Sometimes the most frustrating losses are the ones when the team plays a solid game but ends up with nothing to show for it because of a few bone-handed mistakes. This was the case for the Hurricanes in their 4-2 loss to the Canadiens tonight. They outshot Montreal 43-28 and played arguably their best 20 minutes of the season in the second period but ended up taking the loss due to a bad start, ineffective special teams play and a few brutal defensive lapses. In other words, some of the same mistakes that have been plaguing this team all season long. The common thought among fans right now is probably something along the lines of "it's been 20+ games, they shouldn't be making these mistakes now! What is wrong with this team?"
Let's step away from the ledge here for a second and remind ourselves that the Canes won their previous four games and looked dominant at times tonight. On top of that, they were playing a very strong Montreal club, so things could have been much worse (think the Washington game) if this team's recent win streak was indeed just smoke & mirrors. Are there things to be concerned about? Absolutely, but it's not enough for me to say that it's time for the team to get a complete facelift because they ended up losing by two goals. There were many encouraging signs to go along with the causes for concern and this was far from the team's worst performance this season.
That being said, the team's performance tonight was sort of a microcosm of how their season has gone, as it was filled with a lot of highs and lows.
Corey's Ten Thoughts
– The Hurricanes have been able to avoid bad starts for the last few games, but this habit showed up yet again tonight after they fell behind 2-0 in the first period. Then the switch in the Canes' heads suddenly went off and they just took over the game for the next 30 minutes or so. Part of this was due to them playing while down two goals, but I can not recall the Canes ever dominating the offensive zone as well as they did in the second period tonight. They outshot Montreal 21-5 in that frame and the puck in their zone for basically the entire time. their hard work ended up paying off, as they were able to score twice this period to tie the game, but they really could have done a lot more considering how dominant they were in the second period. That brings us to another theme tonight; missed opportunities.
– I know some people are blaming the referees for Carolina's loss and while they were poor tonight (on the Tim Peel scale, the officiating this game was about a seven), but most of the Hurricanes shortcomings in this game all relate to their failure to capitalize on certain opportunities, which there were plenty of. They had plenty chances to score in the second and third periods, but they ended up fanning on shots, missing the net completely or not getting to rebounds in front of Montreal goaltender Carey Price. Then there was Eric Staal's shorthanded penalty shot which would have given the Hurricanes the lead had he scored on it. Granted, penalty shots are a coin flip, but had Staal scored on that, the complexions of this game may have been different. if that wasn't enough, the Hurricanes were also given a powerplay to start the third period and did nothing with it and the Canadiens would then go onto take the lead after that. I can agree that the officiating was not good, but the stripes were not the reason Carolina lost because they had plenty of chances to take the lead despite that.
– Full marks should go to Carey Price for doing everything in his power to keep this a tie game, because it isn't often that a team will score only twice on 43 shots on goal. Price was one of the main reasons why the Habs still had a chance to win after the team in front of him was dominated for the entire second period. He had to go out of his way to make several saves and had a beauty of a glove save on Justin Faulk in the first period, too. Running into a hot goalie often sounds like a "cop out" to many people, but this is what happened to the Hurricanes tonight with Price.
– Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty were blanked on the scoresheet tonight but anyone who watched this game will probably agree that these three played a great game and could have easily found the back of the net at least once. The trio created 14 shots on goal and 27 total shot attempts, a good chunk of them being scoring chances but just couldn't seem to buy a goal tonight. Realistically, we can't expect these three to continue shooting at 14% for the entire season, but even with shooting regression in mind, I think it's fair to say that they got unlucky tonight. Lines who are able to create that much offense do not go unrewarded every game.
– Jordan Staal's line may have been the team's best in the second period when the Hurricanes were all over Montreal. Staal, Semin and Dwyer were constantly hounding the puck, creating turnovers and keeping the play in the Montreal zone whenever they were on the ice. Dwyer did an especially good job at this and he had a key shift after Carolina's first powerplay in the second period where he was able to control the puck behind the net for a good 5-10 seconds and set up a scoring chance. Dwyer also provided a screen in front of price on Jordan Staal's goal, which was something the team really should have done more of tonight because it would have helped a lot. It's funny how often this line gets switched up when it becomes more evident that Dwyer is the best option for the second line as of right now.
