There are a lot of things I could say about the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. I could talk about how the Hurricanes, once again, got off to a slow start and allowed a goal on the first scoring chance of the game. Then, I could explain how they outshot Tampa Bay 36-26 but ended up losing because of being outplayed in the special teams department and getting worse goaltending than the opposition. After that, I should mention that a couple of Carolina's top guns in Eric Staal and Alexander Semin had a combined 13 shots on goal and 26 shots attempted but came away with no goals to show for it. That would provide a nice transition into how the Canes, as a team, have scored only two goals on 78 shots in their first two games. In the end, though it doesn't matter because this team has been outscored 2-9 on the season and remains winless.
Anyone with common sense knows that the Hurricanes aren't going to continue to convert on 2.5% of their shots in the long-term but teams go through stretches like this all the time. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, it's happening at the beginning of the year against divisional opponents, which is exactly what they didn't want to happen. This is only two games and there is time to make up for lost ground but this is probably the exact opposite of how Carolina wanted to start their season and there is still plenty of work to be done before this team is in full-form. Much like their opening night loss to Florida, there are positives to take away from this game but there are more areas for fans to be concerned with.
Corey's Ten Thoughts
– In addition to penalty trouble, one thing that put Carolina in a hole tonight was their struggles in the first period. They came out very flat offensively by producing only three scoring chances and allowed two goals that could have been easily avoided, the worst one being Tom Pyatt's opening tally where he got the inside track on Bobby Sanguinetti and tipped in a pass by Vincent Lecavalier. What was even more frustrating than that was how Tampa Bay iced the puck at least six times and the Canes failed to take advantage of those opportunities. The Lightning were a team on the second half of a back-to-back and were likely fatigued coming into tonight, so not taking advantage of those offensive zone face-offs eventually came back to haunt Carolina.
– At the other end of the rink, also had trouble with winning face-offs in their own zone, going 5/20 on the night. Jordan Staal had an especially bad night in this department by winning only three of the ten defensive zone draws he took.
– Kirk Muller shook up the defense pairings tonight by placing Justin Faulk on the first pairing with Gleason and promoting Bobby Sanguinetti to the second pairing with Joni Pitkanen. Faulk and Gleason looked very good by the eye-test, keeping Stamkos' line out of the picture during even strength play but Pitkanen & Sanguinetti had a lot of problems with playing in their own end. Sanguinetti had a big error on the Pyatt goal and Pitkanen turned the puck over before Cory Conacher's tally in the first period which made it 2-0. These two also had zero shots on goal and were mostly ineffective when playing together. I think we will be seeing #4 back in the lineup sooner rather than later.
– Before the game, I said that Eric Staal needed to be better and he was one of Carolina's best offensive players to tonight with 7 shots on goal and 13 shots attempted. I heard a lot of people criticizing Staal for not having any points tonight and starting a "fight" with Adam Hall, but he was doing his job by creating chances and being a force offensively. Much like they did last season, the goals will come to him as long as he is producing chances like he did tonight. Alexander Semin also joined in the fun with six shots on goal and 13 attempts.
– Special teams were definitely an issue tonight, as the Hurricanes allowed another powerplay goal and went 1/6 on their own PP opportunities. A bigger problem, however, was their inability to stay out of the box. They had eight penalties tonight and were shorthanded six times, and most teams are going to score eventually when you keep giving them chances like that. The refs were a little whistle-happy tonight, but the Canes were at fault for most of the penalties they took.
– I don't think Cam Ward was the main reason that Carolina lost this game but he probably would like to have Keith Aulie's early third period goal back and he definitely had a chance to cover Ryan Malone's goal later in the period, too. The Canes aren't exactly providing Ward with a ton of support, but when the opposing goaltenders are stopping everything Carolina throws at them, it makes the margin of error even more slim for Ward and/or Ellis. It's fair to say that he can be better than he has been thus far.
– Jordan Staal had four shots on goal tonight, so this might sound bad, but it would really help if he shot the puck more. There were quite a few times where he passed up a golden scoring chance in favor of passing the puck to a player streaking towards the net. I understand his mindset, but sometimes I feel like he would have a better chance at scoring if he just took the shot himself.
– Justin Faulk was one of the positives from this game, as he played over 26 minutes alongside Tim Gleason on the shutdown pair and did a fine job at holding Stamkos' line quiet. Stamkos and St. Louis had only three shots on goal and were held pointless in this game. He also had five blocked shots. It's too bad the other defense pairings couldn't do a better job against the Bolts depth lines.
– We could see more line changes before Thursday's game against Buffalo since there were some chemistry problems with J. Staal and Jokinen's line. Jordan and Jiri Tlusty seemed off on a few plays and I'm not sure how much Staal benefits from having Patrick Dwyer on that line either. Meanwhile, Skinner didn't get going at even strength until he was bumped up to Staal and Semin's line. Everyone likes to say that Skinner and Staal have never had good chemistry, but the chances have always been going in Carolina's favor when they play together, so maybe promoting him to the top line will work out. If anything, they make an awesome powerplay unit.
– Aside from a few segments in the second and third period, I thought Carolina looked worse than they did on Saturday. When they were down 5-1, they were at least creating chances but were shutdown by Jose Theodore. Tonight, they had a bad first period, needed a powerplay to get them going and then played poorly for the next 20 minutes before rallying at the end of the game. This is probably a side effect of having a shortened training camp and so many new players, but the Canes have a bit of an issue with playing for a full 60 minutes and I expect it to continue until they get 5-10 games under their belts.
Carolina is not the only team going through these struggles right now and there is a good chance they will break out of it since they are at least controlling the majority of shots at even strength. That doesn't make it any less frustrating to watch, though. Let's hope they can snap out of this funk before fans really have to start worrying.