In the big picture, this loss probably doesn't mean a whole lot in terms of how it affects Carolina's season. It's only their second loss in the span of two weeks and they can regain their lead in the Southeast with a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. The NHL has a long season and losses are going to happen so there's a good chance that this is just a slight bump in the road for the Hurricanes. While that is true, the way they lost tonight's game to the Washington Capitals was infuriating to watch for the fans, coaching staff and the players.
The Hurricanes started out this game with all guns blazing, getting two early goals in the first period and throttling the Caps in all areas. It looked like this would be another game where the Hurricanes would coast their way to an easy victory but it didn't go down like that. Naturally, they drifted back into a defensive shell in the second period and it ended up costing them with the Caps fourth line catching the Hurricanes napping and scoring to make it a one-goal game. After that, the Canes woke up a little bit and were at least able to limit the Caps chances and play strong defensively. The whole team just looked off compared to their performance in the first period, though. They were fanning on shots, not connecting on their passes and had serious trouble adjusting to the Capitals forecheck which resulted in some downright ugly breakout attempts.
All of it culminated at the end of the second period when Eric Staal was sent to the sinbin for a high-sticking call and the Capitals made them pay for it on the ensuing powerplay to begin the third. Once the score was tied, the Canes started to wake up and play more like they did in the first period and had quite a few opportunities to take the lead. All of which were for naught thanks to the play of Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth who turned aside 15 shots in the third frame alone and 36 total on the night. Blowing the two goal lead aside, the Hurricanes played well enough to at least earn a point against Washington tonight…until they were guilty of a terrible line change which resulted in a breakaway for Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps were just barely able to get the game-winning goal across the line to seal up a victory.
This was a prime example of a team giving a game away to the opponent. The Hurricanes were in full control for the first 20 minutes but allowed the Caps to get back into because they took their foot off the gas pedal. I don't think there was anything wrong with how they played in the third period overall, but the margin of error is slim in a tie game and the Hurricanes committed a brutal mistake at the absolute worst time possible and it ended up costing them. This was a game where the Canes could have easily gotten at least one point in the standings in but they ended up going home with nothing and have nobody but themselves to blame.
It's really a shame to see a mostly solid game by the Canes go to waste because of a few dumb mistakes and it's especially frustrating when it happens in a divisional game, but they can partially erase this loss with a win over Tampa Bay on Saturday night. They will just need to get these mistakes out of their system.
Corey's Ten Observations
– You know what the most frustrating part about this loss is? The fact that it's similar to a few of the other ones they've had during the season. Carolina outshot and outplayed the Capitals during even strength play but lost the special teams battle yet again. They were able to create a few chances on a partial powerplay they had at the end of the second period but other than that? Not much doing there and it's been the same story for the last month or so. They also gave up a powerplay goal to Washington and that ended up being a huge difference maker as the game-tying goal. Terrible special teams has cost this team more than a few wins this season and it's part of the reason why they came away from tonight's game empty-handed.
– The Captials first goal was the result of some very lackadaisical defensive play by the Hurricanes fourth line. They allowed Aaron Volpatti to waltz into the offensive zone along the boards and send a centering pass to an uncovered Joey Crabb in front of the net and he was able to beat Dan Ellis on a bang-bang play. This was terrible coverage by the fourth line but Bobby Sanguinetti was also guilty of being caught in no-man's land while Crabb got to the front of the net untouched. He needs to make a better effort there to deny the chance instead of just standing around while an opposing player walks into a prime scoring area. Mistakes against opposing team's fourth lines have a lesser chance of turning into goals but even replacement level players can score on the play Crabb was presented with there.
– The game-winning goal for Washington may have just barely crossed the line, but the Hurricanes put themselves in a bad position by making a terrible line change while the best player for the opposing team was on the ice. I don't even know why the Hurricanes were changing while the Caps had possession of the puck in the neutral zone because that's generally going to come back to haunt you 9/10 times and it did there. What was even more frustrating about this was that the Canes nearly got bailed out when Ovechkin's initial shot went off the goal post, but Ribeiro was able to barely tuck in the rebound chance. One mistake shouldn't discredit everything else the Canes did tonight but again, the margin of error is slim in a tie game and this ended up being the main reason Carolina lost.
