I think an important starting point for anyone who was unable to watch the game and also anyone whose vision is a bit blurred by frustration is to say that Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins had absolutely nothing negative in terms of heart, work ethic, desire or any other kind of intangibles. The Hurricanes played desperate hockey for pretty much the entire 60 minutes and should be commended for that.
But yet the Hurricanes lost their fifth straight game which begs the question of how that is possible. There was an element of great opposing goaltending, but as has often been the case, I think there is also an element of the Hurricanes just lacking the ability to finish and also sometimes just not enough ugly goals from scoring in/near the crease. And there was also the element so common from good teams of having great players make enough great plays to win a game even if the overall effort was not great. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin logged as much time sitting in the penalty box as they did playing the dominant hockey that they are capable of. But each also found the puck on his stick with a chance to score and did. And Penguins goalie Matt Murray was probably the best player in the game.
Recap of the Hurricanes 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins
The Hurricanes actually started a little bit slow with the Penguins collecting the first few shots on goal and then the first goal. The play featured a soft defensive effort on a couple fronts. First, Teuvo Teravainen arrived at the puck in the defensive zone but the Pens’ player tipped it back. Then Noah Hanifin was in reasonably decent position to defend the puck carrier but as is too often the case with Hanifin, he just seemed to have no idea what passing lane he should be defending. Despite being next to the puck carrier, he left him a clean lane straight to the front of the net. There he found Scott Wilson right in front of the net. Again, Matt Tennyson was in decent position but did nothing to tie up a stick, bang Wilson or get into the passing lane such that Wilson could and did make a play.
From there, the Hurricanes were actually pretty dominant throughout the rest of the first period and the game even. The Canes got back to 1-1 when Jeff Skinner finished from between the circles on the power play after a strong effort by multiple players playing hungry hockey to keep the puck in the offensive zone. The series of small plays to keep playing offense ended with Phil Di Giuseppe diving to bat a puck toward the front of the net where Lee Stempniak retrieved it and fed Skinner for the goal. The period ended at 1-1 with the Hurricanes widely outshooting the Pens.
The second period was more of the same, but again saw the Penguins score anyway. After a borderline penalty on Viktor Stalberg while on the penalty kill gave Pittsburgh a 5-on-3 Crosby made the Canes play when a Phil Kessel shot got through to the front of the net where Crosby scored a nifty tip goal. The Hurricanes again drove play through much of the period and absolutely dominated for multiple stretches and finished it with a 10-6 shots on goal advantage but still exited the period down 2-1.
The Hurricanes continued to push in the third period, but it became fairly apparent that it was just not to be when Evgeni Malkin scored at the midway point of the period. In many ways the game seemed unfair for an increasingly exasperated Caniac Nation.
‘What I’m watching’ follow up
If you missed my rant in the game preview, you can find it HERE.
1) A spark, some leadership, an agitated demeanor, something, anything
Again, the results did not follow, but pretty much to a man, I was impressed with the Hurricanes response on Tuesday night. Skinner was buzzing early and 1 of the more noticeable Canes players, but team in total just played the right kind of hungry pretty much all night.
2) The defense
The team did such a job of tilting the ice into the offensive zone that they actually were not under as much duress as 1 would expect against the high-powered Pens. The first goal featured 1 of those plays where the defense just was not good enough when 3 small ‘oopses’ piled up to make a goal against. The Malkin goal was also tough. Rask actually won the face-off back, but Hainsey just did not jump to the puck. Then Rask was beaten to the front of the net by Malkin and just like that the Pens had a 2-goal lead. But in total the game was not horrid defensively.
3) Phil Di Giuseppe
His diving keep of the puck earned him a second assist on the Skinner goal. To be clear, I do not think Di Giuseppe is likely the answer for a top 6 scoring catalyst, but I like conceptually what he bring as a secondary forward if he can put it all together. He has enough speed and skating ability to keep up. Along the way in his development, he has molded his game to be more that of a rugged power forward who can be difficult to play against. And he has shown some scoring ability at the AHL level and even in the NHL last season. I think he is worth watching as a player who could be an inexpensive depth forward who could bring a bit of a different element to the lineup.
The duo was not bad but also did not generate the magical ‘wow’ that I was optimistically hoping for. I think the challenge with this combination could be Rask’s ability to match pace and be up to attack off the rush. Even though there was no ‘wow’, I hope Peters gives this duo a little bit of time to see if they can figure it out.
Viktor Stalberg: I liked his game. He was noticeably physical and aggressive all night. The penalty that led pretty directly to the Pens’ 5-on-3 goal was unfortunate but also a borderline call.
The it factor: The thing that jumps out to me in games like this is how good teams have an uncanny knack for hanging around and then making a handful of great plays to win games even when they have off nights. It is a stark contrast for the Hurricanes who too regularly seem to fall into stretches where they play well enough to win but seem unable to push over the top and into the win column.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a Friday match up against Ottawa as the trade deadline pushes closer.