boost the Canes, and the team finished the period strong, but being unable to score exited the first period down 2-0.
Those who figured that the Canes late push in the first period was a sign that the Canes were in fact gaining a physical advantage would have been wrong. Early in the second period, the Lightning continued to create havoc with a strong forecheck and ability to win and control pucks on the end boards behind Petr Mrazek. The result of another strong forechecking shift was another ‘Point’ blank chance by Brayden Point who scored to put Tampa Bay up 3-0. That goal was followed by a couple more shifts of the Lightning hemming the Canes in their own end and controlling play. Mrazek made a couple saves on a chaotic flurry in front of him, but the momentum clearly resided with Tampa Bay. The Hurricanes pushed at times in the second period, but the Lightning were again the better team largely courtesy of their forecheck.
The Hurricanes pushed a bit in the third period and scored to get within two goals at 3-1 when a great individual rush by Jaccob Slavin found Andrei Svechnikov streaking down the middle for a sniper-lick receive and finish. But the Hurricanes would get no closer as Tampa Bay continued their winning ways closing out the 3-1 victory.
What jumped out at me in this game was Tampa Bay’s forecheck which was even more impressive considering they had played and traveled the night before. The Lightning had a knack for getting players/pucks on the wall seemingly a half second earlier than possible and then behind that reading and covering the likely outlets under pressure. The result was a good number of turnovers that led directly to scoring chances and two of their three goals. The Lightning also tilted the ice in their favor which made it difficult for the Hurricanes to mount any kind of sustained pressure.
And while I do think this game has an element of disappointment that the Hurricanes did not come out stronger with a physical advantage schedule-wise, I think more so the Canes sloppiness in terms of puck management ran into a tough match against a team that pressured the puck consistently.
Player and other notes
1) Inability to capitalize
Maybe realizing, that they would find themselves at at a disadvantage physically at some point, the Lightning pushed hard early and used their forecheck to gain a territorial and possession advantage early. As noted above, the Hurricanes seemed to find a higher gear late in the first period, but by then Tampa Bay had a 2-0 lead and could sit back just a bit and attack opportunistically.
2) Losing on the walls
As noted above, the key difference in the game was not so much raw skill level but rather the Lightning’s ability to win on the walls. The Lightning forecheck was the single biggest factor in generating scoring chances. The Lightning’s ability to win and then keep pucks on the walls was also a big factor in making the Hurricanes spend large chunks of time just trying to win and clear pucks out of danger. In that regard, the game film could be a great watch for the Hurricanes as the team tries to find a higher gear with the forecheck that was the Canes bread and butter in 2018-19.
The third line had a strong game especially early. That line could easily have had a goal or more in the first period and was the Hurricanes best line on the night.
4) Dougie Hamilton
He had a tough game in terms of puck management by the end of the first period. The first Lightning goal featured a missed icing call and seemingly also a hook on Hamilton that made a difference, but with the puck on his stick but without control, he still made an ill-advised decision to try to go across the ice instead of trying to whack the puck toward the wall or maybe just eating it. I have him as the Canes most valuable player through 41 games by virtue of his massive scoring contribution from the back end coupled with legitimate first pairing defense, but his first game of the second half of the season was not a good one.
5) Rounding into form in the second half of the season
As much as anything, this game was about facing a good hockey team rounding into form at the midway point of the season. Despite playing yesterday and traveling, the Lightning were clearly the better team in terms of being sound even when pressured and in terms of generating and finishing high quality chances. Now into the new year and past the midway point of the 2019-20 NHL season, the time is now for good teams to sort things out, round into form and push up the standings. The Hurricanes are in a better place standings-wise than they were at this time last year and the 2019-20 has proven to have more fire power to win by scoring, but in my opinion the Hurricanes are still trying to find a repeatable formula and soundness that leads to consistency for the stretch run. Teams that are unable to improve this time of year run the risk of being passed and left in the dust.
6) The home stand
Especially after a 2-0 start, the current 2-2 mark through four games of the seven-game home stand is obviously not great. But if one considers that it featured two games against the NHL’s top dog in the Capitals and another game against a Lightning team that seems to be rising to that same level, 2-2 is not horrid. Key is how the home stand finishes. The last three games feature two games against good but maybe not as good teams and also a finale against a Los Angeles team that is struggling. It now takes a 3-0 or a 2-0-1 finish to make this home stand much more than treading water.
Next up for the Hurricanes is game five of the home stand against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.