In any given season, there are always teams who have each other's number. Last year, the Hurricanes had the Bruins number, sweeping them in a four game series and this year, it seems the Lightning have played their best games of the season against the Hurricanes. After their 4-1 win tonight, the Lightning have won all three of their matchups against Carolina this year and have outscored them a whopping 13-4 in those games. If that's not a sign of dominance then I'm not sure what is. You would think that the Hurricanes would look to change this trend tonight after letting at least one point slip away on Thursday night against Washington but they ended up taking a blowout loss tonight and didn't look good at all during the game.
There are going to be a lot of people questioning this team's effort and compete level tonight, because of how lopsided the final score ended up but I honestly thought the effort was there tonight. For the most part, this team worked hard tonight, tried to penetrate the Lightning's defense and played a full-sixty minutes. The scoreboard didn't show it, but I thought the Hurricanes put in a good effort tonight. Their execution, however, was very poor. Carolina was able to gain the zone numerous times and control the pace of play, but the Lightning knew what they were trying to do most of the time and were able to defend them well.
Then the times that the Hurricanes actually got through the Lightning's defense, they were either overly hesitant (see Jordan Staal passing on an odd-man rush instead of just firing it at the net) or had a few bounces go against them (see Patrick Dwyer's tip chance in front of the net going just wide). Nights like this happen and unfortunately for the Hurricanes, it had to come on a game after they blew a 2-0 lead to another divisional opponent.
I don't disagree that Carolina was far too deliberate with their game plan and should have adjusted after the second period, but as far as effort goes, I think they showed that tonight. They just did not execute well at all and will need to regroup before taking on a struggling New York Rangers squad this Monday. Carolina was in a good spot heading into this week, but the more they lose, the slimmer their room for error becomes and that's becoming even more stressful with the Winnipeg Jets winning eight of their last 10. Thankfully, the door is still wide open for them but they need to play a lot better than they did tonight for it to remain there.
Corey's Ten Thoughts
– If there was one stat that summed up tonight's game, it's that the Lightning had 37 total even strength shot attempts while the Hurricanes had 34 even strength shot attempts that were either blocked or missed the net. What does this mean? That the Hurricanes controlled the offensive zone, but were not getting enough chances. This relates to my earlier statement about how they worked hard but did not execute their gameplan well enough. They were able to forecheck and penetrate the Lightning defense, but every time they tried to set up a play, the Lightning's defense was right there ready to break it up. They tried to get into the dirty areas but Tampa Bay seemed to have at least two players parked right in front of the net to prevent the Canes from doing anything there. This normally has an adverse effect on the defense because from screening their own goalie, but the Canes just couldn't get any of their shots through. The worst part? Whenever the Canes did get some net front presence, it was from the bottom-two lines who ended up just firing a shot 20 feet wide of the net anyway. See Drayson Bowman's "shot" set up by Adam Hall in the third period for a perfect example of that.
– The Lightning have not been a good puck-possession team this year and this continued tonight, but they have a lot of amazing shooters who can make you pay for your mistakes, and this is what happened tonight. All four Lightning goals were the result of the Hurricanes committing mistakes in their own end or blown assignments in the transition game. Poor defensive play in the transition game was something they were guilty of in the game against Washington on Tuesday but didn't get punished for because Justin Peters bailed them out a few times. That didn't happen tonight and they ended up digging themselves into a 4-0 hole partially thanks to that.
– The Hurricanes don't really have anyone but themselves to blame for this loss since they did not play a good game, but at the same time, they really didn't get any puck luck at all. All the goals they gave up were the result of their own miscues, but some of their failures in the offensive zone can be attributed to bad bounces. There were actually quite a few times where the top two lines came in hard on the forecheck and forced turnovers by the Lightning defense but didn't get rewarded for it because they had pucks rolling off their sticks or were just missing the net on their shots. Patrick Dwyer deflecting the puck just wide of an open net after Jeff Skinner cut through the defense and forced Garon out of position is a good example of this. Same goes for the sequence when Eric Staal had a puck bounce just over his stick after Semin forced a turnover by the Tampa Bay defense. Jamie McBain also hit the post on a good chance from the point while the Hurricanes had a lot of traffic in front of the net. Those bad bounces weren't the reason Carolina lost this game, but they definitely added to the frustration.
