First, it was great to see Eddie Lack back in action after 2 concussions and the cause for concern that that creates.
I think another positive is looking back to the reader polls this week that set reasonable and still reachable goals for a 1-1 record this week. That context is important. The Capitals are the best team in hockey right now and have not lost at home since late December or in regulation since December 17. So it was going to be a tough night no matter what.
As ugly as Tuesday’s loss was, if the Hurricanes collect a win in Dallas on Saturday it salvages a very respectable 1-1 week and gets the team to the bye week on a positive note.
Recap of the Hurricanes 5-0 loss to the Washington Capitals
The first period was eerily reminiscent of a couple blow out losses on the road during the recent 5-game losing streak. The Hurricanes started strong and were the better player for the first 10 minutes. Then Washington scored first and then scored fairly quickly again. At that point the game had exactly the feeling of the last game that unraveled in Washington, D.C. earlier in the month and also the ugly Pittsburgh loss at home. The downturn started with a bit of bad luck on the penalty kill. First, Viktor Stalberg broke his stick and was handicapped defending up front. Then Jaccob Slavin courageously stepped into an Alexander Ovechkin blast and blocked it. But the puck caromed directly onto a Capitals’ stick on the other side from where 2 quick passes gave Ovechkin a second try from exactly the same place. On round 2, Ovechkin managed to shoot around Slavin and beat Eddie Lack on a shot that he got a piece of and seemed to have a chance to stop. From there, a nifty exchange and criss-cross at the offensive blue line left Brett Connolly with room to cruise right across the top of the face-off circles unencumbered before firing and beating Lack. The Hurricanes exited the first period with a 2-0 deficit despite playing a decent period overall and only giving up a handful of grade A chances.
The Hurricanes actually responded favorably and played an even better second period. But there were 2 problems. The first problem was that with the 2-0 lead, the Capitals defense tightened up even more. The second problem was that the Hurricanes just could not capitalize on the handful of second period opportunities that might have pulled them back into the game. Even with a decent effort and decent volume of puck possession, the Hurricanes mustered very little in terms of above average scoring chances. Aho was sprung on a partial breakaway by a nice Slavin stretch pass and almost again on another. Two power plays both actually looked decent in terms of offensive zone time and possession, but some combination of unwillingness to shoot enough and strong coverage by the Capitals saw both of the power plays expire with the Capitals 2-0 lead intact. When the second period expired, the Hurricanes had played a solid period but had nothing to show for it and were somehow out-shot 8-6.
Then after a reasonable but unproductive push back in the second period, the script reverted back to the ugly losses earlier in the month in the third period. The wheels basically came off as Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin left huge gaps for the Caps to skate into at the offensive blue line, Faulk was baited too far into the middle and a pass across left Lars Eller with an unlimited amount of time and space to step into a blast and beat Lack. Next Jaccob Slavin mishandled a puck on the boards quickly putting Brett Pesce and Eddie Lack in a bad spot against a 2-on-1 in front of the net for another labeled goal this time by Evgeny Kuznetsov. The scoring ended with Marcus Johansson banging in a juicy rebound on an Ovechkin start on the power play.
Shorter version is that the Washington Capitals are just a better team right now, and that advantage showed up in the result on Tuesday night.
‘What I’m watching’ follow up
If you missed the preview and care to catch up, it can be found HERE.
1) Canes skating legs and attacking brand of hockey
As horrendous as the outcome and score were, I would not rate this part of the Hurricanes’ effort horribly. The team started on time and played decent first and second periods overall. As noted above, Washington was stifling defensively, so not much came of it, but at least through 2 periods, I would rate the compete level and skating as decent. The problem was more the usual handful of break downs that too regularly doom the Hurricanes against elite teams.
2) That defense thing
The challenging thing with defense is that a small volume of big mistakes can sabotage a high volume of solid ice time defensively. That theme continues to haunt the Canes on the road.
It was not a great night for Lack. He was beaten cleanly on 4 shots where the defense offered little help taking away time and space but also on shots from far enough out that Lack could seemingly have had a chance especially had he read plays quicker and challenged a bit. He did seem to settle in and play a better second period before the team in total imploded in the third period. It will be interesting to see where Peters and Francis go from here. The schedule sets up favorably for riding Ward through the end of February, but the team will need 1 of Lack, Leighton or someone else to play games during the hectic March schedule.
4) Sebastian Aho
Aho had a strong game in terms of finding some good scoring chances in a game where they were hard to come by for the Hurricanes. He had a partial breakaway on the heady Slavin stretch pass and almost another that just tipped off his stick. He also had a whiff and another decent shot attempt on the power play. Not netting a goal is not the greatest outcome, but if he keeps doing what he did on Tuesday, more points will come.
The Capitals underrated defense: For how much legitimate credit is given to the Capitals for their high-powered offense. Their defense is really underrated. They are structured defensively through the neutral zone to the blue line such that moving the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone just looks incredibly crowded. Then when you add the danger factor of the high volume of Capitals players with size and a sometimes nasty demeanor, it just becomes both difficult and treacherous trying to navigate the neutral zone and offensive blue line with a couple good passes.
Saturday becomes bigger: This week really is about Saturday. Any points earned on Tuesday would have been a bonus. With a win on Saturday, the week will be a good one and the Hurricanes will emerge from the bye week looking at a big 5-game home stand that will give them a chance to enter March still chasing the a berth in the 2017 NHL playoffs.