“No rest for the weary” would be an apt decision for being a Hurricanes fan right now. Despite being very much in the middle of a three team (probably four with the Florida Panthers gaining fast and with games in hand) race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the situation is anything but fun for the Hurricanes faithful right now. Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings marked five straight with only a single overtime loss point to show for the stretch.
The game was better than Friday’s abysmal 6-1 home loss to the Penguins, but still all too much more of the same in terms of 2017-18 struggles. The game reverted back to the more normal pattern of the Hurricanes winning the shot and possession metric battles but unable to make that count on the scoreboard. The game also saw a handful of bad break downs generate enough grade A scoring chances to aid the opponent who was otherwise being outplayed. And along the way, there seemed to be enough opportunities to score two or even three goals but still only one on the scoreboard at the end.
The game started well enough with the Canes pushing up to 10 shots while holding the Wings to a handful. And the Hurricanes even seemed to get on the scoreboard first when a puck found Justin Faulk in the crease. But two tries with his stick were unsuccessful and the potential goal was eventually overruled because he kicked the puck into the net. Then, sure enough, Detroit scored first when Jeff Skinner lost track of Danny Dekeyser who had all kinds of time and room to skate in to the face-off dot, tee up a shot and beat Scott Darling off his glove and into the net. The Hurricanes exited the first period in familiar territory with a lead in terms of shots on goal but a 1-0 deficit on the scoreboard.
The Hurricanes struck back in the second period when Victor Rask made a strong play with the puck on his stick in the middle of the offensive zone finding Noah Hanifin. Hanifin received the pass moving forward and fired a well-placed shot bar in to tie the game at 1-1. But Detroit struck next when Gustav Nyquist threaded a pass right between Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin for a nifty power play tip goal by Henrik Zetterberg. The second period ended with Detroit still up a goal at 2-1.
With the Hurricanes recent scoring woes, the game seemed to drift away when Detroit climbed out to a 3-1 lead on a Trevor Daley goal. The goal was the second of the game that saw Jeff Skinner floating loosely around the defensive zone without a cover who eventually stepped into a shooting area and scored. The Hurricanes threw 12 shots at the net in the third period but true to recent form, it was mostly unproductive, and the game finished with a 3-1 Red Wings win.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings
1) Scott Darling
I would not say that Scott Darling was outstanding on Saturday night, but I think it could be fair to count it as a small step forward. His three goals against on only 22 shots do not look great. But the Daley goal was bar in from close range, and Zetterberg’s goal was a deflection from in close. In looking for Darling to get his feet under him and start climbing upward, this game at least has the potential to be a start.
2) Elias Lindholm and the power play
Despite not scoring, I thought the power play had a strong night. The first unit especially was good in terms of puck possession and even getting shots. Lindholm had a post on a tip, and Faulk almost a goal on the kick in. One positive development continues to be Lindholm’s willingness and consistency to not just go to the front of the net on the power play but equally importantly to stay there. He is not prairie dogging in and out such that he is rarely there or is often to the side of the goalie. Rather, he is parking in front of the goalie in true Tuomo Ruutu fashion and being a valuable screen.
3) Defensive zone coverage lapses by Jeff Skinner (and regularly by other wings)
With the team pressing to score and win, Jeff Skinner has regressed to a much lower level of defensive play from a few years back. He too often seems to float around in the general area where he would be expected to cover a defenseman playing the point. But twice on Saturday for goals against, he lost contact with the actual player he was defending for long enough such that the defenseman stepped up into a scoring area for a point blank chance mostly undefended. It is almost as if Skinner goes into a mode where he is cheating offense mentally looking for a chance to break up the ice. As a veteran and a player that Tripp Tracy watches like a hawk for this kind of miscue, Skinner is the player who stands out for this problem, but Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen have also had their fair share of issues losing track of their marks either off the rush or defending in their own end. The Hurricanes have had their share of troubles with goaltending and also intermittent break downs by the defensemen, but there are also issues with the forwards failing to mark specific players. All of Skinner, Aho and Teravainen have a tendency to report to the general area where they should find a defenseman to defend.
4) 31 shots blocked by Detroit
On Saturday, the Hurricanes had a whopping 31 shots blocked by Detroit compared to 29 shots that were on net. Part of that was the Canes having the puck in the offensive zone and showing a bias toward shooting the puck (both good things), but part of that is also the Hurricanes offensive playing so much on the exterior such that they are usually playing hockey and trying to shoot with defenders in position between them and the net. Via some combination of just playing in straight lines toward the net, desire and commitment to get there and playmaking that can find passing seams into the middle of the defense, the Hurricanes need to become better at penetrating the defense for scoring chances inside of the defense.
5) Falling behind
The Blue Jackets won to push three points head of the Hurricanes. Also worth noting is that the Florida Panthers passed the Hurricanes as measured by games above .500 but look to be back a ways in the standings simply because they have played three fewer games than the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets.
Next up is the NHL trade deadline on Monday and then a game in Boston on Tuesday.