– After recording no shots on goal Tuesday night, Alexander Ovechkin looked more like his usual self tonight. He scored the game-tying goal on the powerplay, had six shots on net and nine shot attempts and was a threat whenever he had the puck. There was a lot of criticism of him taking long shifts and hurting his team, but I think Ovechkin was doing more good than harm for the Caps whenever he was out there. The shot attempts report disagrees, but he looked a lot more like his usual self tonight and that's generally bad news for the Canes.
– This may have been spoiled in a loss, but the first line had one of their best games of the season tonight. Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Semin produced a combined 11 shots on goal, 26 shot attempts and were great territorially tonight. They were a key reason why the Canes were so dominant in the first period and their hard work generated an early goal from Semin. They were also very good in the third period and had a few great chances to take the lead and tie the game on separate occasions. If anyone is going to pointing fingers, they shouldn't be putting the blame on the first line for their play because they did just about all they could.
– Jordan Staal's line had another good game but he was guilty of somewhat of a mental lapse in the second period when he had the puck on his stick and Neuvirth in a vulnerable position but instead of taking the shot, he tried to force a pass to Jussi Jokinen which resulted in nothing. Jordan is a terrific play-driver and two-way forward but it wouldn't hurt him to shoot more. There are times when a player has to be unselfish and this was definitely one of those instances.
– Score effects are a recurring theme with this team because for the most part, they've played well whenever the game is tied or reasonably close but whenever they have a lead of two or more, they drift back into a defensive shell and let the opponents do whatever they want. This was the case for the first five minutes or so of the second period where the Caps were able to cut the lead to 2-1 and it adversely affected the rest of the period. Going into this game, the Canes had never lost when leading after two periods but now that has changed and there might be more losses if they continue to jus sit back whenever they have somewhat of a big lead.
– Capitals defenseman Tomas Kundratek took an awkward spill behind the Washington net and left the game with a supposed leg or knee injury. One of the guys who logged extra minutes in his place was Steve Oleksy, who has less than 10 games of NHL experience and played over 27 minutes tonight. I know some people are going to ask why the Canes couldn't take advantage of this but they really did when you look at how many shots Oleksy was on-ice for. The Hurricanes were able to constantly pin him and Karl Alzner into their own end but Neuvirth bailed them out more than a few times. Putting up 30+ shots usually means your offense did it's job but didn't get enough bounces and I think this was somewhat the case tonight.
– Dan Ellis' finished the night allowing three goals on 25 shots which makes for an unimpressive save percentage of .888 but there really wasn't anything he could do about all three Washington goals. Sanguinetti left him out to dry on the first one, the second was a bit of a bad break with Ellis trying to poke check the puck away from the slot and the third goal barely even made it over the line. The Hurricanes defense did what they had to do to make Ellis not have Ellis stand on his head, but they had a few terrible breakdowns and it ended up costing them. The blame doesn't go on the goalie for that.
– The Hurricanes third line was the only unit to have a negative shot differential at even strength tonight and they also produced the second goal of the game with Patrick Dwyer beating Neuvirth with a good tip play. They had some trouble containing Marcus Johansson's line in the second period and Nash ended up 5/12 on faceoffs, so this was somewhat of an off-night for them, but at least they produced a goal.
Not getting any points out of this game isn't the end of the world, but it does make Saturday night's game against Tampa Bay a lot more important. The Lightning are a team that's had the Hurricanes number this season, so they are going to need to play hard for the full-sixty minutes to get a win there. This was a blown opportunity for the Hurricanes to get somewhat of a stranglehold on the Southeast but they will continue to have the Winnipeg Jets breathing down their necks for now. I don't think the entire system needs to be changed because the Hurricanes played a good game tonight and have been playing good hockey for the majority of the last two weeks. They just need to get these mental mistakes out of their system and that should be correctable.