On Tuesday night in Tampa, Florida, the Hurricanes closed out a circuitous and challenging three-game road trip with a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The loss finishes the trip with a somewhat disappointing but not catastrophic 1-2 mark. Playoff pace (95 points) is basically playing .500 hockey on the road and getting two-thirds of the points at home. So in that regard, the Hurricanes came up a point short. But in total, the trip was far more positive than negative. The Hurricanes were by far the better team in the first win in a dominant effort and were actually the better team by a decent margin in Winnipeg on Sunday despite losing. The Hurricanes did run out of gas on Tuesday at about the midway point, but even still, special teams sabotaged the effort as much as anything.
Before the trip, I wrote an ominous article considering the challenges that could could lie ahead with the team’s style against good teams on the road. Despite the 1-2 mark, I actually think the team passed that test. Adjust to break even on special teams and the Hurricanes come out 3-0.
Tuesday’s game started similar to the previous two though not to the same extreme. The Hurricanes were the better team out of the gate and their ‘forecheck to the point of overwhelming the opponent’ style was reasonable effective even if not dominant. The Hurricanes scored first when Sebastian Aho went full Harry Potter basically snatching an aerial clear out of mid-air. From there the puck went quickly to Teuvo Teravaining and then Micheal Ferland who deftly finished. But then the Hurricanes struggling special teams struck by allowing a shorthanded goal against. A fairly harmless turnover and a series of ‘oops’ led to the goal against. First, Justin Williams maybe underestimated the speed of Mathieu Joseph. Then Jaccob Slavin did a horrible job identifying and taking away the passing lane. The result was an easy centering pass and a tap in goal against. The Hurricanes emerged from a decent first period with their usual shot and possession and advantage but nothing to show for it on the scoreboard because of special teams.
The second period was even early, but a turnover at the offensive blue line sent Tyler Johnson off to the races. A fairly harmless looking 2-on-2 saw Johnson blow by Calvin de Haan with Lucas Wallmark trailing for an impressive goal. But the Hurricanes struck back when Warren Foegele fed Martin Necas on the rush for Necas’ first NHL goal. My favorite part of the night was Foegele obviously recognizing it as Necas’ first and racing to congratulate him before going to retrieve the puck for him. The second period would end with that same 2-2 score.
Then early in the third period, the special teams struck again. Calvin de Haan mishandled and turned over the puck in the corner. A quick centering pass led to a quick goal against. The Lightning became stronger as the game wore on, and the Hurricanes seemed to run out of gas. The Hurricanes did muster a final push trying to score for the third time with the extra attacker on. But it was for naught, and Tampa Bay clinched it with a Tyler Johnson empty-netter to close the game out at 4-2.
Player and other notes
The scoring line trio had another strong game. Ferland’s goal was a pretty one that showed the skill he has to go with his lunch pail power forward game. The line had a good even if not dominant night and had a decent number of other medium to high grade scoring chances along the way.
Calvin de Haan
His game was a perfect illustration for how defensemen’s play is measured not by how many good plays they make but rather how many bad ones they make. He seemed to misjudge Wallmark’s ability to catch Johnson off the rush and should have instead challenged the puck. When did not, Johnson flew by him for a chance and goal in alone. Then the mishandle on the penalty kill was just unfortunate and immediately found the back of the Canes’ net. De Haan was not horrible in total, but those two big miscues are about two too many in a close hockey game.
The Hurricanes were even or possibly slightly plus in this game. After mostly overcoming special teams deficits all season, the struggles finally bit the team on Tuesday night. An 0 for 4 with a shorthanded goal against combined for 0 for 1 killing penalties is just too much to overcome against a good team in a close game. No doubt, special teams will be a key work item when the team resumes practice on Thursday.
Great to see him get the monkey off his back before it grows. I always root for Canes rookies to score their first NHL goal at PNC Arena, but I am obviously still happy for him. Lost in the fact that he scored was that Brind’Amour again went away from him pulling him off the power play and sitting him when he shuffled a bit. The result was a meager 6:43 of ice time. The goal makes things interesting, but part of me thinks the return home could see Necas head to Charlotte for at least a short stint of heavy minutes. The goal is interesting in that it could serve as a boost. I actually thought he was better in Sunday’s loss. At 19 years old and with only nine games of NHL experience, perhaps the goal can serve as a spark and lead to an early jump upward on the learning curve for Necas who has started slow in total.
Zykov seems to have taken his time in the press box to heart. He has been more physically engaged since returning the lineup. He made the play to win the puck in the neutral zone on Necas’ goal and has been in and won more puck battles in the past few games since returning to the lineup. He also garnered power play ice time on Tuesday.
The sky is not falling
As I said above, 1-2 is a point short of a .500 road playoff pace for the three-game road trip. That should be noted as a negative because it is. But given the level of competition and the start before it, by no means is it catastrophic. The team has eight of the next ten days off which offers time to make adjustments on special teams and fine tune other areas of the game.
Next up is an odd 1pm game against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday during the North Carolina State Fair. Here is hoping it results in a perfect storm of hockey not just parking and traffic.