It’s been awhile since the Hurricanes lost a game in overtime, so last night’s 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets was an unfriendly reminder of what haunted this team for most of November and December. They were involved in a close, tight-checking game that they could have closed out in regulation but ended up falling just short due to a few mistakes resulting in goals. The last sentence can also be used to describe most of Carolina’s losses this year because that’s been the story of the season. It doesn’t matter how well or how poorly they play because they always come close but don’t finish while letting one or two mistakes cost them the game. It’s frustrating, but it’s what Hurricanes fans are accustomed to at this point.
Wins and losses don’t matter that much at this point of the season (despite there still being a mathematical chance at the playoffs). Most fans know what the Canes are by now and it has been hinted that big changes could be ahead in the coming weeks, so the end result of these remaining games isn’t that significant in the big picture. Still, watching this same movie over and over again is exhausting and not exactly doing much to give the fans any confidence in the players, coaches or management going forward. We’ll have to wait and see how the dominoes fall but until then, let’s just try to enjoy the rest of the season. Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater
The negative intro was a tad misleading because this was actually a very good, competitive game where the Canes battled hard for most of the night. Offense was hard to come by and neither team was giving each other any room to work with on the ice, as indicated by the low scoring chance total. Both clubs were able to get a good forecheck going and there were moments where they threatened, but it wasn’t resulting in a lot in the way of quality chances. Thus, we had ourselves a grinding, low-event game with both teams working hard in the trenches and fighting for every inch. Carolina never had a big advantage in terms of territorial play, but I would say that things were even for most of the game.
That is, until Andrei Loktionov scored on the power play to make it 2-1 early in the third period. At that point, Carolina looked like they were beginning to establish a bit of a territorial edge, but the Jackets responded immediately by scoring on their next shift and they took over the rest of the way. They out-attempted Carolina 17-6 for the rest of the game and eventually got their reward in overtime with Ryan Johansen scoring on the power play. Yes, Anton Khudobin let in a couple of softies that allowed the Jackets to win, but this game was just another example of the Hurricanes being unable to seize the moment and put the game away. They had an edge in scoring chances in the second period and were in a favorable position after Loktionov’s goal, they just didn’t do anything to build on it. That eventually burned them, just like it has countless times this year.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Elias Lindholm +3
Worst EV Forwards: Manny Malhotra & Alexander Semin -2
Best EV Defensemen: Jay Harrison & Justin Faulk +3
Worst EV Defenseman: John-Michael Liles -4
Jeff Skinner was easily the most noticeable player for the Hurricanes last night and it was for both the right and wrong reasons. On one hand, he was at the top of his game offensively, producing five scoring chances and following up on his own rebound to score his 29th goal of the season. He was also on the ice for over half of the Hurricanes 5v5 scoring chances despite playing under 13 minutes at even strength. This is Jeff Skinner at his absolute best. Unfortunately, we also saw him at his worst when he made a heinously bad pass to the middle of the ice to set-up Matt Calvert’s game-tying goal late in the second period. The defensive flaws Skinner has kind of just come with the territory for now, but hopefully it’s something he can work to mitigate as he gets older because he is so effective offensively and he showed that tonight.
Someone else who showed how good he is offensively is newcomer Andrei Loktionov, who has put together a nice stretch of games over the last couple of weeks. He extended his modest point streak to three games by scoring a beauty of a power play goal to give the Hurricanes the lead in the third period and was part of the team’s best territorial line tonight. They didn’t exactly translate their zone time into dangerous chances, but they were creating plenty of opportunities for themselves, a couple of which were ruined by Jiri Tlusty missing the net. Still, this trio is doing a lot of good things.
Normally, the line to take that honor is Jordan Staal’s trio with Alex Semin & Nathan Gerbe but they were very quiet last night. Jordan created a few chances by crashing the net, but Semin wasn’t a great factor offensively and Gerbe was invisible. It’s been rare for Jordan and Semin to have an off-night as a unit since they’ve been together, but they’ve had a tough couple of games. I don’t suspect that it’s anything they can’t rebound from, though.
