The story was a familiar one mostly in negative ways on Saturday night in Montreal.
As has been the case too often recently, the Hurricanes struggled to get out of first gear in the first period while the opponent ran circles around the Canes and mercilessly peppered the Canes goalie with grade A chances.
Being outplayed was accompanied by a high volume of attention to detail type errors of the costly variety. The Canes struggled with defensive zone coverage and puck management.
For most of the game, the Canes again looked like a team in preseason or early in the regular season still trying to figure things out and tighten up defensively.
But despite the negatives and being outplayed by a fairly wide margin, the Hurricanes salvaged modest progress in the standings with an overtime loss and do also deserve credit for again not quitting early.
The Hurricanes came out flat while the Canadiens came out flying. Less than five minutes into the game, the Canadiens had already fired nine shots on net to the Canes one. In the middle of the flurry Phillip Danault got the Canadiens on the scoreboard first. A soft clearing attempt by Teuvo Teravainen did not make it out. Then while the Canes were trying to quickly sort things out defensively, Brady Skjei had decent defensive position but let a pass go right through him to the front of the net where Danault had beaten Teravainen and was in alone for the score. Three consecutive miscues multiplied into a goal against. Another first period break down saw Jake Gardiner leave the front of the net right as Ryan Dzingel was getting hung up in traffic. The result was another Montreal chance in alone. Anton Forsberg was stellar in the first period despite exiting the period down 1-0. The score could easily have been 2-0 or 3-0.
The second period was not any better. Max Domi scored on a rebound finish when the Hurricanes had numbers back but mostly skipped marking individual players or tying up bodies or sticks. A seemingly harmless 3-on-3 quickly turned into a mess in front of the net when Forsberg spit out a rebound. Only 17 seconds later, Brendan Gallagher finished another vibrant rebound off the rush to make it 3-0 less than 25 minutes into the game. The pair of rebound goals saw Brind’Amour pull Forsberg in favor of Alex Nedeljkovic. The Hurricanes seemed to respond a bit and at least gain their footing. When Haydn Fleury scored through a screen to make it 3-1, the Hurricanes were suddenly back in the game. A couple really good chances at the end of the second period by Vincent Trocheck did not find the net, however, and the Hurricanes entered the third period with a two-goal deficit for the second game in a row.
But just like Friday, the Hurricanes did finally respond late. Joel Edmundson scored early in the first period through a screen on a shot reminiscent of Fleury’s goal. And Justin Williams scored on a tip of another Edmundson point shot with only 1:17 remaining. And unlike Friday, the Hurricanes were able to push to overtime.
But the night ended with the loss that the Canes mostly deserved when Teravainen made an odd decision to flip a weak shot at the net from well out with both other Canes deep in the zone. The result was an immediate transition chances and uncontested goal against.
The point is a positive. The current trend and level of play on Saturday were not.
Player and other notes
1) Alex Nedeljkovic
A significant bright spot was the play of Alex Nedeljkovic in relief He looked sharp and was a perfect 18 for 18 on saves in regulation before being beaten by an undefended shot off the rush in overtime.
2) Anton Forsberg
He was largely a victim of the team’s poor play in front of him. He was easily the team’s best player in the first period and played well to keep the Canes in the game with only a one-goal deficit. The second and third goals were both situations where he spit out juicy rebounds. Had the Canes marked players maybe neither ends up behind him. Regardless, he was more of a victim than an accomplice despite giving up three and being pulled early.
3) Attention to detail
If I had to summarize the Canes situation right now, I would say this. This team was never great defensively but had a fun ability to out-run and out-gun any number of mistakes with decent regularity in the early part of the season. But the team’s all-season defensive struggles are amplified by three things right now. First, not having Brett Pesce and to some degree Dougie Hamilton significantly decreases the volume of mistakes that get erased by great individual defensive plays. Second, now much deeper in the season, most teams have made adjustments and tightened things up. That makes it much harder to just score four or five to win on a regular basis. But with the Hurricanes still struggling defensively, they are still apt to give up four or five. Finally, the pressure of the playoff race just magnifies everything.
