Once again, the Hurricanes struggled during the front part of the game and entered the third period needing a minor miracle to collect a point or two in the standings. But this time the hockey gods looked down and gave the Hurricanes the loss they deserved on a night with much more bad than good.
My math says that for the four-game road trip, they played three good periods (2nd and 3rd against Arizona and 3rd against Vegas) and one decent (3rd against Dallas) period out of 12 periods. As such, the team was fortunate to collect a split and four out of a possible eight points after generally being outplayed for large chunks of all four games. In that regard, the road trip was maybe not a success but was not bad either. But the concern continues to be the team’s inability to find a higher gear on any kind of consistent basis.
On Tuesday in Dallas, the Hurricanes started slow again. Dallas had seven of the game’s first eight shots while the Hurricanes were collecting three icings and otherwise just generally chipping pucks out to relieve pressure and prepare to defend again. Dallas was rewarded for controlling play when all three Canes forwards got tangled up and fell in the offensive zone. The result was a rush the other way that saw a back door pass go right through Jake Gardiner leaving with Petr Mrazek with no chance on the goal. The Hurricanes found some life when an Andrei Svechnikov pass accidentally hit Sebastian Aho in the skate and landed close enough to his wheel house for him to lean and fire to tie the game at 1-1. The goal seemed to give the team a burst of energy and hope for the second period. After mostly being outplayed for the majority of the period, the Hurricanes were lucky to exit the period at 1-1.
The Hurricanes were somewhat better very early in the second period, but that seemed to fade quickly. Very quickly, the Stars were back to dictating play and forcing the Hurricanes to defend a bunch in their own end. As the period wore on, the Canes defensive break downs started to pile up again. Mrazek did well to keep the Canes close, but two Dallas power play goals eventually staked them to the lead they deserved at 3-1. The Hurricanes were out-shot 17 to 9 for the second period that again saw Dallas dominate.
Trying to repeat the magic from Las Vegas, the Hurricanes pushed early in the period. But when a frenetic shift that seemed to have three almost goals ended with the Hurricanes taking a penalty, it felt like the hockey gods were shaking their fingers at the Canes telling them that it is not okay to show up for a single period of hockey and steal undeserved wins. The Stars settled down after that and limited the quality of the Canes chances after that as they salted away the win. An empty-netter made the final 4-1.
As noted above, the 2-2 results for the road trip are actually not bad and considering that it could easily have been 0-4 were a blessing. But as I wrote recently, I am skeptical that the inconsistent, up and down version of this team will be enough to win out in a hotly contested Eastern Conference playoff race.
Player and other notes
1) Petr Mrazek
I continue to vote for giving James Reimer more of a chance to take the controls. That said, I though Petr Mrazek was a positive on Tuesday. The team in front of him had a tough night in terms of defensive coverage such that the volume of high-quality chances was high. Mrazek had no chance on the back door on the first goal, and the other two came on the power play. He generally did what he could to give his team a chance on a night when the other team was better by a fairly wide margin.
2) Jake Gardiner
After arguably his best game of the season on Saturday, he had another ‘meh’ night on Tuesday. The first Dallas goal was a bit of a jail break when the Canes had all three forwards fall in the offensive zone, but both defensemen were back which seemingly would have given them an opportunity to at least prevent a pass across and force Dallas to settle for a shot from out. But Gardiner, who was sort of in the right place, failed to take away the passing lane to the back door at which point Mrazek had no chance. In general, he was a regular culprit as the Canes had trouble moving the puck against the forecheck, and he put an exclamation point on the night when he fell and turned over the puck leading to the empty-netter to finish it off.
3) The top line
Despite the team’s struggles, the top line was good again. Aho’s goal was basically a power play tally, but line had all four of the Canes scoring chances in the first period and in general continued to be dangerous. The question might be whether this team can generate enough offense elsewhere with this top-heavy approach. At least on Tuesday, the other lines offered nothing for support. If I try to remember even medium-grade scoring chances for any of Necas, Niederreiter, Haula, Dzingel and others, I draw a blank.
My question right now is if Aho and Svechnikov could be enough to power the first line, get another forward going (Niederreiter) and at the same time free up Teravainen to try to generate offense for another line.
4) Andrei Svechnikov
I especially liked his game on Tuesday. Though he did not score, he had a breakaway scoring chance late in the second period that could have shifted the game. My favorite play of the team was actually him taking the penalty on Jamie Been in the waning moments which gave Dallas a goal. When Gardiner turned that puck over with the score 3-1, Svechnikov could easily have quit on that play. Instead, he hustled back and tried to impede Ben enough to catch him and stop him from scoring. As he continued to battle from a bad starting point, he ultimately took the penalty. But more than anything that play was a sign of his commitment to battling to the end. I also thought that he was noticeable in terms of physical play against a Stars team that had the upper hand in that regard.
5) Lack of attention to detail
There were multiple negatives in this game, but the thing that stood out to me most was the Canes lack of attention to detail. Too regularly of late when playing good teams, the Hurricanes just look to be big notch less in terms of defending in their own end and off the rush such that at least the high-quality scoring chances are weighted heavily toward the opponent.
6) Disaster averted
As disappointing as Tuesday’s loss was and as uncertain as the current trajectory is, the Canes 2-2 mark on a road trip against four teams fighting for playoff spots is actually pretty good results-wise. And when one considers that 0-4 would note have been a big stretch, I think the positive is that the Canes lived to fight another day.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a return home to try again to reset a bit before Friday (New Jersey) and Sunday (Edmonton) home games.