Depleted Hurricanes lineup falls short in Montreal

There weren't a lot of Hurricanes fans who were expecting the team to win tonight given the roster they were dressing. It's hard to expect much when your team is missing three top players along with one of their key special teams contributors. When said players are being replaced with guys from the AHL (one of which was jetted to the game on the same day), it was very important to keep your expectations in line coming into this game. The only thing we knew for sure coming into tonight was that this would be a very ugly game and it certainly delivered on that front. 

The Hurricanes and Canadiens played what was a very low-event, tight checking game with not much action at either end. Both teams combined for only 36 even strength shots and weren't able to apply much sustained offense aside from a few instances. Neither team was able to build much offense but the Hurricanes struggled to generate a lot of chances and shots on goal in general. They were able to gain Montreal's zone easily and keep the puck deep, but it wasn't resulting in much offense. Most of Carolina's possessions consisted of them with them working the puck around the boards and getting maybe one shot on goal if they were lucky. The stat sheet reflects this as the Canes had only 19 shots on goal with 21 shot attempts that either missed the net or were blocked. All of this led to a 3-0 shutout loss to a team starting their back-up goaltender.

Carolina was forced to make the best out of a bad situation tonight and their forward depth issues showed up in a bad way.  It was very frustrating to watch but it's not anything worth panicking over if you're a Carolina fan. There are only going to be a few games where they dress a roster like this again and things should hopefully get better once Skinner, Gleason, Pitkanen and Brent return to the lineup. Right now they just need to put the loss behind them and get healthy for Thursday night when the Winnipeg Jets come to town.

Corey's Ten Thoughts

– I think Carolina had the right mindset heading into this game. They were getting pucks deep, cycling well and playing a decent territorial game for the majority of the first period. It wasn't resulting in many good scoring chances but the team is missing their best goal-scorer and is lacking for forward depth as it is, so playing well territorially is the best this squad can do. They were executing this plan well for a good part of the game but it fell apart some time during the second period and the Canadiens eventually took over and completely wore out Carolina by the third period. Again, the lineup isn't going to look like this for many games this year so the best the Canes can do right now is just weather through this stretch of injuries.

– Penalties were one of the reasons why Carolina began to get worn out by the second period. They took three penalties during that frame, were forced to spend a lot of time in their own zone and began to lose their legs as a result. They ended up killing off all three penalties without any harm but the team looked fatigued for most of that frame and couldn't seem to get any kind of attack going at all.

– Jordan Staal was one of the few Carolina players who made an impact tonight, as he was the one leading most of the team's rushes into the Montreal zone and was almost impossible to knock off the puck. His line with Jussi Jokinen and Patrick Dwyer actually had a few of Carolina's best shifts early on and were probably the team's best forechecking line tonight. Staal was even managing to get a few good cycling shifts going with bottom-sixers like Andreas Nodl, which speaks a lot about his ability.

– Carolina had five forwards tonight play under 10 minutes at even strength and only 10 total shots from players who don't have the last name "Staal." I'm glad that the team's best players are showing up, but other guys have to chip in when your team is bitten by the injury bug and they didn't do that tonight. Also worth noting that Jussi Jokinen, who started the night on the top-six, was one of the players who finished the night with under 10 minutes of even strength ice-time. Wonder where he'll end up the next game.

– Despite Carolina's weak offensive performance, they managed to hang tough with Montreal for most of the game by playing strong defense and limiting Montreal's chances. A lot of credit in that department goes to Justin Faulk and Jay Harrison, who made quite a few noticeably good plays to deny chances for Montreal's forwards. The duo played over 20 minutes at even strength yet again with Faulk logging over 30 total minutes (!) on the night. Harrison was also credited with blocking five shots, giving him 13 in the last two games.

– Carolina probably didn't deserve to be in this game for as long as they did but any chance of them mounting a comeback was ruined in a matter of seconds after Cam Ward let in a stoppable shot by Tomas Plekanec in the third period and followed it up by letting a dump-in by Max Pacioretty dribble past him. The first shot looked stoppable from my viewpoitn but the puck hit him in the mask so I'll cut him some slack there. There is no excuse for any goalie in the NHL letting that Pacioretty goal get in, though. Carolina's goaltending was due for some regression one way or another but soft goals like the ones Ward let in tonight hurt, especially on the road.

– Michal Jordan played only 8:43 tonight and was charged with his first negative rating on Brandon Prust's goal in the third period. I don't want to say that he was directly at fault for it but he did try to make an aggressive play by trying to poke the puck away from Alex Galchenyuk. Unfortunately for him, Galchenyuk made a head-up play to get the puck to Lars Eller, who dished it to the trailer Prust and he buried a shot past Ward. I understand what Jordan was trying to do there but the gamble didn't exactly pay off and it didn't help that Prust had all the time in the world thanks to the defensive breakdown and one of the Canes forwards (Bowman) not back-checking on the play.

– Tim Brent not being in the lineup opened up the opportunity for some other forwards to be used on the penalty kill and someone who made the most of his time there was Alexander Semin. He played over three minutes on the PK and actually did a very good job at keeping the Habs out of the Carolina zone whenever he was on the ice. He was certainly at the top of his defensive game tonight but he didn't do as much offensively as he should have, given how many minutes he was playing.

– I'm sure that when players go over game tape there are a lot times when they'll watch a play and exclaim "Man, I wish I had that one back!" Jiri Tlusty will probably be saying that to himself if he sees the clip of him passing up an open shot in the slot in favor of a blind pass to Eric Staal in the second period of tonight's game. I get that unselfishness is preached on a lot of teams but the Canes had only seven shots on goal at that point and Tlusty had room to work with so I think he would have been better served to fire the puck on net. At the very worst it's a rebound or a face-off.

– Montreal is a very frustrating team to play against, especially when they are playing with a lead. They did a fine job of bottling up the neutral zone and not allowing the Canes to have much of a transition game in the third period. When they Canes did get the puck deep, the Habs protected the house and didn't allow many of the Canes shots to get on net. There were a lot of times when the Canes keep maneuvering the puck around the offensive zone in hopes that a play would open up. They never did and Carolina ended up leaving empty-handed on a lot of their possessions. Skinner and Pitkanen's creativity was missed there for sure.

It's been awhile since the Hurricanes have endured a "bad" loss, so maybe this game was needed to knock some fan's expectations back down to Earth. Then again, I'm sure many were not expecting a lot given Carolina's injury woes so maybe a lot of people got what they were expecting with this game. Either way, let's hope the Canes can take the next few days to get healthy and prepared for Thursday because they have a pretty hectic schedule after that point. Tonight's game could end up being just a small bump in the road in a good season.