After two consecutive wins, the Carolina Hurricanes entered a big Sunday match up against the Winnipeg Jets sitting in the final Eastern Conference wild card spot at least per the standings. But especially with the Florida Panthers winning, the Hurricanes took a small step back with a hard fought 3-2 loss.
As I said on Twitter shortly after the conclusion of the game:
The issue with @NHLCanes loss today is not so much the single loss at the end of a decent week but rather fact that team did not capitalize on favorable schedule in February and now needs every point they can get.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) March 5, 2018
The Hurricanes stumble in the latter half of February dug a small hole at a point in the season where there is little time to make up for it. As such, despite the fact that a 2-1-1 record against four strong opponents is pretty solid, it is not enough to also make up for past struggles.
The Hurricanes played a good Winnipeg Jets team pretty evenly throughout the game and true to Carolina Hurricanes form won the shot battle despite losing the scoreboard battle. Three things jump out to me as deciding factors in a fairly evenly played game.
First is finishing. The Jets did not actually have that high of a volume of scoring chances, but they managed to collect a couple really good ones, and when they did they found the back of the net. Meanwhile, the Canes easily topped them in near misses, almosts, could have beens and everything else that suggests offense but does not count on the scoreboard.
Second is lack of defensive awareness. The team’s coverage and ability to account for Patrik Laine was disappointing. Being harsh, it looked a bit like a random rec league game against a team that you have not played before where come in with no scouting and about halfway through the game realize which player is really good and adjust accordingly. Laine came in with 33 goals yet the Hurricanes somehow lost track of him four times in just over a period of play. He had two goals and a post that had him shaking his head in disbelief after missing a gaping net that would have given him a hat trick.
Third is goaltending. Cam Ward was not horrible, but Connor Hellebuyck was better. Hellebuyck faced a greater volume of shots and roughly an equal amount of quality. Whereas Ward saw a deflection get through him and into the net, a power blast from Aho that was tipped instead saw Hellebuyck squeeze his pads together, close the five hole and make a stop. To be clear, this is not a game that one can simply pin on Ward, but I do think it is fair to say that the opposing goalie was slightly better.
Winnipeg struck early. Jeff Skinner had a puck come to him on the wall in the defensive zone. He first failed to corral it and then compounded a small mistake with a bigger one when he failed to defend the Winnipeg player who retrieved it and quickly carved a path straight toward the net. That attracted a bunch of other attention, pulled Ward to the near post and created a passing lane. That passing lane found Patrik Laine who finished into the other side of the net as the Canes defense scrambled to recover. But perhaps paying the Hurricanes back for past opportunities missed, the hockey gods helped when a Teuvo Teravainen centering pass in the direction of Jordan Staal careened off of Winnipeg defender and into the net. The Hurricanes later survived a penalty kill when Winnipeg worked them over but just did not find the net with the most notable attempt being a Laine shot off the crossbar. The teams exited a spirited first period tied at 1-1.
Winnipeg made no mistake with a second power play early in the second period. With the Hurricanes defense drifting ever so slightly again, Laine made no mistake on another try firing a laser past Ward and into the net. The Hurricanes surged and tilted the ice into the offensive zone for most of the rest of the second period mounting a 17 to 4 shots on goal advantage but as is too often the case not being rewarded on the scoreboard. Hellebuyck was good. The Jets were a little bit luck. And the Hurricanes just could not find the back of the net despite doing most of the things that often result in that. Despite climbing out to a 27 to 13 shots on goal advantage, the Hurricanes were down 2-1 after two periods.
The third period was back to counter-punching type hockey. The Hurricanes mustered a few decent shifts, but the Jets also dialed things up and had some stretches where they had the better of the play. At the midway point of the third period, the Jets went up 3-1 on an odd play that saw a shot on one side go off the post to the other side where it hit an official and landed right in front of Paul Stastny who scored. No doubt the play included an element of bad luck, but in watching the replay three times, what also jumps out is Ward’s play. He never really moves from the post on the one side nor does he seem to react to try to find the puck. The progression from post to referee to Jets player to shot was slow enough that the net should not have still been wide open. It is not clear if maybe Ward was concerned the puck might be back under him after clanging the post, or ….? As noted above, Jordan Staal did score a big goal late, but the Canes effort to get one late resulted mostly in a bunch of scrambling around in the offensive zone but nothing really for a great chance to tie the game.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets
1) Jordan Staal
In addition to his usual strong two-play in all three zones, Jordan Staal had a strong night offensively. He was the traffic in front for the Teuvo Teravainen goal that glanced off the defenseman that Staal brought to the front of the net, and of course Staal also scored late to give the Hurricanes a chance in the waning moments. His goal broke a 13-game goal-less drought dating back to January 25 which was before the All-Star break. Hopefully, it provides a spark as the team seeks more sources of offense down the stretch.
2) Coverage issues on the power play
It is not clear if it was a scouting issue or just players becoming too puck focused, but Winnipeg had an incredibly easy time moving the puck around with ease to the right of Cam Ward until the four Canes defenders crept too far that way at which point Patrik Laine stepping into a passing lane on the other side for a wide open point blank chance. He finished once on the power play, but his better opportunity was actually the shot he clanged off of the cross bar above a wide open net after he stepped into a massive opening to receive and fire from close range.
3) Jeff Skinner
Sunday was a game in which Jeff Skinner was buzzing, at least early, and could have had a goal or two but just did not get one. The key for Skinner and the team down the stretch is for him to play with an “I want a goal every shift” type of intensity. If he does that, he will score enough. If instead he brings that intensity only intermittently, the team is likely to be left wanting more than it is getting in terms of much-needed goal scoring down the stretch.
4) Aho and Goliath
One side story of the game was the Jets in total and especially Dustin Byfuglien going out of their way to jolt Sebastian Aho whenever given the chance. In contrasting Aho with a 20-year old Jeff Skinner who suffered a similar fate, Aho continues to impress me with his maturity. He never backs down but at the same time does not run around such that it starts to become clear that he is a bit frazzled by the physical attention. Two examples stood out in Sunday’s contest. First was when Byfuglien put Aho on his back behind the net cleanly and then knocked him over a second time as he was getting up. Aho responded by beating Byfuglien to the front of the net hoping to make him pay and also making it clear that he was not going to shy away from the next round of contact. The second example was actually a couple instances of Aho seeing hits coming and delivering pretty good reverse check shoulders back into oncoming players. But in all cases, he never loses his cool such that teams get the idea that he can be taken off of his game.
5) Tough day in the standings
The Florida Panthers beat the Philadelphia Flyers earlier in the day to go up a point on the Hurricanes with three games in hand. My adjusted math says that the Hurricanes are down at least four points to Florida now. In addition, the Columbus Blue Jackets won to go up by two points on the Hurricanes (no games in hand).
Next up for the Hurricanes is a Tuesday match up against an Eric Staal-led Minnesota Wild team.