After a lackluster effort in a 4-1 loss in the second half of a back-to-back on Friday, the hope was that a day off would see the team find a higher gear on Sunday. That did not happen — not even close. The Hurricanes again looked to be stuck in the mud early and again were eaten alive when San Jose applied pressure in their own end.
The story of the front part of the first period was San Jose having more jump in all regards just like Detroit on Friday. That resulted in the Hurricanes playing a disjointed game in terms of trying to move the puck up the ice cohesively when they had it and also spending more time without it defending under duress. The result was not surprisingly more chances against than for and ultimately San Jose striking first on the score board. The goal was yet another iteration of the Hurricanes struggling to sort things out in terms of defending the second set of players off the rush. Problems started when Noah Hanifin was a little bit slow but more significantly a took a horrible angle at a Sharks player in the corner thereby leaving a wide open passing lane to anywhere in the middle of the ice. Then the issue of the Hurricanes forwards failing to identify and mark assignments saw Timo Meier skate uncontested into the slot to receive and fire. With arguably the team’s only grade A scoring chance, the Hurricanes pulled even at 1-1 when Jordan Staal picked off a lazy pass and quickly fed Sebastian Aho for a point blank chance. Aho made no mistake in finishing. But some combination of the hockey gods righting the scoreboard and another really tough defensive sequence by the Hurricanes sent the game to the first intermission with San Jose leading 2-1. Somehow the Hurricanes found themselves with four players on the wall and one defending a defenseman up top. The result was Chris Tierney left alone in front of the net with enough time to autograph the puck before stick handling and beating Ward. The play was really just a horrible group break down, but Hanifin peeling off the pile of four in the corner to defend a player up top instead of finding the player standing at the top of the crease jumps out as another decision-making error for Hanifin. Add in another play that saw Hanifin go to defend a player in the corner when partner Pesce was defending the puck on the wall for a Joel Ward chance very similar to Tierney’s and Hanifin had officially logged his latest ‘train wreck’ game by the end of the first period. To be clear, it was not as if he was alone in his struggles especially early in the game.
Jordan Staal summarized the first period succinctly in his first intermission interview when he simply said, “It wasn’t good enough.”
Getting out of the first period would have been a gift, but even 2-1 set the game such that the team was still in range if they could rebound in the second period. But the Sharks scored next when Brent Burns fired through a screen to make the game 3-1 only 2:03 into the second period. Some combination of the third goal and a Brock McGinn fight seemed to help the Hurricanes find the smelling salts and a higher intensity level. The Hurricanes responded with more physical play and somewhat better pace, but it was not enough. The Hurricanes managed a few more scoring chance but were not able to finish on goalie Aaron Dell who was sound throughout and San Jose buttoned down the offense a bit with a two-goal lead and kept the Canes’ chances to shots where Dell had a chance.
Defending a two-goal lead in the third period, San Jose played a strong puck possession game in the third period, continued to clog up the neutral zone and defended well in their own end. Even when the Hurricanes tried to push not much came of it. Teravainen whiffed on a centering pass and Stempniak and Faulk had decent shots from inside the top of the face-off circles, but in total the third period was also light in terms of grade A scoring chances.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 to the San Jose Sharks
1) Sebastian Aho
Like Friday, there was not much for positives, but Sebastian Aho continuing to lead the way offensively was easily one of them. The Aho/Staal/Teravainen line was actually pretty good overall in the midst of all of the things imploding around them. Aho had a goal obviously. Teravainen had a couple pretty good chances. Staal had one point blank chance (though I think on the power play). And in total the line was good.
After a slow start, Aho has been an offensive bright spot and now has 12 goals in his last 15 games at a time when the team needs to push upward.
2) Noah Hanifin
Rookie Haydn Fleury stood out in a bad way on Friday. Sunday was Hanifin’s turn. As important context, I believe it is true that the volume of what I have termed ‘train wreck’ games for Hanifin are decreasing this year, and he really has not suffered from extended stretches of sub-par play. But the occasional off game appeared in a big way on Sunday. By the end of the first period, he had been a primary player in leaving a Sharks player in front of Cam Ward along and had a lackadaisical relapse in terms of attention to detail on the first goal. Then when the Hurricanes tried to dial up the intensity level in second period he had a nice hit stepping up in the offensive zone but in the process created a 3-on-1 rush behind him.
3) Brock McGinn
I continue to be impressed with McGinn. First and most importantly, his game ranks as high as anyone else’s on the team in terms of finding his skating legs and an intensity level game in and game out. And while I am not a fan of staged fighting in the NHL and recognize that it does not count as a goal, I think there are times when absolutely nothing else is working and a sluggish team needs a spark or at least to make a clear ‘this is not okay’ statement. I think McGinn’s fight was well-timed as long as fighting is still part of the game.
4) Lack of offense
As I noted in the game preview, recent scoring issues have been overshadowed by one big six-goal effort and a few low scoring wins, bu the trend continued. In their last nine games, the Hurricanes have now been held to a single goal five times. Not surprisingly, the team is 0-5 when scoring only once and is a perfect 4-0 when scoring at least twice. The team just is not generating much offensively right now.
5) Cam Ward
Since goaltending is almost always front of mind lately, I feel like I have to comment on goaltending. While I do think the opposing goalie has been better in both of the two weekend losses, I do not in any way think you can pin either loss on the Canes goalies. The Hurricanes were outplayed in both games and had the type of break downs that just make for too many tough chances against.
6) Afternoon woes
The Hurricanes did collect an important Sunday afternoon win to close out a tough Thanksgiving week against the Nashville Predators, but the three matinees since then have been absolutely horrible. Toronto 8-1 loss. Calgary 5-1 loss. San Jose 3-1 loss. The total is 16 goals against and 2 goals for and three games in which the Hurricanes were mostly defeated by the end of the first period and never recovered.
7) Slipping away
As I said in my game preview, Sunday’s game was truly pivotal for the week. With a win, the Hurricanes would have capitalized with a 3-1 mark in four home games, but instead the team netted a treading water 2-2 that just is not good enough this time of year. By no means does the pair of weekend losses end the season, but I think it is fair to say that the wood for the coffin is at least up on the work bench at this point.
The urgency is increasing. The team needs to start finding desperation BEFORE things become truly desperate.
Next up is game five of seven at home against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.