Playing a Tampa Bay Lighting that won a hard-fought, marquee match up against the Capitals 5-4 in overtime yesterday the Carolina Hurricanes had the upper hand early against the Lightning. Tampa Bay had a few bursts of offensive zone puck possession but generated very little in terms of shots or scoring chances. The Hurricanes had a couple of the better chances early including a shot from Nino Niederreiter from point blank range but were unable to finish. But after being outplayed early, the Lightning scored first when Steven Stamkos had too much time and fired a laser into the corner of the net. After that, the Hurricanes resumed getting the better of play 5-on-5 and were eventually rewarded when Nino Niederreiter had his second grade A chance after a pass from Sebastian Aho. Niederreiter finished to tie the game. The Canes scored again when Dougie Hamilton finished a rebound on an Andrei Svechnikov rush to the net. Up 2-1, the Hurricanes had a golden opportunity to push ahead with a three-minute power play (five minutes less an offsetting two minutes) but were mostly disjointed with the man advantage and unable to convert. On cue, Tampa Bay struck back with less than a minute remaining in the period when Curtis McElhinney spit out a juicy rebound and then had the second chance find a hole through him. The Hurricanes exited the first period tied 2-2 but could have had better.
The second period saw the Lightning find a higher gear but also the Hurricanes do a decent job of trading punches and matching them. McElhinney seemed to settle down. The pace increased in both directions. And the teams took turns pushing into the offensive zone. The Hurricanes broke through when Teuvo Teravainen offered up his latest Ray Whitney impression springing Jordan Staal for a breakaway. Staal would make Domingue shift right and leave a huge opening for a goal to the left to put the Hurricanes up 3-2. The Hurricanes would carry the lead into the second intermission, but along the way Tampa Bay would find their skating legs and play their way into the game after a mostly sluggish first period.
The Hurricanes entered the third period with a 3-2 lead and a modest advantage in general through 40 minutes of play. But as good teams often do, Tampa Bay pushed late despite playing yesterday, played its best period of the game and found enough opportunistic scoring to overtake and defeat the Hurricanes. First, an individual effort from Steven Stamkos seemed to gradually suck in the entirety of the Canes defense before Stamkos somehow squeezed a pass through traffic to Cirelli for a crease front finish. Next Victor Hedman would send a well-timed pass to a crossing Ryan Callahan for a pretty tip goal. Brayden Point would later add the Lightning’s second power play market. And the Lightning would add an empty-netter for a 6-3 finale.
The Hurricanes were again in the neighborhood against the NHL’s best. A minus two goals on special teams will also be difficult to overcome, and the Lightning were just better in the third period.
But the Hurricanes are not trying to be better than the Lightning right now. The Hurricanes are trying to be better than at least one of the Islanders, Penguins, Blue Jackets and Canadiens. Though points would have been a nice bonus, the Hurricanes did not have to have this game. The key is to just get back to work with a weekend back-to-back with the second game against the Canadiens.
Player and other notes
1) Near misses on the injury front
If you missed the game and checked in afterward, the game was not newsworthy injury-wise except for the positive that Calvin de Haan returned to the lineup. But the path to get to ‘no news is good news’ was a treacherous one. First, Jordan Staal caught a shoulder to the chin from Yanne Gourd and headed straight to the locker room. Then in the second period, Sebastian Aho and Nino Niederreiter somehow hit each other knee to knee when a puck deflected up into the air and neither saw the other coming while they tried to track it. Aho went briefly to the locker room but returned to the game as did Niederreiter, so hopefully there are no serious after effects for any of the three tomorrow.
2) Jordan Staal with a skill boost
After his pretty spin-o-rama to net his 500th NHL point against Buffalo last weekend, Jordan Staal scored another pretty one on the break away courtesy of another heady Teuvo Teravainen pass. His move like he was going to the right at the last second sent Louis Domingue chasing a shot that never happened while Staal finished into the other side of the net. The sample size is tiny, but part of me wonders if perhaps the team scoring enough with him tucked neatly into a secondary role will lift some weight off his shoulders and boost his game long-term. What Teravainen has been doing lately helps a bunch too.
3) Curtis McElhinney
For his second consecutive start, McElhinney looked a bit shaky early. Part of the issue was likely the low volume of work, but he seemed to be just trying to fight a few shots off early. The Stamkos goal saw McElhinney challenge too aggressively. When Stamkos paused maneuvered and changed the angle, McElhinney was off his angle when the shot finally came. The late Tampa Bay goal saw him fail to control a rebound and then be bit slow to react with a shot leaking through him. In both games, he rebounded in the second period which is encouraging, but this is still something I am watching.
4) Special teams
As noted above, the Hurricanes were minus 2 on special teams. That area of the game was problematic in a couple ways. First, with a chance to run ahead early before the Lightning got going, the Hurricanes power play was mostly inept for three minutes in the first period. Tampa Bay also worked over the Canes penalty kill on two occasions, but more than anything I would put that in the category of the the Lightning just being incredibly good in that facet of the game. In the same vein, the penalties that the Canes took were too much the avoidable variety that unnecessarily make the game harder than it needs to be defending one of the league’s best power plays.
5) Teuvo Teravainen
He is really coming into his own as a playmaking wing from a Ray Whitney-like mold. He had an assist on Staal’s breakaway, set up another point blank scoring chance and did the best he could with a skate deflection chances from the top of the blue paint. He is consistently serving as an offensive catalyst for his line.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a set of home games on the weekend first with Minnesota on Saturday and then another huge four-point game against Montreal on Sunday.