With a debilitating 6-1 loss to the Penguins coming off of a four-day break and heading into the stretch run of a so far quiet trade deadline lead up, a game recap for tonight could go any of 1,000 directions.
Breaking down the game like I usually do seems completely pointless. It would be like spending a bunch of timing drawing out in detail how a fire spread from one floor to the next while a massive fire was still burning and engulfing a skyscraper right before our very eyes.
I might or might not (currently leaning toward not) invest a few minutes on Saturday breaking down the actual game, but version one of today’s recap goes a different direction and aims to mostly address broader issues.
1) The lack of jump, determination or whatever you want to call it as the game wore on was a massive disappointment. The Hurricanes were outplayed from the beginning (did not even win the shot total which is rare even in the worst of losses), but at least early on, the compete level was there. But at some point during the second period, the team seemed to quit on this game.
Cam Ward breaking his stick over the cross bar after goal number six and then chucking the handle in the general direction of the Hurricanes bench was easily the lasting image on a tough night and maybe destined to be the one of a handful that stick in people’s minds heading into the offseason.
2) I cannot help wondering how big the gap is between Francis and Peters right now. Peters has been increasingly vocal about the trade deadline including after today’s loss while Francis has been incredibly quiet. The brief exchange between Peters and Francis at the end of season press conference last April about needing more players seems increasingly more foretelling by the day.
3) Friday was a perfectly orchestrated multi-level demonstration of how woefully short the Hurricanes are at the center position right now. Jordan Staal being out of the lineup left the Hurricanes other centers exposed and ready to be eaten alive by the Penguins, and that is exactly what happened. Even greater irony is that the Penguins who have Crosby and Malkin in their top two slots and had been getting decent play in the third slot from Connor Sheary paid a small fortune (which is many times the fortune Ron Francis was willing to spend last summer) to obtain a higher-end third center in the form of Derek Brassard. That sits in striking contrast to a Hurricanes team that entered last offseason desperately needing a playmaking center or at least more offensive help and mostly just passed because the deals were not there or the prices were too high or whatever. The team is now treacherously close to seeing another season pass with the same scoring woes at least partly due from not having a true offensive center.
After seeing the same thing happen with the goalie situation in the summer before (it hasn’t worked but Francis at least tried this past summer), I think the general lesson now learned twice is that if it’s broken, you have to at least try to fix it rather than hoping it fixes itself.
4) Is it possible to be in a worse position despite being only a point out of a playoff spot? The situation is truly bizarre. With a win on Saturday, as unlikely as it seems, and a little bit of help, the Hurricanes could go into the last 20 games of the season sitting in a playoff spot. If a Canes fan missed the entire season and then just checked the standings tomorrow, he/she would be legitimately happy that the team is in the thick of the playoff race. But given the current trajectory and inability to find any kind of consistency, the season feels most certainly destined to end in disappointment, and factual evidence suggests that the feeling is accurate.
5) The 6-8 minutes shortly after the Hurricanes scored early in the second period to pull to within a goal at 2-1 was the 2017-18 season in a nutshell. With jump from scoring a goal the Hurricanes surged. On one shift Rask and Williams had point blank chances and failed to score. Then Skinner/Lindholm/Stempniak followed immediately with an even better shift. Stempniak missed from the side of the net. Lindholm fired right into the middle of the goalie from between the face-off circles. And the team must have collected 4-5 near misses from point shots, the puck into traffic or whatever else. Shortly after the massive flurry but no goal, the puck went the other direction and was behind Ward for the Penguins third goal. The Hurricanes proceeded to fold shortly thereafter.
6) The Hurricanes do not need bigger players to go to the front of the net. They just need players who will go to the front of the net. One thing the Penguins have is a nearly team-wide mentality to get the puck and players to between the face-off circles in the offensive zone. It is not about size. It is about habits, willingness and commitment.
7) All the drama for Saturday. Interestingly, the Hurricanes have actually been very good in games immediately following an abysmal effort. As much as it feels like Saturday could prove to be capitulation day for the 2017-18 season, I will not be shocked at all if the Hurricanes rebound, play well and win on Saturday. That actually follows the script for this season also follows history that suggests that the fan base must suffer in March despite mostly losing the season sooner.
8) There must be jolt to the system. I just do not see how the current situation just kind of rights itself gradually. Be it a big trade, a coaching change, a captain change, someone breaking a bunch of stuff in the locker room or whatever else, I increasingly believe that it takes some kind of shock to the system to chart a new course.
Added Saturday morning
In having time to sleep on it, the game was still a horrible one. What concerns me most was two things. First was how the team seemed to quit about halfway through it. Second is just how big the gap is right now between Pittsburgh which is a team building toward the playoffs and the Hurricanes who need to find some kind of significant change quickly to have any chance of doing so.
That said, the Penguins are firing on all cylinders right now having come in with an 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games. The Pens have won four of those games by three or more goals. So to some degree, the team needs to flush this one and look forward.
Based on the current trend, it legitimately seems increasingly unlikely that the Hurricanes are going to find the one burst of great play that they need to push into the playoffs. But they are still just that one burst away from doing so.
Next up is a quick turnaround and a 7pm start in Detroit tomorrow.