We've all seen this movie before. The Hurricanes came into this game in need of a win and were taking on a struggling team who were in a similar situation. The Canes may have lost their last four, but the Devils had only won three of their last 10 and really starting to lose ground in the playoff race. This was a perfect chance for them to right the ship and get a much needed win. Adding to that, the Hurricanes were also receiving a bit of a morale boost with Tuomo Ruutu returning to the lineup so this was the perfect night for them to get things back on track.
The result? Another dud of a game and a 4-1 loss. You would think that the Hurricanes would put together a more complete performance after getting embarrassed by Florida on Tuesday night, but this game ended up being very similar to that. The Canes were outworked in just about every area and their offense was held stagnant for most of the night by the Devils. Taking nothing away from the Devils since they played a terrific game defensively, but when a team totals only seven shots on goal through 40 minutes of play, I think it's safe to say that they were outworked and didn't give their best performance. That was the case for the Hurricanes tonight and it's the same thing that we have seen for the past week or so where the team plays well in spurts but was outworked overall and deserved to lose.
What's most frustrating about this loss in particular is that for the first 20 minutes, Carolina looked like a team that was going to turn things around tonight. They came out with a lot of jump and played about as good of a first period as you could imagine, outshooting the Devils 11-4 and had plenty of opportunities to get on the board. Unfortunately, Martin Brodeur had an answer for all of the Hurricanes chances and Carolina found themselves trialing after one after giving up the strangest goal you'll ever see. The Devils were whistled for a penalty, which prompted goaltender Dan Ellis to go to the bench so the Canes could get an extra skater. It was then that Jordan Staal tried to send a pass to Tim Gleason but the puck ended up ricocheting off the boards and into the Hurricanes vacant net. If there was one play that can sum up how everything has been going for the Canes lately, that play would be it. When you're shooting at only 3% at even strength over five games, that's generally a sign that the Hockey Gods aren't shining on you and this goal was just icing on the cake.
Even with that, the Hurricanes did a lot of good things in that first period and could have built off it to tie the game in the second. That obviously didn't happen and the Hurricanes "response" to this was having only seven shots on goal in the remaining two periods and getting outscored 3-1. Just more of the same old things we've been seeing too often from this team for the past week or so and it's getting to the point where the fans are getting restless.
Did the team have some bounces go against them tonight? Absolutely. Would they have made the difference in them winning or losing? No, because they were outplayed tonight and have been getting outplayed, outhustled and outworked in just about every game for the past week. They still have time to turn it around but the Hurricanes are trending in the wrong direction at the absolute worst time. Having four days off to get refocused might help them but the only thing that matters is what they do during game time, which has been severely lacking as of late.
Corey's Ten Thoughts
– There were very few Carolina players who had good games and one of them was Jeff Skinner. I've been saying that Skinner was due for a goal and he managed to get his first one in five games on a hard slap-shot from the boards that surprised Martin Brodeur. Skinner was basically 1/3 of the Hurricanes offense tonight, as he totaled six shots on goal, 10 shot attempts and was on-ice for 35% of the Canes 5v5 shot attempts. The kid has a knack for creating a lot of offense out of nothing and it was good to see him finally get rewarded for it. It's just too bad it had to come in a losing effort.
– In a desperate attempt to create offense in the third period, Kirk Muller jumbled up the lines by placing the Staal Brothers with Semin on the first line and reuniting Skinner with Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen. Some people compared this to Paul Maurice's coaching strategies since it didn't result in much success, but I can't really fault Muller for making a change. The team had just finished a second period where they showed no life and had only three total shots on goal. What they were doing clearly asn't working, so I don't blame Muller for shaking things up a bit. It didn't result in much, but I think his intentions were good.
– After that first period, something the Hurricanes struggled mightily with was not being able to hit the net. They were getting in position to create scoring chances, but their shots ended up missing the net completely. The fact that they had 20 missed shots compared to only 7 by the Devils says a lot. Alexander Semin was one of the guilty parties here. He had a good game in terms of being able to push the play territorially, but he ended up with no shots on goal and three that missed the net. Some say that shots don't mean anything if you can't score and while that isn't true, it does if you miss the net on all of your attempts. Semin's done a lot of good things in Carolina but he was trying to be a little too fancy tonight and I think it would serve him well to not over-think plays and simplify his game a little.
