From the ‘results matter’ category that is becoming increasingly important, Tuesday was a disappointing. The Hurricanes lost a four-point game to the Pittsburgh Penguins and in the process stayed in last place in the Metropolitan Division and fell farther below the playoff cut line.
Needless to say, the sense of urgency is ratcheting up right now.
As for the game itself, the game was not from the ‘never had a chance’ category that has reared its head a few times recently. The Hurricanes started flat and the Penguins started flying. This is usually a recipe for problems on the score board, but with Cam Ward having a strong first period, the Hurricanes headed to the locker room for the first intermission tied at 0-0 despite being outplayed early.
Toward the end of the first period at the start of the second period, the Hurricanes played their way up to game speed and at least tilted the ice back to flat with the puck flying in both directions at times. When Derek Ryan broke the scoreless tie at the end of a great shift for the Skinner/Ryan/Stempniak line, things suddenly looked bright. But less than a minute later the game took a turn for the worse when Dominik Simon beat Cam Ward from an odd angle. As has too often been the case recently, things immediately snowballed after the bad goal. Barely over a minute later, what I called a “domino effect defensive train wreck” sent Penguins forward Jean-Sebastian Dea in alone to beat Ward and very quickly turn a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 deficit. The play started when Trevor van Riemsdyk made a bad pinch and got caught up in the offensive zone. Noah Hanifin then played a 2-on-1 as if it was a 2-on-2 leaving Dea alone coming right down the middle of the ice. The play ended with Hanifin failing to take away the passing lane and Jeff Skinner failing to backcheck and the unmarked player finishing.
The rest of the game was fairly even, but the Hurricanes generated minimal high-quality scoring chances and inexplicably passed on 3-4 of the best chances to shoot. Now in three games minus leading scorer Sebastian Aho, neither second leading scorer Teuvo Teravainen nor third leading scorer Jeff Skinner have tallied a goal, and the the too many other chances (on Tuesday at least) saw players pass on point blank shooting opportunities to instead look sideways trying to find a pass. The Penguins would ultimately add a third goal for breathing room when Victor Rask and Haydn Fleury lost a puck battle and Phil Kessel quickly fed the puck right through Justin Faulk to the front of the net for a bang-bang goal.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins
1) Lack of offense
Just like any other recent loss, there are many things that can be dissected, but at the highest level what jumps out at me is the lack of grade A scoring chances. The game looked like a Canes loss of old with a decent volume of shots on goal but not nearly as much for quality chances.
As I said on Twitter during the game:
I think #Canes players regularly looking to pass in obvious shooting situations tells you where this team is offensively right now. Who wants to score?
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) January 24, 2018
The power play which has been productive of late and a few intermittent scoring outbursts have masked the fact that the team just is not scoring enough. Since beating the Penguins in Pittsburgh for what was possibly a high point of the season, the Hurricanes are 2-6 and have been held to one goal in four of those losses.
2) Cam Ward
With the goalie play under the microscope right now, it seems only fair to critique Ward’s play just the same as I have Darling’s. On a positive note, Ward was the best player on the ice in the first period and almost single-handedly got the Hurricanes into the second period without a deficit. But singing a familiar tune of late, the first goal he allowed was the kind that changes momentum. And playing the second verse of that familiar tune, the goal saw the team’s energy swoon and the other team capitalize almost immediately for another goal. I am torn on whether to heap blame on Ward for allowing a goal that swung momentum in the game or heap blame on the team for not being able to respond, dial up their intensity and put it behind them. Lost among the fact that the goalies just have not been good is the fact that too often these situations are quickly snowballing. While Ward’s play on Tuesday was not in the horrible range, the goalie at the other end of the ice, in this case an emergency AHL call up, was better.
3) Another post for Brock McGinn
With the outcome still to be determined in the third period, Brock McGinn clanged the iron for the tenth time this season. He is inches away from a sizable boost to the respectable seven goals that he has. Again, I am torn on whether to call it bad luck, say he needs to hit the net or some combination of both.
4) The season is NOT over…it is just very clearly moving in that direction
As dire as the situation feels right now, the 2017-18 season is NOT over by any stretch of the imagination. The Flyers won again on Tuesday and are have played their way up to the tier of teams above the cut line. But the Rangers who are losing as I write this are vulnerable. I tabbed them as a team to catch based on the heavy road schedule that they have in the second half of the season, and their troubles were compounded by the fact that Kevin Shattenkirk is not out of the lineup. But the growing issue for the Hurricanes is simply the volume of teams they need to catch and beat. It is one thing to catch the Rangers, but the Hurricanes now much also catch and pass the Islanders and Penguins too. If even one of those teams gets hot, the gap which does not sound that big at three points (adjusted for games played).
But despite the growing pile of negatives, I still believe that the season will be decided in February when the Hurricanes play a run of 11 games out of 12 at home starting on January 30 against the Ottawa Senators.
Here is hoping that the Hurricanes can claim a win to go 2-2 in the short burst of games in between the bye week and the All-Star break and set the stage for perhaps the wildest stretch yet for the #CanesCoaster.
That next game is in Montreal on Thursday night.