– A possible reason for the Hurricanes running out of gas in the third period could be related to fatigue. With no Riley Nash or Tim Brent, the team was basically relying on two lines to do the bulk of the work. Jussi Jokinen has not played well as a center this year and Jeremy Welsh ended up only getting two shifts as the fourth line center, which meant that the top-six had to do almost everything tonight. The first line ended up playing a ton of minutes and both Alex Semin & Eric Staal had a few very long shifts, which could have drained them out after that terrific second period. Again, forward depth is appearing to be more of an issue than fans initially thought it would be, but Muller not using every weapon in his arsenal might be part of the problem since the fourth line ended up playing 4-8 shifts total.
– Defensive lapses are something that are becoming all too common with the Hurricanes this season and we saw a major one on the Canadiens second goal. This was a four-on-four situation where the Canes were likely playing a man-to-man style coverage and yet, Montreal defensemen Josh Gorges was somehow allowed to waltz to the front of the net unguarded to put the Habs up 2-0. It's pretty easy to see where things go wrong on the replay. While Joe Corvo has the puck-carrier (Brandon Prust) covered pretty well, Jordan Staal decides to join him and gets caught watching the puck, taking his eyes off the point-man (Gorges). Gorges is then given a clear path to the front of the net and things are made even easier for him when Jeff Skinner decides to just stand there and watch him instead of, you know, covering him or trying to impede his progress. Gorges then receives a pass from Prust and is able to squeak the puck by Peters. Defensive breakdowns happen all the time, but seeing things like this will make coaches want to pull their hair out.
– Another defensive lapse occurred on Lars Eller's game-winning goal where he was left wide open in the slot to fire home a one-timer to give Montreal a 3-2 lead in the third period. How did Eller get so open? Well, it's fairly simple. The Habs were coming in on the rush and the Hurricanes back-checkers got confused and ended up having four guys trapped on one side of the ice, leaving the other wing completely vacant and free for Eller to sneak in unnoticed. The mix-up came when Justin Faulk and Jussi Jokinen decided to cover the Montreal player going towards the front of the net. This wouldn't have been that bad of a situation, if Tim Wallace hadn't decide to converge on the puck-carrier and take his eyes off the other wing. Jokinen and Wallace haven't spent that much time on a line together, so I'm not totally surprised to see a mix-up like this happen but it probably could not have come at a worse time.
– Justin Peters' final save percentage was an unimpressive .857 tonight but it's tough to blame this loss on him since there wasn't much he could do about the third or fourth Montreal goals. The only one I thought was soft was the Gorges goal which Peters appeared to mishandle and he gave up a rebound on the Prust goal, too but I didn't think he played poorly tonight. He didn't exactly stand on his head like he did the other night against Buffalo either but the Hurricanes should not expect him to do that every game. The one thing I will say is that when you are up against a goalie who played as well as Price did tonight, the margin of error is often very slim and it proved to burn the Hurricanes.
– Despite giving up a powerplay goal and failing on their last man-advantage opportunity, I don't think Carolina's special teams were that awful as a whole. Before their final powerplay, the Hurricanes had created five shots on goal in four minutes of 5v4 time and were at least created good chances while they were out there. The penalty kill was also performing very well, keeping up their aggressive style and even creating a few shorthanded chances. However, the old broadcaster's saying with powerplays is that "it's not how many times you score on the powerplay, it's when you score them that really matters" and Carolina's powerplay fell flat on its face when the game was on the line.
This wasn't the first tough loss for the Hurricanes and it certainly won't be the last, but there were still more than a few things to feel good about at the end of the night. It probably doesn't mean a lot if a win isn't attached to it, but this is a long season and the Canes should win more games if their even strength play continues to be as good as it was tonight. They just need to work out a few kinks on special teams among other things.