A bad loss can cause a coach to react in certain ways and Kirk Muller was apparently very unhappy with his team's performance in Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, so he decided to shake things up a bit for tonight's game against the New York Rangers. The result? Another loss, but one where the team got a point and played well for various segments. There will probably be some people who are satisfied with this team getting a point and only losing because of a skills competition, but there were a lot of things to be concerned about tonight and it goes beyond just the fact that the team lost.
There have been a lot of people getting on the Hurricanes for "not playing a full 60 minutes" and this game will be one that a lot will point to as evidence of that. Carolina started off this game on a very strong note, outshooting the Rangers 14-8 and dominating them territorially in just about every facet. They were rewarded for their efforts with a 1-0 lead and could have easily gotten a regulation win if they kept up this level of play. This obviously did not happen, as the Rangers took over the game for the remaining 45 minutes. After getting outshot 14-6 in the first period, the Blueshirts outshot Carolina 30-13 for the rest of the game and had multiple opportunities to take the lead but could never capitalize. Part of the reason for this was due to the spectacular play of Dan Ellis and the Rangers inability to hit the net on several of their chances. Either way, Carolina was very, very lucky to come away with a point after this game.
Imagine the meltdown against Washington last week only without the Canes getting scored on in the final five minutes. That would be somewhat of an accurate description of how this game went. Muller definitely had this team ready to play in the first period but either they ran out of gas early or just fell asleep for the final two periods. With the struggles they have been going through lately, it's easy to forget that the Rangers are actually a very good and talented team who can make you pay if you take them lightly. The Canes were able to avoid getting burned tonight and regained their lead in the Southeast thanks to the charity point . Still a lot of work to do before this team is completely up to standards, though and they'll have to get back to work tomorrow against Florida.
Corey's Ten Thoughts
– We saw some new lines tonight with Drayson Bowman getting bumped up to Jordan Staal's line and Jeff Skinner being moved down to Riley Nash's line. At face value, this move made a little sense because the Hurricanes weren't getting production from their bottom-six, so they moved down one of their best scorers to the third line to help give that line some spark and possibly get some favorable matchups against New York's forward depth. The huge problem I had with this line was that all it really does is limit how much of an impact Jordan Staal can have by placing him with weaker linemates and limiting Skinner's ice-time by placing him on the third line, thus having a negative impact overall. Skinner also saw his minutes reduced in the second and third period for whatever reason, nevermind that the team was actually driving the play forward and tilting possession in their favor whenever he was on the ice. He ended up playing over 17 minutes after overtime, but reducing him at even strength when the team was in a position where they needed offense probably wasn't the wisest decision.
– Since this was a road game and Muller's lines ended up being jumbled, the key matchup for this game ended up being Eric Staal's line against the Richards, Nash, Gaborik unit for the Rangers. Early on, the Staal trio dominated this matchup and pretty much owned the Rangers for the entire first period but Richards's line were able to tip the scales in their favor in the final two periods. Staal was the only member of this line who ended up positive in shot differential by the end of the game but I think they all had their moments despite falling off in the second period. On a more positive note, they produced Carolina's only goal tonight and both Semin & Staal have recorded points in nine of their last 10 games.
– If there are any more people who want to say that Carolina's goaltending is "in trouble" without Cam Ward, I suggest they watch this game because Dan Ellis was the only reason the Canes even got a point tonight. His desperation save on Ryan Callahan and point-blank stop on Marian Gaborik right before the end of the third were the highlights of his night and game savers for the Hurricanes. I hope the team won't have to lean on him as much as they did tonight, but it's good to have a goalie who can bail you out of tough games like this. The only thing that he could improve on was his tendency to go out to the faceoff circle in every shootout attempt. I'm not sure what good he thought could come from that.
– The new fourth line of Kevin Westgarth, Adam Hall & Tim Wallace had some good shifts early on, creating a couple of good chances in the first period and establishing a good physical presence, but as the rest of the team went, so did they. There were moments when the Rangers were able to get Richards & Gaborik out against these three and they got pinned into their own zone. Westgarth also took a bad retaliation penalty in the third period which thankfully did not come back to haunt the team.
– While the Rangers controlled play at even strength, their powerplay was almost as bad as Carolina's has been for the past few weeks. The Canes allowed only one scoring chance in a little over five minutes of powerplay time and did a fantastic job of keeping the Rangers out of their zone while shorthanded. Sometimes the cure for a bad penalty kill is facing an even worse powerplay and this was the case tonight.
– In the first period, Eric Staal was whistled for goalie interference when Ryan McDonagh shoved him into Henrik Lundqvist. Then in the second period, Joni Pitkanen did the same thing to Ryan Callahan and the Rangers ended up scoring a goal while Ellis was taken out of the play. By definition, this isn't goalie interference but it's frustrating that the Canes had a powerplay negated because of something that shouldn't have been a penalty to begin with. I've accepted that consistency is never going to happen with NHL officiating and complaining about it is futile and pointless. It doesn't make it any less frustrating to watch as a fan, though.
– Overall, the former Ranger draft pick, Bobby Sanguientti had a good game. The Hurricanes outshot the Rangers 21-17 during 5v5 play when he was on the ice and he played his role as a partially sheltered third-pairing defenseman. However, whenever the Rangers could get their big guns out against him, they took advantage of it. A prime example of this was when Rick Nash smoked him and Jamie McBain on a breakaway but ended up missing just wide with his shot. Again, Sanguinetti played well but he has his limitations.
– Carolina's defense was pretty active tonight, producing a total of 11 shots on goal and many of them were pretty active in leading breakouts on their own. Joni PItkanen obviously led the pack here with a handful of 5v5 zone entries and a great pass on Eric Staal's goal, but I also noticed some Tim Gleason jumping into the play a little more often than normal. I guess they were trying to make up for the loss of Corvo and the lack of offense coming from some of the forwards.
– Faceoff percentage is something that I've always felt is kind of overrated. Case and point, one of the reasons Adam Hall was brought in was his ability to win faceoffs. He won a defensive zone cleanly in the third period after the Hurricanes iced the puck, had a chance to clear later in the sequence but ended up turning it over and the Rangers got a scoring chance out of it. Winning faceoffs can only do so much for you at even strength if you can not drive the play in the right direction. Hall played a solid game, but that was not one of his finer moments.
– From an outside viewer's standpoint, this was easily one of the most exciting 1-1 games I've seen all season long. Lots of great back-and-forth action that makes fans want to tear their hair out but very entertaining to watch for the casual fan. The Hurricanes have been involved in a lot of high-event games outside of the Southeast Division this year and will probably be in store for more of them once they are in a new conference with these Rangers next year. Get excited.
Tonight's game earned the Hurricanes a point in the standings but definitely was not a complete performance and will need to play a lot better than they did tonight to win another tight game like this. Road games are always tough and this one was against a very good Ranger squad. You can't take your guard off teams like this and expect to get away with it, which the Canes almost did thanks to the play of Dan Ellis. They can not expect him to do that every night, though so they need to get this out of their system.
A win over Florida tomorrow would give them three out of four points in a back-to-back situation, so let's hope they can come out as strong as they did tonight and keep up that intensity for the entire sixty minutes.