After a sluggish 2-1 overtime loss to the lowly Avalanche, the Hurricanes tried again to emerge from the bye week. With the season wearing on the the Hurricanes slowly losing ground in the playoff chase, we are at the point where each game carries increasing urgency until the point when the urgency disappears completely. With a dismal 4-0 loss to the Maple Leafs on home ice on Sunday night, the latter feels like it is rapidly approaching.
If I break the game down, the Hurricanes’ level of play was not as horrid as the score would indicate. But we are at the point where minor moral victories do absolutely nothing to lessen the frustration especially when the game is on home ice.
Recap of Hurricanes 4-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs
The Hurricanes again struggled a bit in terms of cohesion moving the puck from stick to stick. At times, the disjointed play from Friday reappeared. But the Hurricanes played with better pace and at least attacked coming out of the gate. A combination of 2 problems reared their head early and often. First, Curtis McElhinney had a solid night in terms of making first saves. Second, the Hurricanes finishing woes continued. The Canes failed to finish on a few chances and also just could not seem to find a rebound goal on the significant volume of pucks that McElhinney left laying around after successfully fighting off first shots.
The Maple Leafs mustered the kind of opportunistic offense that has been a trademark of Hurricanes losses for years. Despite the Hurricanes getting the better of it in terms of possession and shots, the Leafs capitalized on a few breakdowns and chances and just intermittently banged in a goal when given the chance. 3 of the 4 goals featured a common theme of the Leafs beating the Canes to the net. The first goal saw Noah Hanifin a little bit out of position and then trailing Brown to the front of the net from where he tipped home a pretty pass. The second goal saw Autston Matthews get behind Phil Di Giuseppe at the blue line and score a crazy goal after Di Giuseppe mugged him, took his wallet, took his car keys and pistol whipped him on the way to the net, but unfortunately failed to steal his stick which he used to score a highlight reel goal. And the fourth goal was almost a repeat of the first goal. Justin Faulk and Brock McGinn were a little slow sorting out assignments off the rush, and the end result was a pass right through Faulk to Brown again streaking to the net for his second goal. The fourth goal was a shot through a screen.
Along the way, the Hurricanes actually played 2 decent periods of hockey. The Hurricanes had the better of things in the first period by a modest margin but emerged at 0-0 with nothing to show for it. The Hurricanes were probably even better in the second period but just could not find a goal and were victimized by a couple of the plays above such that they entered the second intermission scratching their heads wondering how they were down 2-0.
Through 2 periods, it could easily have been a different story with a break or 2 but as has seemingly too often been the case for the Carolina Hurricanes in recent years, it just wasn’t. When Toronto struck first in the third period, the air seemed to come out of the Hurricanes decent effort, and it felt like the team mailed in the rest of the game.
‘What I’m watching’ follow up
If you missed the game preview and want to catch up, it is HERE.
1) Less rust
I thought the Hurricanes pace and intensity level was improved relative to Friday, but the team was still sloppy at times trying to move the puck cohesively from stick to stick.
2) Sound defensive play against an attacking offense
In terms of volume of minutes, the Hurricanes were better defensively. But there were still just too many plays where the Hurricanes’ defense was beaten, and those plays largely found the net behind Ward.
3) Continuation from Cam Ward
He was stellar on Friday. While I would not pin Sunday’s loss on Ward with the breakdowns, the goalie at the other end of the rink was better and made more big saves when chances arose.
4) A spark offensively
Despite being shut out, I actually would not call Sunday’s game horrible offensively. The Hurricanes mustered 37 shots on McElhinney and got the puck to the front of the net regularly. But we are at the point in the season when in big games someone needs to step up and finish. That has been a challenge for the scoring-lite Canes of late.
Eddie Lack: A small positive from the tough night was that Eddie Lack got some work. He did not look incredibly sharp on the first few shots he faced, but he got better and made it through about half of a period without allowing a goal which is a positive.
Interesting ice time: I do not have the time or energy to dig through shift charts to see if there is a logical reason like match ups, but I found it interesting that Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin were both only around 19 minutes which is low for them. Only Brock McGinn played less than Victor Rask’s 12:03; Rask seems due to bounce off the bottom.
Phil Di Giuseppe: In his first game back at the NHL, I would rate his game as more positive than negative. He was on the ice for 3 of the 4 goals against and played a role in the Matthews goal when he let Matthews get behind him at the blue line. But Di Giuseppe was in a tough and somewhat unfamiliar position covering up defensively because the Canes were caught changing. On the positive side of the slate, Di Giuseppe had 7 shots on goal, 3 shots block and 1 more missed shot for 11. The only rap on the offensive part of his game was the same ‘inability to finish’ that is plaguing most of the team right now. If he continues to bring the same activity level, he will do fine.
Next up is game 3 of the 5-game home stand against Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.