For the 2017-18 season, I think the most recent two games easily represent the starkest contrast between the good Hurricanes that are in a playoff spot and the bad Hurricanes that are still lurking in the shadows. Even adjusting for the fact that the Penguins are still struggling to find their game in 2017-18, the 4-0 win over the Penguins was an impressive wire to wire win. Two days later, the team follows it up with what I have termed debacle v2.0 with a 7-1 loss in a game that was over by the end of the first period. The game could be trumped only by the 8-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs a couple weeks back.

If I had to come up with one takeaway from this game, I think it comes directly from the game preview. I said:

It is up to Justin Williams and the team’s captains to rattle the sword a little bit to make sure that everyone recognizes that Thursday’s level of play is something that is earned not just granted.

The Hurricanes missed in this regard. A potential silver lining is that they did not halfway get away with it. Instead, the hockey gods punished the Canes mercilessly which has the potential to make a bigger impression and therefore generate a greater learning experience.


Context is important

By no means do I want to suggest that what happened on Saturday was okay. It was not.

But I do think a dose of context is important right now. The loss obviously only counts once despite the brutal score. And one game is not enough to take away what the team has accomplished climbing the standings ladder recently.

On another note, I also think that sometimes we as Canes fans figure this only happens to teams that are struggling which is not true. After the 8-1 drubbing at the hands of the Maple Leafs, I wrote an article that is probably worth recycling right now that detailed somewhat similar struggles even for the league’s best teams.

During the game I said:

I think the biggest difference between good teams and teams that ultimately fail to make the playoffs is not so much about being 100 percent consistent. Rather, I think it is more about being able to rebound quickly such that an atrocious game like Saturday’s does not quickly turn into 2 losses then 3 then 4, etc. Top teams seem to have an ability to use a disaster like Saturday as fuel to find an even higher gear in their next game such that it is quickly put in the rear view mirror and does not impact what happens next.

To the Hurricanes credit, they did exactly this after the loss in Toronto. The next game was a solid win against a good Predators team on the road and that was the start of the four-game winning streak that fueled the push up into the team’s playoff positioning.


As for the game itself…

The game was eerily similar to the Maple Leafs loss. The team started maybe a little bit slow, but the biggest thing was the goalie (Cam Ward in this case, Scott Darling against the Leafs) to make a couple very ‘makeable’ saves early to buy a little time for the skaters to get their feet under them. The Hurricanes were not great early, but the hole was dug when Ward was beaten to the short side on each of the first two shots. The start really was not that different from Penguins win in that the other team was somewhat better out of the gate, but the Hurricanes mostly avoided the kind of break downs that turn a moderate skating deficit into a bigger problem as a grade A scoring chance deficit. But the key difference was Ward being beaten early such that the team was very quickly in a sizable hole.

I agree with Coach Bill Peters move to pull Ward hoping to spark his team and quite possibly find better goaltending on a night when early indications were that Ward just did not have it. But thrust into action suddenly, Scott Darling had nothing for answers in the first period. When the period ended at 5-1, the outcome was more or less decided barring the 1 in 100 miracle that does happen but only 1 out of 100 games.

The Hurricanes did get an offsetting power play goal from Jordan Staal that pulled the Canes back to a 2-1 deficit and seemed big at the time. But the Bruins smelled blood and kept attacking, and ultimately the Hurricanes were snowed under with the team still struggling and Darling having no more answers than Ward.

In ending discussion of the first period, worth noting is that the first period was not wildly different from the norm other than the scoreboard. The Hurricanes actually outshot the Bruins 12-8 which lines up with what the team usually does.

From there, it is incredibly difficult to even evaluate the rest of a game like this. The style of play changes with more gambling for goals to get back in it, and the flashing alarms from the first period make it hard to consider the rest of the game without bias or distraction.

I will say that another negative is that the Hurricanes never really did push back, but the greater measure for that will be in the first period in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday night.


Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 7-1 loss to the Boston Bruins

1) Sebastian Aho injury

The biggest thing coming out of the game and heading into Sunday will be an update on the status of Sebastian Aho who did not return for the second period after an apparent leg injury toward the end of the first quarter. He made it off the ice during the shift and stayed on the bench with the team until the end of the period, so here is hoping that the fact that he did not return was merely precautionary given the state of the game exiting the first period down 5-1.


2) Cam Ward

As I said after the second goal, for me the telltale sign that Ward is not tracking the puck well is when he starts going down early (before the shot even) on shots from a ways out without screens. Canes fans are well aware of Ward’s intermittent troubles defending shots that are glove side high. In my opinion, the issue is not at all Ward’s ability to make glove saves. When he is playing well, his glove is fine even if he does get beaten with well-placed shots on occasion just like any other goalie. I think Ward’s glove high struggles stem from the fact that he is struggling, he has a tendency to anticipate and go down early on shots from a ways out when he is better off remaining upright. The result is that any shot into the top half of the net on his glove side now require him to quickly reach upward somewhat against the grain as he is dropping. Making any kind of a save while moving is harder. This kind that requires reaching against where he is moving is even harder. The result is a really high shooting percentage into the corner of the net on off nights for Ward. So getting back to the game at hand, the second goal was a patented example of exactly this phenomena and a sign that Ward was fighting it a bit possibly because of being already being dinged for a goal early or possibly because it just was not going to be his night. He was headed down even before Riley Nash started to release the shot.

But again from the category of context, Ward has been mostly good of late and a key component of the Canes’ surge up the standings. However, after thinking Ward’s effort was ‘meh’ at best in the 5-4 overtime loss to Washington on Tuesday, I will be watching Ward’s play closely especially with Darling still struggling to get his feet under him.


3) Patrice Bergeron

I had Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak front and center in the #2 slot of my ‘what I’m watching’ style preview. Bergeron had four goals by himself and Pastrnak added another easily trumping anything that the Canes players could muster.


4) Just need to move on…

I am not sure there is a ton of value dissecting the game much past the first period. Both teams seemed to mostly play out the string from that point forward. As noted above, I would have liked to have seen more of a push at some point by the Hurricanes, but bigger would be to see the team come out scratching and clawing early on Tuesday night against the Lightning which is exactly what they did after the Leafs debacle.


On a lighthearted note (Skate with the Canes is tomorrow):


Next up is another tough road match up against the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.


Go Canes!


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