Fans who tuned in for the full day of Canes hockey will go to bed with an optimism that the long-term trajectory took a meaningful turn for the better today but also with an all too familiar bitter taste in their mouth from a game outcome.
If you missed it during the day, I posted my notes on the afternoon press conference introducing Tom Dundon as the new majority owner of the Carolina Hurricanes.
The game on Friday night was positive through about 56 minutes of action and seemed destined to be a wonderful night cap to finish off the day’s doubleheader with an impressive second consecutive win over the division-leading Washington Capitals. Then a brutal and varied sequence of events saw all of the Friday night goodness evaporate into thin air.
The Hurricanes matched the Capitals in the first period and then dialed up their game to tilt the ice in the second period. When Jeff Skinner scored off the bar and in early in the third period, the ball was on the tee (Top Golf reference :-)) for a huge win. Through most of the rest of the third period, the Capitals pushed and the Hurricanes survived.
And then the unfortunate series of events happened. Being pressured heading around the net, Noah Hanifin made a poor decision to try to feed the puck to the crowded middle of the ice instead of safely playing the puck up the boards to center ice. The puck found Brett Connolly’s stick moving toward the net and was quickly through Ward and into the net to give up a one-goal lead. The Hurricanes survived the next couple minutes until the next play in the series happened. With less than a minute to go, Jordan Staal caught an Evgeni Kuznetzov stick in the mouth. The referee next to the play and the others too somehow missed what should have been a four-minute minor that would have finished the last 30 seconds of regulation and much of overtime. Then things went from bad to worse when a pass off the rush found its way through Jaccob Slavin’s legs right into the crease for a tap in goal with just over one second remaining. The goal sent the Hurricanes scratching their heads heading into the dressing room with a loss that seemed like a win and then at least an overtime loss before blowing up.
Aside from the debacle (my new favorite word for when things go awry in a horrible way), the Hurricanes played a strong game against a good team for the second consecutive night. The Hurricanes matched up well with the Capitals early, were better than the Capitals in the middle of the game and just could not finish what could have been a win. In addition, the Hurricanes overcame personnel issues with Brett Pesce officially on injured reserve, Derek Ryan out after an injury yesterday and then Elias Lindholm and Joakim Nordstrom out with the flu.
The positive spin is that the Hurricanes battled an elite hockey team and matched them punch for punch over the course of two consecutive nights. Thursday’s effort was sound and solid even if maybe not spectacular. And aside from the ending, I actually think Friday’s effort was better in many ways. The negative spin is that this is exactly the kind of loss that makes marginal teams marginal. No doubt there were mitigating circumstances with the missed call, but there was also a huge element of just not doing the work to close out a win.
The loss leaves one more game on Sunday that just became even more important heading into the bye week that follows.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals
1) Jeff Skinner scores
Jeff Skinner has been quiet, too quiet, of late. He scored what was a huge goal at the time shooting off the post and in to stake the Hurricanes to a lead early in the third period. With crunch time officially here for the 2017-18 and Hurricanes at but not significantly above the playoff cut line, the team desperately needs the next burst of Skinner scoring to arrive sooner rather than later. Here is hoping that this goal, possibly with the help of Lee Stempniak, can provide the spark that ignites it.
2) Lee Stempniak
Speaking of Lee Stempniak, he played really well considering he has not really seen action (other than a really brief AHL rehab stint that was also cut short by injury) since preseason. He seemed fine in terms of matching the pace and did not seem to suffer much from any of the timing and hands issues that are the norm for the first few games back. Offensively, he put the puck on line mates sticks a couple times and drew a penalty in 13:35 of action. All in all, I would call it a successful first game for Stempniak.
3) Missing Brett Pesce maybe caught up with the team tonight
The Hurricanes defense rose to the occasion in impressive fashion against a tough opponent in Thursday’s win. The six defenders played one of the team’s better games on the season even considering the games with Pesce in the lineup. Friday continued the crazy and courageous run of Canes defenders stepping in front of Ovechkin and other Capitals blasting away with too many of the shots seeming to catch the Canes players in the wrong place. Thursday saw Slavin hobbling, and Friday saw Dahlbeck and van Riemsdyk hobbling off the ice and Fleury also catching one up high. The courageousness and willingness to risk personal sacrifice were again admirable and the effort was not horrible, but I do think being undermanned for the back-to-back set ultimately caught up with the team. Fleury, Dahlbeck and Hanifin took obstruction type penalties. (Faulk also took one going after Wilson which I viewed as worth the risk.) And the collapse at the end saw Hanifin make a horrible decision and then Slavin have a pass go right through him to the far post for the last second winning goal. Slavin and van Riemsdyk played huge minutes in a both halves of the back-to-back relative to their season averages, and Faulk’s minutes were also high. Here is hoping that a single day is enough for the group to recharge enough for an ’empty the tank’ finale before the bye week against another team that can attack with skill and speed.
4) Sebastian Aho
He had another goal and an assist to go with it and enough other chances and offensive plays to suggest that he is a going concern right now not just picking up points here and there. The Holy Grail for this team is if Skinner can find his next scoring burst at the same time that Aho and the TSA line are surging offensively. I would not say that we are there yet, but there are sparks on both accounts.
5) The power play
The power play which has been on the rise had a very strong game and would have been among the top two or three keys to a win if the team held on. The power play scored a pretty goal early on the tic-tac-toe passing play that saw Aho move the puck to Williams at the side of the net who then quickly found Staal who finished into the corner of the net from point blank range. Aho scored on another blast from up top, and more generally the power play consistently generated shots and chances all night.
6) Jordan Staal
He had another strong night with the pretty power play goal and also an assist. More significantly, he looked strong in the second half of the back to back. Peters recognized it and rode him heavily. His 22:29 of ice time was his highest in a non-overtime game and only about one shift short of his 23-minute high in two overtime games.
7) Bigger picture
No doubt, the Hurricanes let one point get away on the Hanifin ‘oops’ and then another on the last second goal. This game is clearly in the category of games that a team looks back on if it just misses the playoffs, and that hurts. But if you can fight your way out of the disappointment of Friday, the split against a good team is a positive in total and looks even better if the Hurricanes can close out the week with a win on Sunday to finish the week at 2-2 despite the tough opponents.
Saturday is the annual Alumni Game which is always a great event.
Then the Hurricanes take the ice at PNC Arena on Sunday with a midday matinee at 3pm against the Calgary Flames.