The Hurricanes entered Friday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings 2-0 since the All-Star break and with a three-game winning streak. More significantly, they entered the game tied for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
They also faced a trick game playing their third game in four nights and the second half of a back-to-back against a rested team with speed. Despite the fact that the Hurricanes have generally been very good in the second game of back-to-backs with a 4-4-1 record, the schedule did seem to play a role in Saturday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.
The game started almost perfectly. The Hurricanes started similarly to the earlier games this week playing decent but unspectacular hockey and being steady defensively. Even better, the Hurricanes gave goalie Scott Darling a chance to feel the puck early facing a decent volume of relatively low quality shots early. And the Hurricanes even got on the score board first 8:16 into the first period when Sebastian Aho deftly reached over the goalie one-handed and swatted in a Justin Faulk shot that had deflected off the goalie and was likely headed into the net on its own.
As I said on Twitter:
I'm sorry…Someone has to say it…That is an absolute selfish travesty by Sebastian Aho stealing Justin Faulk's goal that would mean free queso on Faulk bobblehead day at @MoesTriangle tomorrow. #Redvolution
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) February 3, 2018
And just like that, those stopping by Moe’s tomorrow aiming to pick up lunch and a Justin Faulk bobblehead to boot will have to pay for their own queso. At that point the game was tracking very similarly to the wins on Tuesday and Thursday that saw the Hurricanes give up very little, grind out a couple goals and make that good enough for a win.
But shortly after the Aho goal, Detroit seemed to find a higher gear and the game opened up. The more the game opened up and the pace increased, the more obvious it was how much faster the Red Wings were on Friday night. From that point forward, the Hurricanes and goalie Scott Darling played much of the rest of the game under duress. Detroit tied the game when Danny DeKeyser shot through Noah Hanifin who was parked in front of Darling. Darling never saw it on its way into the net behind. The Hurricanes managed to get into the first intermission with a 1-1 tie, but hindsight would later show that the horse was already out of the barn in terms of Detroit opening up the game and being too much faster through the middle of the rink for the rest of the night.
The second period saw Detroit attack in transition in waves. The second Red Wings goal came when a reasonably well-defended 3-on-3 rush turned into a 4-on-3 when Detroit defenseman Trevor Daley joined behind the rush with no Canes forward in sight. He skated freely into a blast off a tee from between the circles and beat Darling glove high. Despite being consistently a step or two slower than Detroit throughout the period and continued struggles defending off the rush, the Hurricanes somehow emerged from the second period down only 2-1 and with a chance to maybe steal a point or even a hockey game with one good period or a couple bounces.
But it was not to be. The hockey gods looked down and made sure that the Red Wings left with the win that they deserved. In the third period, Henrik Zetterberg picked Haydn Fleury’s pock and fed Gustav Nyquist who rushed up and finished a 2-on-1 with a blast off the rush. Then Darren Helm exited the penalty box just in time to receive a pass for a breakaway and finish that pushed the score to 4-1 which is how it finished.
The story of the game was the Red Wing’s pace and the Hurricanes inability to match it.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings
1) Scott Darling
Goaltending and Scott Darling continue to be a watch point and a concern for the Hurricanes, but despite the lopsided 4-1 score, Darling was not the story of this game. From the point when the Red Wings found a higher gear just after the midway point of the first period, they tilted the ice and flew at the net for the rest of the game. The Hurricanes were outplayed by a wide enough margin that goaltending had almost no chance of swinging the outcome, and the game very much looked like a 4-1 game.
At a more Scott Darling level, I thought he looked good early. Two things jump out about Darling’s play when he is struggling. First is that when he is being attacked (i.e. off the rush or a shooter stepping into a shot), he is passive when he is struggling such that the puck either hits him or it does not and he does not effectively use his size to take away angles and encourage shooters to shoot around him and in the process miss the net. The other thing that jumps out when he is struggling is how aggressive/noisy he can be overplaying the net and making aggressive, wild movements that very often have him not square to shots and also with holes.
So early in the game, what stood out about Darling’s play was an improvement in terms of relative calmness and economy of motion. And though I would not say he necessarily challenged, he was at least square and on angle early in the game.
While the goalie is partly responsible for finding sight lines through or around whatever is in front of him, the first goal was mostly just tough luck with Hanifin failing to quickly get through the shooting lane and move his guy. Instead, he almost parked in front of Darling and was nearly as effective as an intentional screen. The other three goals saw him beaten cleanly, but all three were from close with an uncontested shooter more or less being able to play shooting gallery.
