On Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins, the Carolina Hurricanes matched up against one of about 8-10 teams who can legitimately make a case for winning the 2019 Stanley Cup Championship based on what they are doing during the regular season. In that measuring stick game, the Canes fared reasonably well. The Hurricanes shot themselves in the foot a bit with puck management issues, but the Canes did jump out to a 2-0 lead and ultimately pushed to overtime against a red hot team on the road.
With that Eastern Conference measuring stick game out of the way, the weekend offered a back-to-back set to measure up against two of the Western Conference’s best in the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators. To put it simply, round 1 did not go well at all, as the Hurricanes were utterly trounced 8-1 at home against the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.
The overarching theme early on when Winnipeg authoritatively took control of the game was the ineffectiveness of the Hurricanes usually strong forecheck and the Jets ability to convert that incredibly quickly to speed through the neutral zone and odd man rushes with pace at the offensive blue line. The steps were repeated throughout the first period. The Jets got possession of the puck in their own end and quickly made a first pass to a player, usually a forward, moving north-south with speed. That first pass happened quickly enough that usually the Canes F1 and F2 on the forecheck were very quickly behind the play. That put the third forward in a tough place trying to defend the neutral zone by himself against a forward with a head of steam. The result pretty much unanimously in the neutral zone was that the Canes third forward was also beaten easily. The effect of that was a 3-on-2 rush coming at the two defensemen at full speed. At that point, all they could really do was keep backing up to do their best to at least offer some resistance on the way to the net. The end result was a good number of high-end scoring chances. When the Hurricanes did defend the initial rush, the team in general but mostly the forwards also struggled to sort things out in their own end on secondary attacks. And on this night, Curtis McElhinney did not have the answers to cover up a tough night defensively like he has on a few other occasions. In terms of scoreboard effects, the result of all of that was a 4-0 deficit for the Hurricanes after only 20 minutes of play.
The ugly goal log
The first goal saw Nikolaj Ehlers blow right by Nino Niederreiter and Justin Williams in the neutral zone before Kevin Hayes scored.
The second goal saw Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton get twisted around defending two players to the left of the net. Blake Wheeler beat Aho, Niederreiter and Williams up the ice to finish into an open net on the other side.
The third goal saw Aho floating around doing nothing in particular on a 4-on-4 and Niederreiter a step slow defending an onrushing Jet who quickly finished past McElhinney.
The fourth goal saw Williams lose a puck battle and then optimistically wait on the wall for his line mates to win the puck. When they did not he was slow to Nikolaj Ehlers who stepped into an opening and scored another goal.
The Jets paused a bit in the second period and scored only once at the tail end of the period, but the Hurricanes still struggled to match Winnipeg’s pace in transition.
The fifth goal came off a better-defended first rush, but then saw Niederreiter behind Andrew Copp who banged in the rebound.
The Hurricanes finally scored in the third period on a Greg McKegg tally, but around that the Jets resumed their domination and poured it on.
From the whatever can go wrong will go wrong file, the Canes penalty kill allowed the sixth goal when Pesce and de Haan somehow lost track of Kyle Connor at the side of the net.
The seventh goal featured a bad line change and Jaccob Slavin and Calvin de Haan unable to recover before Andrew Copp scored.
To add insult to injury, Adam Lawry scored the eighth goal on a deflection with less than 20 seconds remaining.
There was almost nothing worth keeping from this game, but it is important to note that it was just one game. The Hurricanes lose no more points than if the game had finished 3-2, and the damage done in the standings is also limited to the two points missed. Though the challenge is another sizable one, a win in Nashville could have this debacle erased and neatly in the rear view mirror in 24 hours.
Player and other notes
1) Greg McKegg
As a small (and maybe only?) positive, Gregg McKegg notched a goal in the third period. He has been playing well of late. I thought he and his line were the Canes best in the third period against Boston and came closest to pulling out a 4-3 win. Though it was in a losing effort, it was nice to see him get rewarded.
2) Curtis McElhinney
By no means can this loss be hung on Curtis McElhinney, but he had nothing for answers on Friday night. He has bailed this team out in a couple other efforts that looked nearly as bad, but I guess sometimes the hockey gods look down and make it like it should be on the scoreboard. Because the Hurricanes play again tomorrow, Brind’Amour did not really have the luxury of pulling McElhinney once things went badly. As a veteran who is in the midst of a great season, best bet is that he just quickly puts this one behind him and moves on, but after giving up eight, I will be watching a little more closely in his next start.
For as good as they have been of late, their first period was probably the single worst of any forward line this entire season. They were that bad. They lost pucks in the offensive zone and defended by having two forwards watch from behind while the third tried to stop a runaway freight train in the neutral zone. It worked exactly zero times and the result was four goals against in a period (one was just Aho and Niederreiter 4-on-4). As with McElhinney, they just need to flush this one and get back to what they had been doing prior, though I do think there is a lesson to be learned in terms of how badly things can go when the work is not done defensively against good opposing lines.
4) Just one game…but the urgency does increase
As I said on Twitter, as bad as it was, it still only counts as one loss and only two points were lost. The game magnifies the importance of Saturday’s game against another tough opponent. With a win, the Hurricanes will have posted a respectable even if not great 1-1-1 record against three top teams. That is not bad at all. But with a loss, the Hurricanes will be 0-2-1 for the week, have a three-game losing streak and could also find their way outside of playoff position for the first time in a little while.
Next up is a quick turnaround with another big test in Nashville on Saturday night.