Hockey can be a strange game. On Friday and Saturday both, the Hurricanes more or less did two things right. They started on time and opportunistically scored two early goals in each game before the opponent dialed up to game speed. And the Canes received stellar goaltending in both games. That was enough for two wins, but I do not think the Saturday/Sunday version of the Canes pushes for a playoff spot.
Tuesday’s level of play for the Hurricanes was by no means among the team’s best on the season, but I do think it was better than Friday and Saturday. But the team did not happen upon a couple early goals while the opponent was still waking up, and the hot goalie was at the other end of the ice. (Note that Curtis McElhinney was pretty good again too.) The result was a 2-1 loss.
Strong offensive game for the blue line…
But there were a couple key things I would readily keep from Tuesday’s loss. First, I thought the blue line was outstanding. That group was pretty good defensively, but more significantly I thought they actually had an outstanding game offensively despite collecting only a lone assist to show for it.
In the first period, Jaccob Slavin clanged the pipe on the power play and had another good scoring chance late in the period. In the second period he joined the rush and then fed Jordan Martinook for a really good chance off the rush. And he had another decent attempt through traffic in the second period.
Dougie Hamilton also had one of his better games offensively despite collecting only a single assist. Without getting caught out of position badly (at least that I remembered), he regularly became a fourth forward looking for scoring chances. Through the first 30 minutes of the game, he had four pretty good shots into traffic at the net. Those finally netted a return when Martinook finished a rebound for the team’s lone tally. He had a couple more shot attempts later and continued to play up into the offense.
Like Slavin, Justin Faulk clanged a post on the power play, and Calvin de Haan had a second period near miss through traffic.
Whereas too many ‘hot goalie’ nights in the past featured the Canes firing too many low percentage shots without any traffic in front of the net, I actually thought the Hurricanes did well in that regard on Tuesday night. Henrik Lundqvist made a few really good saves tracking the puck through traffic. But the Hurricanes were also just unlucky on multiple deflected pucks that found their way wide of the net via random chance.
…complemented by forwards pretty consistently going to the crease
The complement to the blue line shooting the puck a bunch was the forwards going to the crease with decent regularity. Justin Williams held up his end of the bargain per usual, and Jordan Martinook was another standout. And in total, I did not feel like this was a Canes game of old with a bunch of low quality shots without anyone in front.
In total, the Hurricanes did the work necessary to score an ugly goal or two or three but picked up only one.
Short game recap
I covered most of the high points of the game in talking about the blue line’s offensive effort above. In general, the first period started pretty evenly. The pace was decent but neither team looked particularly sharp moving the puck from stick to stick early on. Unlike the past couple games, the Hurricanes sustained a decent level of play past the first few minutes. The Hurricanes were probably the better team in the first period but not by a huge margin. And they did muster a decent number of medium quality chances especially of the puck and people to crease variety. But the period ended with a 12 to 8 advantage in terms of shots on goal but a 0-0 tie on the scoreboard.
The second period continued similarly. As I noted above, Dougie Hamilton was moving his feet and making plays with the puck all game in the offensive zone. He had at least three decent shot attempts into traffic before his team was rewarded when Martinook buried a rebound. But one of the few errors by the blue line came shortly thereafter and knotted the game at 1-1. Both Calvin de Haan and Trevor van Riemsdyk were caught a bit deep and started behind the play. Van Riemsdyk did a good job recovering enough to limit the first shot to a contested one from a mediocre angle. Then de Haan caught up but was still just behind the trailing Rangers forward. Connor Brickley of Hurricanes expansion draft selection fame was that forward and sort of chest-bumped the rebound into the net. That goal seemed to spark the Rangers and also cause the game to open up a bit. In the second half of the second period, the Rangers rang the post from in close, and the Hurricanes failed to sore on a Sebastian Aho breakway and an Aho/Teravainen 2-on-1. After a back and forth second half of the period and quality play by both goalies, the period ended in a 1-1 tie.
The Hurricanes were a bit sloppy in the third period. Lucas Wallmark and Brock McGinn took consecutive penalties give the Rangers about 40 seconds on 5-on-3 power play time. And Justin Faulk a delay of game penalty later in the third period. The Rangers scored on a second rebound just after the first two penalties were killed off. In between fits of sloppiness, the Hurricanes did push in the third period especially late. But just like McElhinney and Mrazek over the weekend, Lundqvist had the right combinations of answers and luck. When the dust settled, the Hurricanes had 43 shots saved by Lundqvist, 23 blocked by Rangers skaters and only one that found the back of the net. The result was a 2-1 loss that could easily have gone the other way.
Recap and player notes
1) Dougie Hamilton
As noted above, I really liked his game offensively. He consistently made the types of plays that give the team a chance to score.
2) Jaccob Slavin
He was stellar again and also had a strong game offensively despite not finding the score sheet. He had a post, a pretty pass off the rush and the pass that sprung Aho for a breakaway. His defensive play was also solid as usual.
3) Not enough offense from the forwards
Up above, I credited the forwards with doing a decent job of getting to the crease area for point shot attempts, so the forwards deserve credit for doing the right things to find and ugly goal or two. But in terms of the forwards generating offense with their skating and/or passing, it was another quiet night — too quiet. If you back out catching teams by surprise early, the Canes offense has been sputtering a bit of late.
4) Curtis McElhinney
He was solid if maybe not spectacular only because he was overshadowed by Lundqvist. On both goals maybe McElhinney could have been better with the rebound, but both were also a bit unfortuitous too. The first goal was off the goal scorer’s upper body. The second goal saw McElhinney make a good first save and an even better rebound save before a third attempt beat him. Ideally, the defense in front of the net clears a puck or does a better job of tying up sticks.
5) Shortening the bench
Brind’Amour really went for it in this game by shortening the bench. The fourth line of Foegele/McKegg/Maenalanen saw less ice time and Wallmark also played less than usual. At the other end of the spectrum, Williams and Niederreiter were both above 21 minutes of ice time, and Aho logged a massive 26:25. That is a huge number for a forward in a game without overtime.
6) The effect
Pittsburgh won on Tuesday, but Columbus lost. Those results coupled with Carolina’s loss puts the team a point behind Columbus who has a game in hand with Pittsburgh now up in the first wild card slot. If you use my adjusted methodology, the Hurricanes are now two points out of a playoff spot.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a Thursday match up against the Florida Panthers.