The story was a familiar one mostly in negative ways on Saturday night in Montreal.
As has been the case too often recently, the Hurricanes struggled to get out of first gear in the first period while the opponent ran circles around the Canes and mercilessly peppered the Canes goalie with grade A chances.
Being outplayed was accompanied by a high volume of attention to detail type errors of the costly variety. The Canes struggled with defensive zone coverage and puck management.
For most of the game, the Canes again looked like a team in preseason or early in the regular season still trying to figure things out and tighten up defensively.
But despite the negatives and being outplayed by a fairly wide margin, the Hurricanes salvaged modest progress in the standings with an overtime loss and do also deserve credit for again not quitting early.
The Hurricanes came out flat while the Canadiens came out flying. Less than five minutes into the game, the Canadiens had already fired nine shots on net to the Canes one. In the middle of the flurry Phillip Danault got the Canadiens on the scoreboard first. A soft clearing attempt by Teuvo Teravainen did not make it out. Then while the Canes were trying to quickly sort things out defensively, Brady Skjei had decent defensive position but let a pass go right through him to the front of the net where Danault had beaten Teravainen and was in alone for the score. Three consecutive miscues multiplied into a goal against. Another first period break down saw Jake Gardiner leave the front of the net right as Ryan Dzingel was getting hung up in traffic. The result was another Montreal chance in alone. Anton Forsberg was stellar in the first period despite exiting the period down 1-0. The score could easily have been 2-0 or 3-0.
The second period was not any better. Max Domi scored on a rebound finish when the Hurricanes had numbers back but mostly skipped marking individual players or tying up bodies or sticks. A seemingly harmless 3-on-3 quickly turned into a mess in front of the net when Forsberg spit out a rebound. Only 17 seconds later, Brendan Gallagher finished another vibrant rebound off the rush to make it 3-0 less than 25 minutes into the game. The pair of rebound goals saw Brind’Amour pull Forsberg in favor of Alex Nedeljkovic. The Hurricanes seemed to respond a bit and at least gain their footing. When Haydn Fleury scored through a screen to make it 3-1, the Hurricanes were suddenly back in the game. A couple really good chances at the end of the second period by Vincent Trocheck did not find the net, however, and the Hurricanes entered the third period with a two-goal deficit for the second game in a row.
But just like Friday, the Hurricanes did finally respond late. Joel Edmundson scored early in the first period through a screen on a shot reminiscent of Fleury’s goal. And Justin Williams scored on a tip of another Edmundson point shot with only 1:17 remaining. And unlike Friday, the Hurricanes were able to push to overtime.
But the night ended with the loss that the Canes mostly deserved when Teravainen made an odd decision to flip a weak shot at the net from well out with both other Canes deep in the zone. The result was an immediate transition chances and uncontested goal against.
The point is a positive. The current trend and level of play on Saturday were not.
Player and other notes
1) Alex Nedeljkovic
A significant bright spot was the play of Alex Nedeljkovic in relief He looked sharp and was a perfect 18 for 18 on saves in regulation before being beaten by an undefended shot off the rush in overtime.
2) Anton Forsberg
He was largely a victim of the team’s poor play in front of him. He was easily the team’s best player in the first period and played well to keep the Canes in the game with only a one-goal deficit. The second and third goals were both situations where he spit out juicy rebounds. Had the Canes marked players maybe neither ends up behind him. Regardless, he was more of a victim than an accomplice despite giving up three and being pulled early.
3) Attention to detail
If I had to summarize the Canes situation right now, I would say this. This team was never great defensively but had a fun ability to out-run and out-gun any number of mistakes with decent regularity in the early part of the season. But the team’s all-season defensive struggles are amplified by three things right now. First, not having Brett Pesce and to some degree Dougie Hamilton significantly decreases the volume of mistakes that get erased by great individual defensive plays. Second, now much deeper in the season, most teams have made adjustments and tightened things up. That makes it much harder to just score four or five to win on a regular basis. But with the Hurricanes still struggling defensively, they are still apt to give up four or five. Finally, the pressure of the playoff race just magnifies everything.
4) Haydn Fleury
Fleury played 21:15 in an elevated role and chipped in an important goal. He still just lacks the aggressiveness defending the puck that I think is required to be an every-game top 4 defenseman (reference the second Montreal goal when he did not close on the shooter), but he continues to make step-wise progress.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a four-day layoff that feels well-timed before a big five-game road trip that begins a busy last month of the season.