While we’re on that subject, the Faulk/Sekera pairing had that “bounce-back” performance most were looking for. They got tagged with a minus thanks to the Calvert goal, which was in no way their fault, but they had a very strong game outside of that. Kirk Muller went back to leaning on them at even strength and they rewarded him by limiting most of the Jackets, allowing only three scoring chances as a tandem. The second pairing, unfortunately, wasn’t so lucky as they were well in the red in scoring chances. This probably explains why Muller relied on Faulk & Sekera so much.
Blue Jackets Individual Scoring Chances
Blue Jackets On-ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Nathan Horton, Artem Anisimov & Nick Foligno +4
Worst EV Forward: Boone Jenner -5
Best EV Defensemen: Jack Johnson & Dalton Prout +3
Worst EV Defensemen: James Wisniewski & Fedor Tyutin -3
The line that produced the game-tying goal was Nathan Horton, Artem Anisimov & Nick Foligno. Anisimov got a bit of a lucky break with Khudobin giving up a bad rebound, but this line had the wheels clicking all night. The rebound doesn’t happen if it wasn’t for Horton’s hard work along the boards and Anisimov made a good effort to fight off Liles in order to jump on the rebound, too. The Jackets “first line” kind of changes depending on the night, but Todd Richards rewarded this trio with a lot of minutes and they earned them.
The line I expected to get more minutes was Johansen’s, who was strangely used in a defensive role with rookie Boone Jenner and Corey Tropp. As a unit, they did not take any 5v5 draws in the offensive zone and Johansen took only one of his faceoffs 20 feet from Carolina’s net. In addition to that, they also saw a lot of minutes against Eric Staal’s line, which was Carolina’s “first line” going by ice time distribution. Ricahrds probably didn’t have much control over the matchup, but plugging your 30-goal scorer in the defensive zone seems kind of strange. Fortunately for him and the Jackets, none of this mattered for Columbus in OT where Johansen scored the game-winner on the power play.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Muller went with Eric’s line against Johansen while letting Jordan’s line play against Anisimov. The first decision worked out well, as that trio had plenty of success against the Jackets young center and so did Nash’s line. The problem was that Anisimov’s line made up for that by crushing the majority of Carolina’s top-nine. They also won the battle against their top defensemen, which obviously didn’t help matters.
5v5 Zone Entries
What an ugly game. I mentioned earlier that there wasn’t much space and both team’s clogged up the neutral zone well enough to the point where dump-and-chase was basically the only option. The Staal brothers having nine combined dump-ins kind of illustrate that. Jeff Skinner and Andrej Sekera were the only players to get anything going on the rush and I actually thought Semin had an off-game for his standards, despite his control entry rate being strong.
This was a pretty even game in terms of shots and possession, so Columbus ended up with comparable zone entry stats. They created more shots off entries than the Hurricanes, but they weren’t able to carry the puck in much. Anisimov, Tropp, Foligno, Horton and Johansen were the only players who carried the puck in more than once and some of their heavy-lifters (Johansen, Atkinson & Dubinsky namely) were held pretty quiet when it came to neutral zone play. Like I said, ugly game.
5v5 Zone Exits
From my point of view, both teams had a tough time exiting the zone and Carolina struggled when their forwards had to get the puck out. Skinner’s turnover was just one of a handful committed by their forwards and their defense wasn’t exactly spectacular either. I noticed that Columbus’ forwards were working Sekera hard for most of the game and finishing a check on him almost every chance they could get. This didn’t seem to affect his game too much, as he was able to advance the play at an above-average rate. What is surprising here is how little Liles was relied on. He’s normally the “go-to” guy for breakouts when he is paired with Hainsey, but that wasn’t the case here.
Turnovers were also a problem for Columbus and the Hurricanes were forcing the issue by pressuring their defensemen every time they tried to start a breakout. It paid off a couple a couple times, as the Hurricanes were able to generate a couple scoring chances off turnovers. They also forced the Jackets to ice the puck more times than they were comfortable with, although that probably wasn’t the worst thing in the world considering how much their defense struggled with the puck.