My perspective on the Hurricanes’ 4-1 loss to Columbus on Tuesday is unique in that I was tied up from 7-8pm and joined the game in progress with about 14 minutes remaining in the second period and the Hurricanes already down 3-1. So I saw the second half of the game first and then looped back to watch the first half of the game later.
Recap of Hurricanes 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets
In watching the first period already knowing the end result, I think it was actually a pretty good road first period. I think Columbus had the upper hand early, but it was not by a huge margin. The best versus best match up of the Hurricanes’ league-leading penalty kill and the Blue Jackets’ power play seemed to boost the team when the good guys stymied Columbus. Not too long after that Teuvo Teravainen found Sebastian Aho on the back door with a pretty pass and a 1-0 Hurricanes lead. With only 1:54 remaining in the period, it looked very likely that the Hurricanes would exit with a solid road first period that saw a good combination of survival, strong special teams play and just enough opportunistic offense. But only 11 seconds later a seemingly harmless turnover escalated quickly when Boone Jenner blew around Justin Faulk and right past Cam Ward to the far side for a goal. When Brandon Dubinsky struck again only 35 seconds later on a seemingly harmless blast off the rush, the Hurricanes headed to the dressing room down 2-1 and probably asking themselves what had just happened. The shots on goal were 15 to 9 in favor of Columbus but total shots dead even at 20 apiece was maybe more indicative of a fairly even period.
The second period was more of the same early on. Ward was first beaten from a ways out when he seemed to fail to find the puck because of a screen maybe by Staal. Then he failed to glove a shot, and the rebound was quickly behind him. The Canes did push back a couple times trying to get back into the game, but it just was not the Hurricanes’ night. The power play continued to sputter and the team just could not catch a break to spark them. With a 3-goal lead, Columbus was mostly solid and had Bobrovsky to lean on in the few cases when they were not.
Big picture perspective and a couple positives
Before delving into what went wrong, let me first offer 2 positives. The game is disappointing in terms of results obviously and maybe more significant because of the growing concerns highlighted below. But at the end of the day it is a 1-game setback in a tough road game. Even if a path to the playoffs exists, it is not 1 of perfection. That path can and will contain games like Tuesday night. The key is to rebound quickly, keep losing streaks short and find a couple winning streaks (which the Hurricanes have at home). So is is important not to blow 1 bad game out of proportion. If the Hurricanes win on Friday, all will be right the Canes’ hockey world again heading into a rematch in Columbus on Saturday.
Shorter version: It is just 1 loss against a good team.
The Hurricanes storybook season for goalies wrote yet another chapter. First, we had journeyman Michael Leighton getting an unlikely return to the NHL level at 33 years old. We had equipment manager turned goalie Jorge Alves 7 seconds of glory. Along the way, we have had Cam Ward’s return to prominence and Hurricanes hockey success. And then on Tuesday, chapter 4 was written to have Ohio kid Alex Nedeljkovic make his NHL debut in Columbus, Ohio probably 1-3 years ahead of schedule. And with Eddie Lack’s injury setbacks this season but recent return to practice, there is clearly the material for a fifth chapter waiting in the wings.
Using crystal ball, I mostly wrote tonight’s game recap as my DCoJ this morning
That said, from what I saw live and also checking out the goals against on the team web site, I think I pretty much wrote the recap this morning in my Daily Cup of Joe post entitled “Readying for the road – Are fun wins hiding a growing problem on defense?”
That post highlighted 4 emerging defensive issues that were buried underneath scoring barrages and fun home wins.
- Reversion to reasonable for Slavin/Pesce
- A notch lower from Ward
- Disappearance of Staal checking line
- Growing pains from attacking style of play
As far as finding video to visually illustrate my morning post, Tuesday night’s game was nearly perfect.
Columbus goal #1: Faulk/Nordstrom fail to connect to get the puck moving forward to attack and the both defensemen were leaning forward a bit (Issue #4) and then Boone Jenner goes right around Faulk (Issue #5) where not only does he give up the short side but even worse just lets him skate across the front of the crease (Issue #5 again) where Ward admittedly in a bad spot does not have much of an answer when a poke check might have been possible or a great save would have been appreciated (small does of Issue #2).
