If the wheels have not officially come off, they are dangling by a thread at this point. After pushing their way up to basically being in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, the team has now lost 5 straight and will have the All-Star break weekend to mull it over.
Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings was not nearly in the category of a few recent efforts that were horrid, but after losing 4 straight, moral victories count for nothing. It is about earning points in the standings, and for the fifth straight game the Hurricanes failed to do so.
Recap of the Hurricanes 3-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings
The first period featured buttoned down hockey by both teams and not a whole bunch happening offensively. The Hurricanes killed off an early high-sticking penalty to Klas Dahlbeck and after that the 2 teams seemed to trade the puck back and forth with some offensive zone time but decent coverage and not much for grade A scoring chances. The fairly even first period ended with a 0-0 tie and with a modest 8 to 7 shots on goal advantage for the Kings.
The second period was 1 of missed opportunities for the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes failed to score twice with a power play that seemed become more unsure of itself as the game wore on. And the Hurricanes also failed to fill open nets on multiple occasions. One sequence saw Sebastian Aho’s shot deflect off of 2 sticks and then the cross bar and then Jordan Staal miss a gaping net on a rolling puck on the rebound. A couple other decent shooting chances that went by the wayside without a goal had the Hurricanes shifting to the stage of fighting it where they squeeze saw dust out of the sticks trying to score. But courtesy of decent defensive play and error free play by Cam Ward, the Hurricanes again exited the period tied at 0-0.
The third period was more of the same. The offensive chances were minimal and mostly medium quality at best, and the Hurricanes had 2 more power play chances. The conclusion of the second Hurricanes power play in the third period again found the Hurricanes tied at 0-0 with about 6 minutes left and overtime looming. Then the Hurricanes imploded to the tune of rapid fire 1-2-3 loss that had fans scratching their heads leaving the arena trying to figure out how the final was 3-0 in the wrong direction. First, Ron Hainsey inexplicably stepped up in the neutral zone with 2 forwards already deep in the offensive zone, behind the play and at the end of their shifts. Then Brock McGinn filled in behind Hainsey going to the eventual goal scorer crossing the blue line but then inexplicably left him and watched. Justin Faulk was roughly in the right place defending Drew Doughty carrying the puck down the right side but did nothing to close the passing lane. It ended with Marian Gaborik going past McGinn and receiving a pass in front of the net and some combination of McGinn, Faulk and a trailing Hainsey showing no urgency to get to him as he neatly stick handled and then beat Ward. Only 38 seconds a Kings’ forward carried into the offensive zone walked right where he wanted to in front of Faulk before firing a shot from between the circles. Ward made the first save, but Trevor Lewis retrieved and scored on a rebound after skating around Noah Hanifin who had inside position initially but neither cleared the puck nor found and tied up Lewis. The misery was officially ended when the Kings scored an empty-netter to make 3 goals in 2:19 and put the Canes quickly on the wrong side of a 3-0 final.
‘What I’m watching’ follow up
If you missed the game preview and want to catch up, it is HERE.
One silver lining for Thursday’s loss was the play of Cam Ward. He had the smallest of roles when the team collapsed late but generally rebounded and played well. The work load was light and maybe you want a heroic save on 1 of the 2 late goals, but in total, I was okay with Ward’s level of play.
2) Bill Peters
Maybe most notable in thinking about Thursday’s effort before the late collapse at least relative to recent disasters was that the Hurricanes did play a sounder game in terms of defense and managing the puck. So ‘glass half full’ would give Peters some credit for righting the ship for the most part in that regard.
‘Meh.’ The team desperately needs someone to pick the team up and lift it out of the ditch. That really did not happen on Thursday.
4) The battle in front of the blue paint
The power play struggled so much to even gain offensive zone entry and get set up, that it is hard to evaluate much else on the power play. That said, I continue to think that the power play could use more simple and ugly with players crashing the net and Justin Faulk and others throwing the puck in there. The recent trend of goals allowed on screen shots did stop, so that was a small positive.
Justin Faulk: Though the bigger mistakes were made by his partners (Hainsey on the first and Hanifin on the second), Faulk had a tough night. On both goals, he was roughly in the right place and defending the right player but left a huge gap and took away exactly nothing. On the first goal, he gave Doughty an easy passing lane to the front of the net. On the second goal, he let the Kings’ player go right where he wanted to fire at point blank ultimately generating a rebound goal.
Cam Ward: Important to note and a small silver lining is that Ward played a solid game for the most part. Both goals were from point blank range on defensive breakdowns. Maybe you hope for a stop on Gaborik, but with a skilled player with time and space in front of the net, it was a really tough assignment. And maybe you hope for no rebound on the second goal, but with Faulk backpedaling, it was a blast from a short distance where the goalie mostly just tries to keep it out of the net and hopes for help (which he did not get) on any rebound.
Costly mistakes again: The first goal really was a disaster on multiple layers in terms of decision-making with Hainsey stepping up, McGinn finding and then leaving the goal scorer, 2 Canes forwards going to change with the Kings rushing into the offensive zone and none of McGinn, Hainsey or Faulk showing any urgency to close on Gaborik figuring he was going to shoot quickly when he did not. The second goal was similarly a matter of Hanifin either clearing the rebound or tying up the Kings’ player. Instead, he mostly watched. The game was a bit reminiscent of the second road loss to Columbus that saw the Hurricanes play well enough to win for the vast majority of ice time but make enough bad mistakes to undo that.
Complete lack of confidence level on the power play: The power play which actually scored in both of the 2 previous games courtesy of Elias Lindholm passing plays mostly looked inept on Thursday. Team’s are obviously noticing how much trouble the Hurricanes have gaining entry if you stack 4 at the blue line, so the Canes are seeing that regularly and as of yet have no answer. Even when the team did set up in the offensive zone, things looked slow and the lack of sureness/crispness even for simple passes and puck handling suggests that the struggles have reached the confidence sapping stage. Ideal would be to revert to simple and ugly with Faulk firing as much as possible from the point and at least 1 if not 2 players in front of the net creating chaos and looking for ugly goals.
Sebastian Aho: First, it is important to note that his development and level of play as a rookie continues to be a bright spot. That said, he was arguably the leader on Tuesday for missed opportunities to score. He had the chance from the crease that deflected off of 2 sticks and then the cross bar which was mostly bad luck. He also had a chance from the side of the net where he fired right into the goalie moving across with net to shoot at. And he lost the puck on a partial breakaway from inside the blue line but was fortunate to at least draw a penalty even though he did not manage a scoring attempt. His skill set leans playmaking which is fine, and he is on pace for nearly 20 goals which is decent, but this is an area of his game probably with room to grow.
Jeff Skinner: A big positive on Jeff Skinner is that days when no scoring too often coincided with being a defensive liability seem to be a thing of the past. But with the team sputtering and failing to score all of a sudden, timing would be great for Skinner to find 1 of his 2-week scoring bursts. He was quiet offensively on Thursday.
Next up is time for soul searching for the team over the All-Star break weekend and then another chance to try to restart on Tuesday at home against the Flyers.
After the last of