First, for anyone who missed the 5pm start and are checking in expecting the absolute worst after the Canes debacle at PNC Arena on Friday night, I can assure you that though disappointing, Saturday’s game in Columbus was not nearly as bad.
Big news was delivered even before the puck drop. Out of the lineup were Teuvo Teravainen, Noah Hanifin and Matt Tennyson, and in the lineup were Ty Rattie, Klas Dahlbeck and Ryan Murphy. After a weak home loss on Friday, Coach Bill Peters chose to make a statement.
Recap of Hurricanes 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets
Just like on Friday, the Hurricanes started fairly strong. But the game still started the wrong way on the scoreboard when Columbus forward Markus Hannikainen scored his first NHL goal. The game was a big collection of small mistakes around the net reminiscent of Friday’s mess. First Murphy lost a puck battle on the boards. Then he proceeded to get caught on the wrong side of the Jackets’ player such that when the puck bounced to him, he had an easy path to the front of the net in front of Murphy. Then the puck rolled through the crease in front of Leighton and was shot off him a couple times from close range at a bad angle before Hannikainen found a hole and a goal. The bad combination inability to grab a rebound and clean up the front of the net put the Hurricanes down 1-0. Later in the first period on what looked like a harmless 2-on-2 rush with both defenseman back in position, Ryan Murphy inexplicably cheated a bit to the center which left Scott Hartnell plenty of room to receive a pass and step into an unscreened shot that beat Leighton cleanly from just inside the blue line. While Murphy’s gap control and coverage were not ideal, the shot was from far enough out that Leighton should have made a save. On the back of some suspect defensive play and sub-par goaltending, the Hurricanes exited the first period down 2-0 despite not playing poorly overall. The first period was reminiscent of the loss in Columbus on Tuesday that saw the Canes play okay but end up scratching their heads about what went wrong based on a few bad plays and weak netminding.
After Friday’s debacle and a tough first period on Saturday, one had to wonder what would happen when the Hurricaenes returned for the second period. The Hurricanes responded with the best period that the team has played this week. The ice was tilted into the Columbus end for much of the period, and the Hurricanes’ 9 to 2 shots on goal advantage was a fair representation of how the period went. And better yet, the Hurricanes were rewarded with 2 goals. First, Sebastian Aho got the power play off the power play off the schneid when he finished from in close after an absolutely incredible hand-eye coordination pass out of mid-air (worth finding replay). The Hurricanes struck again to tie the game at 2-2 when Ty Rattie made a strong play to win a puck on the boards in the defensive zone and spring Justin Faulk for a rush and a blast past Bobrovsky.
The third period was not that different from the second period in terms of level of play. But a couple miraculous saves by Sergei Bobrovsky and another collection of small Hurricanes’ defensive mistakes ultimately tipped the game to the Blue Jackets 3-2. Shortly after a Hurricanes’ line change the Blue Jackets rushed the puck through the neutral zone, and the Hurricanes were a step slow sorting things out. Staal was beaten in the neutral zone. Then Slavin got out a little bit too far wide such that Sam Gagner split the 2 at the blue line creating a 2-on-1. Then Brett Pesce was unable to take away the passing lane across and Sebastian Aho could not quite catch up to Hartnell who scored his second of the night on a back door tap in goal on which Leighton had no chance.
When I net out the game:, it goes like this:
–Leighton struggled enough on the first 2 goals to make it a sub-par night, but he did seem to settle down after he got his feet under him.
–Murphy had a really rough night and was a difference-maker on the negative side.
–The Hurricanes overall played a much better game and were especially good in the second and third periods.
–Sergei Bobrovsky made a couple phenomenal saves that kept the Hurricanes from at least pushing to overtime.
‘What I’m watching’ check in
If you missed it and want to catch up, the game preview is HERE.
1) How do the leaders respond?
In general, I thought the Hurricanes’ response to Friday’s poor outing was a good one. The miscues and early 2-0 deficit were obviously a problem, but were mostly contained to the new players in the lineup and not from the leaders. Jeff Skinner did not have a tremendous game, but he stayed heads down on hockey. Jordan Staal was involved in the last goal against but otherwise was pretty good including a shorthanded chance that was among Bobrovsky’s best saves. Faulk scored and played well.
All in all, I think the team passed for responding the right way even if the results were not productive.
2) Attention to detail defensively
This was again a failing point and a driver in a losing effort. All 3 goals were goals that one could want back for one reason or another. In a game where the Hurricanes played even for 1 period and were pretty dominant in the other 2, they gave up too much which is a recurring problem of late.
Leighton was maybe a play away in the first period from being good enough, but in the NHL a play or 2 can often swing games. And the 2 goals that could have been saved in the first period was 1 too many on a night whent he goalie at the other end was lights out. That said, Leighton was not atrocious, and I still think I would come right back to him in the next back-to-back set to see if he can build on Saturday’s game.
The shake up: I like Bill Peters’ move to shake up the lineup a bit. Friday was bad not just in terms of level of play but also effort and response to adversity. I also am okay with the move to sit young hopeful stars Hanifin and Teravainen not because I think they will need to stay in the press box long but simply because it sets a precedent that there are no categories of players who are exempt from the press box.
Ty Rattie: He was somewhat quietly a difference maker. He drew 2 penalties and also made a strong play on the puck to spring Faulk for his goal. He did not have a huge game offensively, but he had a very strong game in terms of just making a bunch of good little plays that add up. I will be surprised if he does not maintain his place in the lineup for Monday.
Last try for Ryan Murphy: With the phones warming up for discussions of all varieties in a couple weeks, I would not be surprised to see Murphy on the way out. He had a really rough outing in Saturday’s loss and just has not carved out a regular place in the Hurricanes’ lineup. I have reached the point where I think best for him and the team is a ‘change of scenery’ trade that sees Murphy get a fresh start elsewhere in return for a comparable player with potential but also needing a change of scenery.
The Lindholm play: If you watch the game or heed my advice to go look at the Lindholm assist on the Aho goal, go do it now. The play where someone takes a random whack at a puck and catches a piece of it is not that uncommon, but in watching the replay, Lindholm very clearly takes quick swing with very clearly intentions to get the puck to Aho and does exactly that.
It is not as dire as it seems: I will not even try to candy coat the fact that an 0-3 week is a big setback, but the situation is not as dire as it probably feels for many Canes fans right now. While there are 4 teams in the Metropolitan Division who are virtually ‘uncatchable’ and rules automatically put in 3 more from the Atlantic Division, the majority of the teams likely to compete for the last spot are mostly also sputtering. Philadelphia limped into their bye week and lost in their return to action tonight. The Bruins are sputtering just as bad. And the Lightning who I continue to fear despite their record less than the Canes lost to lowly Arizona tonight. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have worked their way through 3 out of 4 games that might be the toughest short stretch on the second half schedule.
Next up is the final game in the 4-game gauntlet in Washington, D.C. against the Capitals on Monday.