In another high stakes game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Hurricanes failed to launch and paid the price for it with a 3-1 loss.
When I try to net it out, it goes like this:
1) Good teams recently have been able to derail the Hurricanes north-south game by interrupting them in the defensive zone. Washington did it by defending the receive point for the first pass. Pittsburgh did it with an aggressive forecheck that pressured the Hurricanes players before they could get organized and assess options.
2) When the Hurricanes are unable to advance the puck cohesively from their own end, the foundation of the team’s success falters. First, in these scenarios, the Hurricanes get very sloppy and generate offense for the opponent with bad turnovers. Second, the inability to predictably move the puck to at least the middle of the rink makes it really hard to time and launch the forecheck.
3) The result is that the Hurricanes spend a bunch of time hemmed in their own end, and when they do escape, it is most often to dump the puck without a good ability to win it back quickly. The result is that the Hurricanes are chasing the puck in the offensive zone and defending errors in the defensive zone.
Carolina Hurricanes recap
The Hurricanes struggled right out of the opening gate. In just the first five minutes, the Hurricanes had defensive zone turnovers by Brett Pesce, Jordan Staal, Andrei Svechnikov and Calvin de Haan twice. To compound the problem, Curtis McElhinney seemed to just be fighting off shots without his usual sharpness for rebound control. But fortuitously, the Hurricanes survived the first five minutes and seemed to find a higher gear for the second five minutes of the game. But the Hurricanes burst was short-lived. Pittsburgh scored on a fourth line battle just past the midway point of the first period, and Pittsburgh surged again. De Haan had a chance in alone on the off side, and Trevor van Riemsdyk fired a shot through traffic that hit goalie Matt Murray who never saw it. But then the Hurricanes sloppiness reared its head again. Faulk mishandled the puck and Guentzel clanged the pipe. A Slavin turnover led to a point blank chance. A Williams turnover at the offensive blue line led to a 2-on-1 the other way and ended with Matt Cullen scoring Pittsburgh’s second goal. The first period finally ended unceremoniously with Faulk taking a penalty that would carry over into the second period. The period was one of the team’s worst since its winning run started at the beginning of January.
The second period was eerily reminiscent of a few other second periods recently that saw the Hurricanes start slow. The Hurricanes failed to score on a power play and then almost pulled within a goal when Aho clanged the pipe. The disjointed effort by the Canes did not yield a shot on goal until inside of nine minutes remaining in the second period. The Hurricanes did manage to find its forecheck midway through the second period but were not rewarded for their push. As such, the Hurricanes went into the locker room still down 2-0 after the second period.
The third period saw the Penguins extend their lead early. Hamilton pinched and was caught, and Slavin was unable to slow the Pens rush. Hamilton sort of half recovered, and then Slavin failed to identify his assignment in the trailer. To the Hurricanes credit, they did not quit despite the deficit. With about eight minutes remaining, Slavin fired a shot through traffic and scored to get the Hurricanes on the board. But the early deficit was too much and the Penguins were sound down the stretch to close out a 3-1 win.
The loss coupled with a Blue Jackets win pushed the Hurricanes down to the second playoff spot and also used up the game in hand that they had over the Canadiens. With three games to go, the Hurricanes have a one point lead but no margin for error.
Player and other notes
1) Inability to advance the puck from the defensive zone.
In total, the Canes looked completely lost trying to advance the puck from inside the defensive zone. That was the difference in the game. Also significantly, the better teams in the NHL seem to regularly be finding pressure points that are giving the Hurricanes grief.
2) Calvin de Haan
De Haan left the ice in pain after falling awkwardly and seemed to be favoring a wrist as he headed to the dressing room. With the quick announcement that he would not return, the fear is that the injury keeps him out of the lineup.
3) Sebastian Aho
Despite picking up an assist here or there, Sebastian Aho’s game has faded a bit or late. he just does not seem to have that burst of speed that forces defenders to back up at the defensive blue line.
4) The path forward
The Hurricanes are now behind both the Blue Jackets and the Penguins and are neck and neck with the Canadiens. Montreal has the tougher scheduled, but I think this time of year momentum and a rhythm rule the day.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a match up in Toronto on Tuesday.