Losing is always tough and losing when you outplay your opponents is even more frustrating. This is what happened to the Hurricanes tonight, as they dropped a 4-3 decision to the Winnipeg Jets despite outplaying them for most of the game and remain winless in Southeast Division play this season. With the roster crushed by injuries right now, you have to make the most out of good performances like this, so coming away empty handed really stings here.
This really would have been a great game for the Hurricanes to win. They managed to outplay a divisional opponent by outshooting them 29-17 and outchancing them 19-13 and get a glimpse of the future with Ryan Murphy playing well in his NHL debut. Unfortunately, they came away with nothing to show for their efforts except for another loss and no points earned in the standings. There are a lot of positives you can draw out of this game, especially with the Canes roster being in the shape that it is, but it's kind of hard to look on the bright side when your still winless in divisional play and just watched your team lose a game they probably should have won.
In the end, the Hurricanes couldn't get a timely save from Cam Ward and had a defensive lapse at the worst time, which sealed a frustrating loss. They will have to look past this and hope they can get a better performance in goal this Saturday against Tampa Bay. The Hurricanes recent success on their road trip means that the division isn't going to slip out of their hands any time soon and they should win more games in the upcoming weeks if they play like they did tonight.
Corey's Ten Thoughts
- I wrote after the Montreal game that soft goals can really hurt a team and at least two of the the four goals Cam Ward let in tonight were softies in my book. The Jets first goal was especially bad as Ward was beaten on a long shot from a bad angle to give the Jets an early lead. The second goal may not have been as bad since Evander Kane has a pretty dangerous shot, but it also came from a bad angle and was a shot that Ward normally stops while the third goal came as a result of him grossly mishandling a shot off a face-off. Ward has won more games for Carolina than he has lost, but he could not come up with a save when the Canes needed him to tonight and it played a huge role in them taking the loss tonight. The team in front of him did their part in limiting the Jets to only 23 shots and Ward didn't live up to his end of the bargain.
- The one goal that shouldn't be placed on Ward was Blake Wheeler's game-winning goal, which came off a breakaway chance thanks to Joe Corvo falling down in the neutral zone after he tried to glove down a pass in the neutral zone. It would have been nice for Ward to come up big there, but Corvo really should have just taken the safe route and drifted back into his own zone and given the Canes a more favorable situation there instead. As of right now, he's the veteran of the defense corps and needs to be smarter than what he showed on that play.
- I mentioned that there were a lot of positives and one of them was 19-year-old Ryan Murphy who had himself a very solid NHL debut. He didn't get on the scoresheet at all but he looked very composed tonight and was rewarded by head coach Kirk Muller with over 23 minutes of ice-time. Murphy is more known for the offensive side of his game and he really showed that tonight, making a ton of aggressive pinches and jumping up into the play whenever he had the opportunity. It's almost like having a fourth forward whenever he is out there because of how deep he plays in the offensive zone. There was even an instance in the third period where he went coast-to-coast to create a scoring chance. I have a feeling that this might come back to burn him in some games but he looked very good tonight and didn't seem out of his league at all.
- Hard to mention the positives tonight without discussing Jiri Tlusty's first goal, which was set up by a beautiful between the legs pass by Alexander Semin. I had a post earlier today about Semin's shooting percentage and how the goals will come to them. He had three shots and didn't find the back of the net on either but I don't think many fans will care after watching that play. Semin also forced a turnover ealrier in that sequence to help keep the play alive. Just another example of more ways that Semin is contributing even if he isn't scoring.
- Tlusty also had himself quite a night with a pair of goals, giving him seven on the season. The first one might be one of the easiest he'll ever score in his career since Semin did most of the work but the second was the result of a great individual effort on his part. He jumped off the bench on a line-change, made a bee-line right for the puck, forced a turnover and was able to fire a shot past Pavelec to tie the game up for the Canes in the third period. Unfortunately, the Canes gave up the lead seconds later but Tlusty's efforts tonight will not be forgotten as he played yet another good game.
- This was the first time this season where I thought the Hurricanes had no weak forward lines. The first line contributed with two goals, the second line added another and Drayson Bowman created quite a few scoring chances while the third and fourth lines were able to keep play in the Jets end whenever they were out there. That's something this team's depth forwards have struggled with all season but they were able to get contributions from all four lines tonight and that's huge with the high number of injuries on this team. I thought Tim Wallace did a lot to make himself stand out on the third line and Kevin Westgarth did a few positive things out there. Of course, this makes the Canes losing twice as frustrating.
- Considering that the Canes defense were playing tonight with three guys on the shelf, I thought their defensive unit as a whole was great. They allowed the Jets to only 13 total scoring chances and were terrific at keeping most of the Jets shots to the outside for the first two periods. Unfortunately, they had a few lapses in the third period and their goaltender didn't give them much room for error, so a few players ended up with a couple of minuses but I still think Carolina's defense played well overall. The high number of blocked shots by Faulk concerns me a little because that's an indication that he was spending too much time in his own zone, but I only thought that was the case on the penalty kill because he appeared to play pretty well by the eye test.
- A little interesting note from tonight is that Michal Jordan played under eight minutes and was held to only one shift in the third period. Bobby Sanguinetti also played under 12 minutes and was limited a bit after taking a shot off the side of his knee towards the end of the third period. Jordan hasn't been bad from what I've seen so I'm not sure why Muller has been limiting him so much, especially with Carolina's defense having so many injuries. Is it a trust issue or is Muller seeing something that we aren't? Jordan is no stranger to playing big minutes in the AHL, so I think he could handle a bigger workload to give some of the top-end guys a breather.
- Goaltending was a reason why the Hurricanes lost, but not cashing in on the 5-on-3 the Jets handed to them in the second period also added to the problem. The Jets have the worst penalty kill in the NHL and it's largely because of Pavelec's terrible PK save percentage. Winnipeg managed to work around this by doing a great job of preventing shtos and blocking the ones Carolina tried to get through. Carolina managed only three shots on three powerplay opportunities, which made things very easy for Pavelec not to become a deciding factor.
- Not taking advantage of icing calls is something the Hurricanes have struggled mightily with this season. Their opponents seem to ice the puck a lot and you'd think that would give the Canes and advantage but it usually results in nothing happening and the opponents carrying the play in the other direction. It's even worse because Carolina seems to get burned whenever they ice the puck. Case and point, the Jets third goal came after directly after a faceoff where they were whistled for icing.
This is one of those games where you see a lot of encouraging things despite the loss and the Hurricanes have plenty of things they can build on for Saturday night against Tampa Bay. Ward isn't as bad as what he showed tonight but his performance is evidence of just how big of a difference goaltending can play in winning and losing. If Carolina plays like they did tonight and gets a better performance between the pipes, then there's a good chance they walk away with at least a point. It's not going to make up for the loss but it's something to they should keep in mind for the rest of the season.