For the first time since mid-January, the Carolina Hurricanes have lost consecutive games in regulation. It took more than two months and a set of games against the defending Stanley Cup champions to do it, but here we are. No doubt, the pair of losses to the Capitals make the path to the playoffs a bit more challenging, but I think perspective is important.
The Hurricanes will wake up tomorrow 77 games into the 2018-19 season and sitting in the first wild card slot.
That is a very good place to be.
The game started similarly to a few others recently with the Hurricanes playing a sound but cautious brand of hockey early and not able to immediately generate an advantage with their forecheck. But the Hurricanes managed to break onto the scoreboard first when Nino Niederreiter somehow manage to hook a puck into the net while tangled up with Braden Holtby and and falling to the ice. But the lead was short-lived. The Capitals struck back only 42 seconds later when Calvin de Haan was caught up in the fray in the offensive zone and Brett Connolly worked over Trevor van Riemsdyk on a 2-on-1 and beat Curtis McElhinney to tie the game at 1-1. That is how the first period would end.
The start of the second period featured another recurring theme when the Hurricanes started slowly in the second period. The front part of the period in general was disjointed with both teams putting pucks deep but having little luck retrieving them. The result was half of a period without much for scoring chances or possession time in the offensive zone. The Capitals had the better of play, but not much was happening either way. Then at the midway point of the second period, the Hurricanes seemed to finally find second gear. Jordan Staal’s line had a dominant shift that led to a good next shift. And the Hurricanes had another shift during which they hemmed Washington in its own end. Though neither of those shifts netted a goal, they seemed to swing momentum. Sure enough, a couple minutes later the Hurricanes scored when Warren Foegele scored on a phenomenal individual effort blowing right around a defensemen with a combination of deft stick handling and a massive burst of speed. The Hurricanes would cling to that lead and exit the second period up 2-1.
The third period featured another blown lead. But only 1:35 into the third period, the Capitals drew back to even on another Canes defensive ‘oops’. The play started as a harmless rush for which the Hurricanes had enough help back on defense. But de Haan and van Riemsdyk somehow both got caught far to one side of the ice defending secondary options. They left a passing lane back to the middle and also left Micheal Ferland trying to stand in as a defenseman. Ferland was overmatched, and speedy Jakub Vrana blew right around him to the net for a goal to tie the game at 2-2. The game would stay knotted at 2-2 for 10 minutes. Then just when it seemed likely that the Hurricanes would at least collect an OTL point, another pair of related ‘oopses’ gave the Capitals another goal. Sebastian Aho won a puck on the end boards and was a bit impatient with the puck. The Capitals picked off the pass just inside their offensive blue line and fed Nic Dowd at the front of the net for a quick goal. Aho had one of those brief pauses defensively that have plagued him at times. The brief lapse was a costly one and ultimately the deciding goal in the game.
The margin for error is tiny against a good team like the Capitals. The Hurricanes were on the wrong side of playing a tidy game.
Player and other notes
1) Calvin de Haan and Trevor van Riemsdyk
The third pairing found themselves in the middle of the Capitals first and third goals. First de Haan was up ice in the offensive zone and van Riemsdyk was used by the goal scorer. Then the third Caps goal saw the two defensemen both far to the one side defending the rush. That left a big passing lane and Ferland unsuccessfully trying to fill in as a defenseman. Unfortunately, the level of a defenseman’s play can be determined by a handful of errors and that is what happened to de Haan/van Riemsdyk in Thursday’s loss.
2) Warren Foegele
To beat the Capitals, the Hurricanes were going to need a couple big plays be it lucky bounces or someone just stepping up. Warren Foegele’s dynamic play was exactly that. For a player who has faded into the background a bit offensively, the play was stunning. He turned what looked like a harmless, well-defended rush into storming through the defense with some combination of sheer speed, power forward type of attack and skilled stick handling and then made Braden Holtby look silly to score. If you did not see Thursday’s game, you definitely to go watch this highlight reel tally.
3) Clean game penalty-wise
The Hurricanes deserve credit for cleaning up the penalties that have been a problem in a few recent games. The Hurricanes gave up and killed off only one power play.
Their play was ‘meh’ on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. I thought the duo was better on Thursday in Raleigh. Brett Pesce just continues to make plays in bunches. Justin Faulk had the stretch pass that sprung Foegele for his goal. The duo was good defensively against tough competition.
5) Sebastian Aho
It is becoming increasingly obvious that he is playing through some kind of lower body injury. He continues to uncharacteristically pull up in the offensive zone to make plays from a spot instead of pushing into or around the teeth of the defense to attack. He did manage an assist on Niederreiter’s goal and also had a decent number of shots. But he was also front and center on Washington’s game-winning goal. When engaged, he has settled in nicely as a capable two-way center. But his Achilles’ heel early in the season was every so brief lapses where paused in terms of marking an assignment with the result being a goal or at least a grade A scoring chance against. That is what happened when Dowd beat him to the top of the crease for an uncontested tip chance. Here is hoping that Aho can dig down and muster a couple more strong offensive games down the stretch.
6) Jordan Staal
I really liked his game. He made so many small plays to get pucks out of danger or move from the defensive zone to the offensive zone.
6) Updated standings
With Columbus beating Montreal, the Hurricanes gap over eighth and ninth place is a single point (with a game in hand only on Montreal). Put simply, the Hurricanes must earn the same number of points as one of these teams in the last five games to win a playoff berth.
Next up for the Canes is a Saturday matinee against the Flyers that just became an even bigger game.