The problem is not so much that the Hurricanes lost a single game on the road to the Washington Capitals on Monday. The Capitals are arguably the best team in hockey right now, and no one else is beating them either, especially at home. The problem is that for the recent run of 4 tough games, the Hurricanes picked up exactly 0 points.
The best part about the Hurricanes’ game in Washington on Monday night is that it mercifully ends a tough stretch of 4 games and tees up a hopefully more manageable stretch of schedule. With 4 consecutive losses, the Hurricanes now need to push back into the win column quickly and in a big way.
Recap of Hurricanes 6-1 loss to the Washington Capitals
As has actually been the case in most recent games (even the debacle against the Penguins), the Hurricanes started strong. And has also been the case in the team’s struggles, they seemed to hit a lull in the second half of the first period. After a strong start, the Hurricanes scored first when Elias Lindholm made his second pretty hockey play in as many games on the power play from the side of the net. Saturday was a phenomenal physical play using incredible hand-eye coordination to pass a puck out of the air right to Sebastian Aho who finished. Monday’s play was more the cerebral variety. He received the puck on the side of the net and made just enough of a play to pull the puck to the in front of the end line to force Braden Holtby to come to the post and simultaneously attract the defender. When he then saucered a pass to Jordan Staal, Staal had net to shoot at after Holtby moved across. But the Hurricanes’ lead would be short-lived. First on the power play, Dmitri Orlov fired through traffic from a way out and possibly off of Staal’s stick and up over Ward’s shoulder and into the net. Then a screened Ward was beaten again by a fluttering point flip by Justin Williams through a screen. Along the way, the Hurricanes actually had a number of really good chances 5-on-5 in the first period but failed to score.
The second period offered no relief for the weary Canes’ fan base. Like the first period, the Hurricanes were not horrible in terms of trading attacks with the Capitals. The Hurricanes had 8 shots on net and held the Capitals to only 4. But in terms of the scoreboard, the story was much less favorable. The Capitals scored on another screened shot on which Ward seemed to get preoccupied with the screen and off angle and then again on a rebound chance that saw the Hurricanes crash the front of the net while the Hurricanes mostly just watched. Hainsey and Faulk backed up deep into the crease on a first shot, Ward allowed a rebound and then McGinn failed to box out Evgeny Kuznetsov who stepped in front of him and quickly finished a rebound chance. At the end of 2 periods, basic statistics like shots on goal, scoring chances, etc. did not look horrible, but the Hurricanes were losing badly in terms of winning battles for space and pucks around the net and also in terms of goaltending.
The second half of this game very much had the feel of the Penguins loss on Friday with the Hurricanes mostly done and unable to find any kind of sustained push to claw back into the game or at least make it obvious that they were trying. The Caps added another goal on a defensive zone break down and then another on with Tennyson and Hanifin taking a turn on the back end seeming confused on who was doing what and then again the Caps faster to a rebound and another quick goal against. When it was all said and done, the 6-1 loss looked eerily similar to the 7-1 mess on Friday night against the Penguins.
‘What I’m watching’ follow up
You can find the game preview HERE if you missed it and want to catch up.
1) Improved attention to details
In terms of handling the puck in their own end and in dangerous places for turnovers, the Canes were not perfect but they were better. Only the fifth goal was really a break down defensively when Justin Faulk and Ron Hainsey both somehow ended up behind the play and Teuvo Teravainen trying to cover up could not keep a pass from going to a T.J. Oshie who was wide open in front of the net for a quick goal. But the struggle seemed to shift to gaining and fighting for position in front of the net. The Capitals turned too easy of a game of gaining position in front of the net into 4 goals.
2) Cam Ward
Monday’s game was not as bad as Friday’s train wreck, but it was not good either. It was 1 of those nights that just leaves you wanting more in net. Three Capitals’ goals were from screens. I guess the defense for Ward on those is to say that he cannot be faulted if he did not really see/track the shots. But screens are a normal part of the game, and part of an NHL goalie’s job is to find sight lines to track the puck through the traffic that will inevitably be there at times. One sign for me that Ward is fighting things a bit is when he is having trouble finding the puck and also when discomfort in those situations often sees him start to go down early which is often when he gets beat up over his shoulders where the top third of the net is open and available. Shorter version is that while Ward might not have been horrible, he certainly could have been better and the goalie at the other end of the rink was significantly better.
More than anything right now, I would like to feel like the team can count on Ward to play at a level at least close to what he offered in November/December, but that is far from something I
3) The lineup
I would not call the lineup changes significantly positive or negative. I thought Rattie had another good game overall being involved in a couple really good scoring chances early in the game, but he was also 1 of the players (with a Capitals player) on 1 of the screened goals against. I did not think any of Noah Hanifin, Matt Tennyson or Teuvo Teravainen were particularly good or bad on the night.
Elias Lindholm: As already noted above, he has consecutive games with incredibly good individual plays on the power play that led directly to goals for special teams unit that has been struggling.
Perspective: As I said above, the problem with the Hurricanes is not so much the tough loss to a great team on Monday. The problem is that the losing streak is suddenly 4 games, and also that the trend is heading in the wrong direction right now. Thursday’s home tilt with the Los Angeles Kings before a 4-day layoff for the All-Star break just became huge.
Next up is that game against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.