If forced to express concern about Darling’s game, my reservations would be that when the team in front of him went full helter skelter as the game wore on, Darling seemed to relapse a bit into maybe trying to do too much and failing around a bit. And he still looks completely frozen and unable to react on some of the shots that are beating him right now such that it is not like he is reacting and just missing but more like he just is not reading and processing fast enough right now.
All of that said, this game was not on Darling by any stretch of the imagination, and I also think there were some positives such that the game could be a small stepping stone. Critical is for some combination of goalie coach Mike Bales and the video team to invest some time with Darling after this game to point out that his play was better than the 4-1 score might indicate and more pointed in the right direction than not. It might also make for great tape for showing him the subtle difference between the calm version of him early versus a few sequences that maybe saw him trying a little too hard late.
2) Lack of offense
Despite the winning streak, one of the trends lurking under the surface right now is the Hurricanes having trouble generating offense. The wild 6-5 win over the Canadiens last week was an outlier, but otherwise goals have been hard to come by even in wins. In their last eight games, the Hurricanes have been held to one goal four losses and have luckily squeaked out wins in two other games in which they scored only twice. I continue to say that if Jeff Skinner has another scoring burst in him for the 2017-18 season, the time to unleash it is now.
3) Haydn Fleury
His games were night and day between Thursday and Friday. I called him out as the most notable of the bunch on a good night on Thursday. On Friday, he was victimized twice for break downs that led immediately to odd many rushes the other way. (One was the Nyquist goal.) And in a game that was fast, he just struggled regularly throughout the game to do much more than keep backing up defensively. The night was a tough one nearly across the board, so for Fleury too, the goal is to quickly put it behind him and rebound on Sunday.
4) Elias Lindholm
In what is becoming a fairly regular trend, the Hurricanes scored another power play goal with a vital ingredient being Elias Lindholm parked in front of the goalie. The key word is “parked.” He was not cutting across. He was not off to the side of the goalie looking for a tip. And he was not in front but then moving to the side as the puck was coming. He was parked in front of Mrazek such that he struggled to find Faulk’s shot soon enough and had no control of where it went when it hit him. Kudos to Lindholm for playing a key role in helping the power play which has been reasonably productive of late start collecting more ugly goals.
Note that he did not figure on the score sheet on Aho’s goal.
I also like that Bill Peters had the sense to separate Lindholm’s play on the power play from even strength. Not so much because he has played horribly but more so because other combinations have worked better, Lindholm is currently playing on the fourth line. But Peters recognized that he is filling the net front role well of late and left him on the power play which makes sense.
5) Continued issues finding and marking defensemen joining the rush in a second wave
In Friday’s game, a recurring problem for the Hurricanes again reared its head. Offensively, the Hurricanes are a capable transition team offensively in terms of being able to skate and move the puck with speed. And as long as it is just a matter of defending without too much sorting out, the Hurricanes defensemen skate well enough. But one glaring problem that seems to rear its head regularly in these fast-paced games is the issues that the Hurricanes forwards have defending a second wave off the rush when defensemen join behind the play. The Daley goal was a combination of Skinner and Stempniak being too far behind the play and none of the other three players back (who were defending the initial 3-on-3) reacting quickly enough to help. Shortly after that there was another play where Nordstrom was back but went to a player that the defenseman was covering again resulting in a blast from a defenseman following the play. And that theme cropped up other times on Friday. All of Skinner, Aho, Teravainen and Ryan too often have trouble either getting to or identifying their assignment coming back. Earlier in the year, I would mostly categorize them as random defensive break downs, but as the season wears on, I think opposing coaches are catching on and making it a point to have a fourth (one of the two defensemen) push up aggressively behind the play and also have the forwards knowing that he has a good chance to be open for a good scoring chance.
6) Justin Faulk warming up?
For a team that is struggling to score right now, Justin Faulk is worth watching. He has been finding his shot more recently. Coupled with Williams and now Lindholm spending time parked in front of opposing goalies that could be a recipe for a Justin Faulk goal scoring resurgence. He would had the goal had Aho not tapped it in on Friday, and he also had a post and another tester shot on net. Hopefully, he is ready to push closer to what he has been doing in recent years in terms of scoring.
7) Multiplier effect for Sunday
As disappointing as Friday was, it was inevitable in the sense that the Hurricanes were going to lose again even if things are going well. The key, especially for the home stretch, is to rebound instantly. My goal for the 12-game stretch with 11 games at home was a 9-3 mark. If the Hurricanes rebound and win on Sunday, they will be on pace for exactly that through four games. But if they instead lose, they will be 2-2 and have gained exactly nothing above .500 in a week with four home games. That is not acceptable. And therein is an illustration of just how important every game is this time of year.
Next up is a 1pm matinee on Superbowl Sunday against the San Jose Sharks.