– Score effects usually meant that the team trailing ends up vastly outshooting the opponent because they are playing more aggressive while the winning team drifts back into the defensive shell. The Lightning definitely went into conservative mode after getting a 2-0 lead but the Canes aggressive style came back to burn them a few times. The first instance came on Nate Thompson's breakaway goal where Jamie McBain made an aggressive play in the neutral zone to try to keep the puck in. The gamble didn't pay off and all Thompson had to do was outrace Drayson Bowman to the net and he got himself an easy goal. The same thing happened on Teddy Purcell's goal in the third period. Carolina had four players caught deep after Alexander Semin dumped the puck in and Eric Staal had trouble corralling a loose puck. Unfortunately for him, the Lightning were changing players and Victor Hedman found a streaking Teddy Purcell in the neutral zone and he scored his first goal in 13 games on a breakaway.
– The Hurricanes might be glad that the Lightning are leaving the division next year because it seems that nothing goes right for Carolina whenever these two teams get together, at least not this year. Want proof? Mathieu Garon has recorded all three of his wins against Carolina this season and has a save percentage of over .950 in those games. Three Lightning players have also scored their first career goals against Carolina this year including two fo them tonight. The Hurricanes kind of put themselves into this situation a few times but it's really strange just how much they've been dominated by Tampa Bay this year.
– Adam Hall was inserted into the lineup tonight despite being a member of the Hurricanes for less than 12 hours and he had a bit of a rough game sporting a -2. The first goal wasn't necessarily his fault because the Hurricanes had just killed off a penalty and had a jumbled line out there, but he did not look pretty on the second goal at all. One of the main reasons that goal happened was because Tyler Johnson, won a puck-battle against Hall in the corner and it allowed them to set up a play at the point, which ended up in the back of the net with the help of a deflection by Ondrej Palat. The Hurricanes were also outshot 6-9 when Hall was on the ice at even strength and part of that was due to him getting stuck out there against Steven Stamkos' line on a few occasions. This was Hall's first game and he had just changed teams so I will cut him some slack, but it wasn't exactly a great first impression for him either.
– Anyone who looks at Justin Peters save percentage from this game and says that the Hurricanes have a "goaltending problem" is being lazy and should watch the goals that Peters gave up and try to explain what he was supposed to do on any of them. Sure, it would have been nice for Peters to come up big there but the defense in front of him could have done a lot better than they did tonight.
– One positive from this game was that the Hurricanes managed to keep Steven Stamkos off the scoresheet and the Lightning were outshot 9-20 at even strength when he was on the ice. That's a sign that they were able to contain him well, but it ended up being a moot point because Tampa Bay's other lines did enough damage to the rest of the team.
– Aside from that Purcell goal, Joni PItkanen looked pretty solid in his first game back from an injury. The Hurricanes really missed that extra element he can give them on the forecheck and he was able to jump into the play a few times and help Carolina control the zone more effectively than they could without him. The only thing he could have done a little better was create more chances but this issue was more at the team level than just Pitkanen alone.
– Many of us thought that Pitkanen's return would spark the powerplay but that clearly didn't happen tonight, as the Hurricanes looked terrible on both of their powerplay opportunities. They didn't have much of an outcome on the game because they both came in the third period so there's no point in getting too upset over it, but one thing it did do was rub salt in the wounds of an already bad loss. "Oh you think that the team can't play worse? Just wait until you see the powerplay." Yeah, it's that bad.
There really isn't much else I can say about this loss that hasn't been said already. The Canes had a chance to jump way ahead of the competition in the Southeast by sweeping their three games this week but they ended up going 1-2-0 and now find themselves in a dogfight with the Winnipeg Jets. The Hurricanes are a better team than what they showed tonight, so I think they can come out on top at the end of the year but they are going to need better execution the rest of the way.