After posting an article entitled, “Playing Brind’Amour” on Thursday morning, the coach himself verified that he is still trying to find combinations that he likes long-term. The forward lines were completely thrown in the blender for Thursday’s game with the most interesting move being Sebastian Aho to wing. And Joel Edmundson slotted back up into the #4 slot on defense after a run of Jake Gardiner mostly playing in that slot.
The headlines from Thursday’s game are abysmal.
The Hurricanes came back twice only to allow two goals on defensive breakdowns to lose 3-2.
And to make matters potentially much worse, Dougie Hamilton left the game putting no weight on his left leg after an awkward fall after getting his skate tied up with a Blue Jackets player.
Those top two bullet points will justifiably leave Canes fans feeling yucky about Thursday’s game, but in total the game was more of a mixed bag with significant positives.
Recap of the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus had the upper hand early and scored less than two minutes into the game on a blast off the rush that beat Petr Mrazek. But despite not scoring, the Hurricanes used a strong first period power play to reverse momentum and mostly road that momentum through the rest of the game. The Canes dominated the game in terms of most measures like shots, shots on goal, possession time, offensive zone time, etc. But the Canes lost two key measures. First, they had a couple of bad defensive breakdowns. And more importantly they lost on the score board.
Columbus scored first when the Hurricanes were a bit loose in the neutral zone and Columbus quickly converted that to a rush. Brett Pesce came across but was unable to challenge the shot which was labeled for the far corner of the net. That would be the only goal in a first period that saw the Canes take control as the period progressed.
The Hurricanes were again the better team in the second period and drew even when Lucas Wallmark sprung Martin Necas for a breakaway and a goal to tie the game at 1-1. The Hurricanes put 15 shots on net to Columbus’ seven in the second period. The biggest play of the period will unfortunately be the injury to Dougie Hamilton which did not look good.
Columbus scored first in the third period on series of small Canes errors that piled up. First, Aho was stripped of the puck inside the offensive blue line. Then after Columbus navigated the neutral zone, Aho who was floating a bit and the Canes in general failed to pressure the puck or identify passing lanes. Finally, Jake Gardiner seemed to drift toward the boards (not sure why) which made for an open path to the net. Jordan Staal would score a clutch goal tipping a Teuvo Teravainen shot from well out to tie the game again at 2-2. But another costly error late would be the difference. Staal and Svechnikov both had the puck on the side but failed to get the puck up the boards and out. The result was a steal and a bang-bang play to feed a player off the bench for a quick goal. The two third period errors sent the Canes to disappointing 3-2 loss.
Key takeaways from the mixed bag
1) Aside from breakdowns and goaltending, the game was actually an impressive one for the Canes. They out-Columbused Columbus playing a possession game and giving up very little. The result turned on individual plays not the totality of the game.
2) The Canes still too often lack a true hunger to score ugly goals at the top of the crease. Doing this and pushing others to follow could end up being Justin Williams’ most immediate contribution.
3) The Achilles’ heel of the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes continues to be making too many mistakes. Now past the midway point of the season, decent or better teams have worked out the kinks and tightened things up such that the margin will be small in many games. So just like on Thursday, gifting away a couple grade A chances in the third period has the potential to be the difference regardless of the totality of the game.
Player and other notes
1) Dougie Hamilton
Here is hoping that the news Friday is better than expected and that Dougie Hamilton somehow dodged a more serious injury. The team needs him obviously, but more significantly it just seems completely unfair to have his 2019-20 season interrupted.
2) Petr Mrazek
It seems to be feast or famine with the goaltending right now. Mrazek’s game very much reminded me of Reimer’s struggles in the 5-4 overtime win over the Flyers last week except not with positive results.
With the game still tied at 2-2, I said on Twitter:
Petr is an every shot adventure tonight. Need to fast forward to overtime and take our chances. #LetsGoCanes
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) January 17, 2020
With only 18 shots on net, Mrazek was beaten three times for goals. He had two more shots leak through him but fortunately cleared from the crease by Canes defensemen. And he allowed another goal that was reversed because of an offside. No doubt, the breakdowns and grade A chances against played a role, but Mrazek had almost nothing for answers on Thursday. I have started to watch early to see if we are getting the loose or the rigid version of Mrazek. When he is at his best, he seems to move easily, anticipate and be waiting for shots like he has a crystal ball. But there is also a very that is a bit rigid that does not seem to anticipate as well. On Thursday, one could see him going down early on a lot of shots seemingly guessing. And he got caught a bit deep on a number of shots including two of the goals.
3) Brett Pesce
He was maybe a tiny bit slow closing on the shot on the first goal against (though on Edmundson’s side of the ice), but in total I thought Brett Pesce had a phenomenal game. He was especially good late in the game and was a difference-maker defensively.
4) The story of the shots
The game followed a familiar theme of late with the Canes shot advantage not completely telling the story. In terms of shots on net, the Hurricanes nearly doubled the Blue Jackets with a 34 to 18 advantage. Columbus also blocked a whopping 26 shots. The Hurricanes had the puck and shot it a bunch, but Columbus did a pretty good job minimizing the quantity of grade A chances like those that result from breakdowns. And the 26 blocked shots also shows Columbus marking men effectively.
5) Time to dig in and find a way
The Hurricanes have a quick turnaround and a home game on Friday to start a three-game home stand before the much-needed All-Star break. The Canes enter with a three-game winning streak and recent success on home ice. Timing would be great for the team to again capitalize on home ice, collect four or more out of six points and sprint to the break.
The puck drops Friday night at PNC Arena against the Anaheim Ducks.
Matt. Excellent analysis. My only counterpoint is that I worry RBA thinks like you and many others about the need for someone set up in front of the goal. I listened to Steve Valiquette on NHL Radio yesterday. He specifically addressed why the Svechnicrosse goals happen—goalies go down too quickly. He also addressed how getting goalies moving due to passes through the Royal Road lead to the best scoring opportunities. While he didn’t specifically mention it, I inferred that the reason Jordan Staal doesn’t score more and Eric Haula has scored is because Staal is usually trying to be the goalies in close while Haula is on the receiving end of passes that have travelled a significant distance (TT’s passes on the PP) or across the RR (Pesce’s pass last week). Think about last night’s game—4 of 5 goals were from shots where there was nothing between the goalie and the shooter. Staal’s tip was close in—it also was just as Merzlikins was getting reset after handling the puck behind the net and there was a lot of open ice with defenders not in typical position.
Hockey is undergoing some of the changes that football underwent two decades ago—limited emphasis on power running and constant improvement in taking advantage of speed and quick strike plays. In hockey this means an emphasis on beating goalies with movement more than congestion.