Columbus goal #2: One simple pass springs Columbus through the neutral zone with speed behind all 3 forwards (Issue #4). Hainsey plays it passively and does nothing to take away time, space or shooting lane (Issue #5) at which point Dubinsky maybe uses him a little bit as a screen and just beats Ward (Issue #2).
Columbus goal #3: Dubinsky enters the offensive zone with Slavin, Pesce and Staal in pretty good defensive position. Dubinsky peels off Staal and beats Ward through traffic (Issue #2).
Columbus goal #4: The fourth goal was a defensive sorting out and coverage train wreck for all of McGinn/Staal/Lindholm and Hainsey/Faulk (Issue #3 and Issue #4). First both Staal and Faulk get lured to the far boards chasing the puck at the blue line. A quick pass springs a Blue Jacket entering the offensive one. At that point Hainsey and McGinn get caught in between players, and a drop pass leads to a quick blast which leads to a juicy rebound that Ward should have gloved (Issue #2). Then no one gets to the rebound (Issue #3 and Issue #4) which gets chipped up over Ward and in.
‘What I’m watching’ check in
1) Same or different on the road?
While I do think Columbus had more jump and played faster through the neutral zone at home, I do not think the away versus home thing was a huge driver in the outcome. The single biggest difference between the 2 games was the goaltending (see below).
2) Seeking a higher gear defensively on the road
Per the detailed break down of the the Columbus goals, the combination of the defense and the goaltending is what tilted the game into the loss column.
In a couple words, it was not good. Whereas the Hurricanes won last week because Anton Forsberg subbing for a sick Sergei Bobrovsky played poorly, that part of the game completely flip flopped the second time around. Bobrovsky was pretty solid, and Ward just was not.
4) Continued leadership
I thought Skinner played well, but that was about as far as things go with the top players. Faulk was front and center on the first goal that let Columbus immediately back into the game after Carolina scored first. Ward was not good. Staal maybe was not bad but was also in the middle of a goal against.
Alex Nedeljkovic: Nedeljkovic getting his first NHL ice time back in Ohio where he is from is pretty cool. It is important to note that Nedeljkovic is still a long way from being NHL-ready and was with the big club on Tuesday only so Leighton could get some ice time in the AHL on Tuesday and/or Wednesday probably before a start with the Hurricanes on Saturday (as I said on Twitter a couple minutes after the transactions were announced). But even if premature to the real start of his NHL career, how cool is it that Ned got to play and play well too in Ohio?
Jeff Skinner: He did not get on the score sheet, but I thought Skinner had a decent game offensively. He had 2 good chances in the first period and a few more later and played a fast and aggressive game with the puck on his stick.
Visions of Brind’Amour: This is a bit of an aside, but the way that Sebastian Aho so quickly and emphatically pointed at Teuvo Teravainen who made the pass on his goal reminded me a bit of Rod Brind’Amour who seemed to always celebrate with team mates instead of by himself and similarly tended to regularly deflect attention/credit away from himself and toward whoever helped him.
A really important next game for Ward: I have yammered about the Hurricanes goalie thing from about 7 different angles in the past week ranging from writing up a big long article on the goalie situation and Cam Ward to doing reader polls on it to reading tea leaves on Twitter to infer a likely Leighton start this weekend to noting that Ward’s January play despite the wins is a notch lower than prior. What comes next? Was this a capitulation game after too many games without a rest and something that might extend further? Or was it just a bad game that will see Ward bounce back quickly like he has after his few bad starts this season? The answer to those questions could have a lot to say about the rest of the Hurricanes’ season.
Importance of looking forward not backward: Right now, the Carolina Hurricanes are only a Friday home win away from a decent 1-1 start in a tough week schedule-wise. Losses are inevitable. The score in those losses is mostly irrelevant. The key is to quickly get back on track such that losing streaks are short and hopefully winning streaks (like the recent 4-gamer at home) are longer.
Next up is a home tilt against the Stanley Cup Champion Penguins on Friday.