4) Haydn Fleury
Fleury played 21:15 in an elevated role and chipped in an important goal. He still just lacks the aggressiveness defending the puck that I think is required to be an every-game top 4 defenseman (reference the second Montreal goal when he did not close on the shooter), but he continues to make step-wise progress.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a four-day layoff that feels well-timed before a big five-game road trip that begins a busy last month of the season.
This is pretty much who the Canes are at this point. A team that isn’t excited/motivated/concerned enough to start playing they way they are capable of playing until they get behind and it is nearly the third period. I get they are down some really good players, but what does that have to do with effort? These may all be good character guys, but something is wrong with this team. The individual players are greater than the sum of the parts.
No injection of energy from Charlotte (not that there’s much energy left there). Players are comfy because nobody is challenging them and there are no consequences for under performing.
I thought Roddie could whip them into shape but it seems like he doesn’t quite have the room at the moment.
This happens to all teams and all coaches at some points in time I suppose, but if there ever was urgency to win games it would be now; playoff pride is on the line.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Canes games up to around early February, but even I find myself losing interest in the team lately.
I think management has its share of blame.
JW is a great guy and he scored the tying goal last night, but I don’t think having him join the team late in the season was necessarily a great move. He was not in top shape and it probably confused the locker room culture and rank.
The Trojek trade mystifies me, the Canes gave up two centers for one (which would be ok if the one comes in guns blazing, something he does not). Now it feels like there is a C based hole on the 4th line and no one is going to the net like Haula used to.
True, neither Haula nor Walmark were exactly on fire – I would’ve traded one – but the team suddenly feels too thin down the middle.
No one is challenging on D. Slaven is playing close to 30 minutes a game in back to backs and it is beginning to show.
I know I am a bit of a pessimist by nature (I go to the gym in “the grumpy one” t-shirt) but I don’t see this team making the playoffs unless they muster up a serious sense of urgency, and fast.
They have to manage a 4, 1, 1, roadtrip (with the OT loss already in the books), 3 1 2 is acceptable but anything less means treading water and fading.
Eklund has an interesting blog on Hockeybuzz showing that pretty much all teams that traded for players are doing poorly at the moment, teams that traded away players are doing better.
Hopefully this is a short-term hangover and the 4-day layoff will help the new guys adjust and the team get something going.
A lot of things are hard to figure, but I can tell you that Williams was absolutely in top shape when he came back. The skill is still there, but the wheels are not.
It’s true, I put this badly. I should’ve said “in game shape”. I’m sure he hit the gym as hard as anyone, but nothing beats in-game shape. No matter how fit you are it takes time to adjust to the speed of an NHL game, even for vintage veterans.
I still wonder how his return affected the locker room culture/org chart.
Agree about game shape, but from what I see he just struggles to keep up. Father time has caught up with him.
It’s very true that stronger starts are a better formula for success, and with the composition of this team it’ll be difficult to go 12-6 to get to 99 points. Any lesser total will require a lot of help from their rivals.
What’s mostly wrong is that this is not a great defensive team but were decent until the recent injuries. Last year at this time there were five top-four D men playing very well and four of them are not currently present. This is a different team and it takes some getting used to.
Players need to time to adjust after a trade. Also, teams that make trades are often trying to fix problems so it is not surprising that buyers at the deadline don’t do that well.
I think the Trocheck deal had more to do with the next 2 seasons than this year. Same with Brady S., I hope that pickup doesn’t mean they will let Dougie walk.
They need Vantanen now.
You can switch players in and out, but this team has developed a personality. Unfortunately, it’s a “take a period or two to get going” personality. Coaching, players and management share the blame here, IMO. This team is still talented enough to win. They haven’t chosen to do the things it takes to win.