With the chance to pull up into a tie for the final playoff spot, the Hurricanes instead ran their home losing streak to three and fell another point behind the Philadelphia Flyers who beat them 2-1 in overtime. The Hurricanes did collect an overtime loss consolation point, but that did little to lessen the sting of another loss.
An important starting point is to note that the Hurricanes compete level was better after two lackluster losses over the weekend. But at the same time, I think the game pretty clearly showed that the team just is not very good right now and will need to find a significantly higher gear pretty quickly if it wants to play hockey that matters when the playoff spots are being decided in late March and early April.
Out of the gate, the game had a slow and cautious canter to it as if it was two boxers feeling each other out with a heavy focus on not making a mistake and very little to actually attack. Up until the under 12:00 television timeout, the Hurricanes had two shots on goal and really not much of anything for quality scoring chances. But in playing a buttoned down, safe game, they did not allow the Flyers much either.
The offensive part of the game really did not even begin until the officials stepped into the action to create a massive run of power plays. Thank goodness the referees intervened because the Hurricanes generated virtually offensively all night except on the power play and in 3-on-3 action in overtime. When Brock McGinn drew a four-minute power play when he caught some combination of a high stick and/or an elbow square in the nose, the Hurricanes were in business. I actually thought the power play looked slow and sluggish moving the puck, but once it gained the offensive zone, it garnered high marks for puck possession and puck retrieval despite mostly moving slowly and firing shots into shin guards. Things took a turn for the better when Elias Lindholm continued his run of strong play at the top of the blue paint on the power play and was rewarded with a short range goal. Those two minors were two of seven penalties in a stretch of less than 20 minutes of hockey running from midway through the first period until just before the midway point of the second period. Shortly after the run of special teams play ended, the Flyers tied the score at 1-1 late in the second period when Wayne Simmonds scored from his normal post at the top of the crease after getting behind Trevor van Riemsdyk and banging in a lose puck. The second period would finish with a 1-1 score and set the stage for a tense third period.
With the run of power plays mostly over, the game reverted back to the front half of the first period with both teams playing a cautious brand of hockey. For the vast majority of the period, it looked as if the object of NHL hockey was to win the puck in your own end and then simply advance it to the offensive zone and nothing else — because for most of the third period, neither team did much of anything else. With the game on the line, the Hurricanes spent about 15 minutes in the third period in a safety shell just moving pucks forward without every really attacking. Then they spent the last 3+ minutes hemmed in their own end for two really long shifts just trying to survive.
With a grand total of two shots on goal in the third period with the game on the line and a grand total of eight 5-on-5 shots on goal for the entire game, the Hurricanes looked very much like a team that is struggling offensively and also playing not to lose.
Overtime was actually a different story. Jordan Staal won the opening face-off and the Hurricanes proceeded to play with the puck for the first 2:20 of overtime. The best chance of that sequence came when a 2-on-1 pass between Staal and Skinner just did not connect in front. Sebastian Aho then lost a face-off which saw the Hurricanes play defense for a bit before a wild finish. It all started when Jordan Staal had the puck on his stick with a gaping net in front of hi and was robbed by Flyer goalie Brian Elliott who somehow made a lunging save with the blade of his stick out of midair. Jeff Skinner fired a shot that was blocked by Claude Giroux setting the stage for a heartbreaking ending. Carrying in on a harmless looking 2-on-2 rush, Jordan Weal made an incredibly heady play recognizing that he had defenseman Jaccob Slavin in front of him and then cutting across to instead challenge forward Brock McGinn. McGinn was uncomfortable defending like a defenseman with speed coming at him and mostly just kept backing up. That left room for Weal to cut right across from left to right and then fire right through a moving Cam Ward for a soft goal to end it with 3 seconds remaining.
Ward was sound on the night but definitely would like that one back, but the bigger story was the Hurricanes continued inept play offensively. The team has now scored only once in six of their last ten games and has a 0-5-1 record in those games.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers
1) Power outage
The team continues to struggle mightily to generate offense and score goals, especially at even strength. As noted above, the Hurricanes have now been held to a single goal in six out of their last ten games and also in three consecutive games that were all losses. The team’s 5-on-5 shot total of eight is a concern and perhaps the ending is telling. Despite possessing the puck for the first half of overtime, the Hurricanes really only had one near miss of a chance in that time. And with the game on his stick Jordan Staal failed to assertively snap the puck up into the top third of the net where the goalie would have had no chance. Instead, a soft flip gave the goalie a chance to be a hero which is all he needed. In five games since the All-Star break, none of Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Teuvo Teravainen, Justin Williams, Derek Ryan, Lee Stempniak, Victor Rask, Marcus Kruger, Joakim Nordstrom, Josh Jooris or Phil Di Giuseppe has an even strength goal. Sebastian Aho has two and Brock McGinn has one to go with one from defenseman Brett Pesce.
That makes it nearly impossible to win.
2) Out of touch with reality?
Concerning to me is Peters’ press conference that paints this game as a solid one just without the breaks necessary to win. The compete level was better, but on Tuesday night, the Carolina Hurricanes looked very much like a team playing tentative hockey and trying not to lose. Worth noting is that the Flyers limped into this game with four straight losses. My fear is that the Tuesday version of hockey offers a razor thin margin for error and seems to have a ceiling of a 2-2 tie and maybe an overtime win which will not get it done for the rest of the season.
3) More McGinn
Brock McGinn continues to lead the way in terms of at least trying to make something happen. His aggressive play in the first period led to the four-minute power play and ultimately the Canes only goal. First, McGinn won a puck on the side wall to keep it in the offensive zone. Then he aggressively attacked the puck such that young Nolan Patrick tried to do some combination of protecting himself and/or the puck from a rushing McGinn and in the process caught McGinn up high with some combination of his stick and elbow. The result was a power play goal and McGinn playing much of the rest of the game with gauze dangling from his two nostrils.
4) Elias Lindholm
Playing center for the first time in awhile, Lindholm also made positive plays along the way. His goal was just reward for pretty regularly joining the Justin Williams club and spending time parked at the top of the crease on the power play. He also had a play in which he went Erik Cole carrying the puck with speed over the blue line and forging toward the net despite having a player between him and the net. He drew a tripping penalty from Radko Gudas when Gudas underestimated his speed and upended him. Lindholm was one of a few players who seemed more engaged physically as compared to the the set of weekend losses.
5) Cam Ward
The soft goal to end it really was a shame. The defense in front of him was mostly better which kept the quality of grade A chances against him to a lower volume than the weekend, but with the current lack of scoring Ward had nothing for margin for error. And had the Canes scored twice in regulation, Ward would have earned a win. Instead, he will have to drive home wondering what might have happened in a shootout after being beaten right through the wickets on a predictable shot with three seconds remaining.
6) Slowly slipping
The loss finds the Hurricanes now one point behind Columbus for the final wild card slot and also minus a game in hand. In addition, the Hurricanes have now burned through five home games in a stretch of 11 out of 12 at home and have really nothing to show for it with a 2-2-1 record.
Next up is a weekend home back-to-back set against Vancouver on Friday and Colorado on Saturday.
The burning question is whether Peters will try to shake things up again by reinserting either Jooris or Kruger for Di Giuseppe.