– Another huge problem the Hurricanes had after that first period was that they reverted to playing dump-and-chase when entering the zone, which is useless against Brodeur since he plays the puck so much. The Devils deserve some credit here since they bottled up the neutral zone well but the Canes still had opportunities to carry the puck in and opted to just "get it deep" instead of actually going for a play at the blue-line and create offense. This is something you have to do when you are in a position where you need goals as the Hurricanes were tonight.
– Dan Ellis was not the reason the Hurricanes lost tonight, but he wasn't particularly great either. There wasn't much he could do about any of the goals he gave up (he wasn't even in net for one of them), but it's not like the Devils were performing a shooting gallery on them. New Jersey had only 22 shots on goal and weren't getting that many great chances, so Ellis didn't need to stand on his head. He's been playing a lot of minutes since Cam Ward got hurt and ended up cutting either his hand or his leg on a Devil player's skate in the third period, which hopefully doesn't end up being a serious injury because that's the last thing the Canes need right now.
– Carolina has been having a ton of trouble with winning puck battles lately and that's directly what led to the Devils second goal. Earlier in that sequence, Jay Harrison did a good job to get himself in position to break up a 3-on-2 rush by the Devils. He ended up fanning on a clearing attempt which allowed the Devils to set up a play at the point after Patrick Dwyer and Tim Gleason failed to get the puck away from any of New Jersey's forwards. The Devils now had a play set up at the point with a ton of traffic in front of the net and Adam Henrique was able to bang in a rebound after Adam Larsson's shot went off a player in front of the net. Harrison's whiff was bad, but the Hurricanes had number down low and still could not clear the puck and that is pretty brutal no matter which way you slice it.
– While Harrison's miscue on the first goal (and the Loktionov powerplay goal) were mainly just unlucky bounces, his mistake on Peter Harrold's goal was much more ugly. The only reason this goal happened was after Harrison was beaten to a loose puck by Travis Zajac after a harmless looking dump-in by the Devils. Harrison had a chance to recover but Zajac was able to win a battle along the boards against him and allowed the play to continue. Harrold then jumped into the play after neither Eric Staal or Alex Semin picked him up and he scored on his own rebound. This is one of the rare times where you'll see Harrison get outhustled and outworked like that, which added to the ugliness of this game.
– Whenever a team goes through tough times, the captain or the coach is usually the first person fan's point the finger at and Eric Staal's tripping penalty late in the third period is something that isn't going to win him over with a lot of people. Staal has been the Hurricanes best player this season (and for about as long as I can remember), so the criticism about him and his "poor leadership" will be overblown, but taking a selfish penalty like that while the game was somewhat within reach is not what I would call leading by example.
– Tuomo Ruutu looked decent in his first game back. The only thing he did to me that really stood out was make a good back-check to deny Ryan Carter of a scoring chance, which was still very nice to see and it's good to have him back in the lineup. Muller stayed true to his word of easing Ruutu back into action, starting him off on the fourth line, but he was eventually elevated to the third and second lines later in the game and played a little over 14 minutes. I'm not sure if he is completely up to full-speed since hip surgery is tough to come back from, but he looked solid.
– Jamie McBain led the team in even strength ice-time with over 24 minutes played, which I'm pretty sure is more than he has ever logged in his career. He also logged significant minutes against the Elias line and managed to keep play in New Jersey's end despite that so he must have done something right. Someone is going to have to step up every night with Justin Faulk out and it looks like McBain/Pitkanen were the go-to pairing since Harrison & Gleason struggled a bit. On a semi-related note, Brett Bellemore looked okay in his NHL debut. He had one bad turnover in the first period and took a roughing penalty, so he wasn't significantly worse than the rest of the team in my viewpoint.
The team has four days before their next game, which will give them a chance to rest up and refocus before they head down the final stretch of the season. Muller is probably going to give them a few hard practices, too since he sounded noticeably upset in the post-game reports. Who knows if it will help them succeed but I think fans are up for anything at this point. The team has only four goals in their last 14 periods of play and it's hard to get much worse than that. It's not so much the fact that they aren't winning or scoring, but more that the effort and compete level from this team has left a lot to be desire as of late. If this is going to be a playoff team, then they are going to need to pick up their game considerably.