Coming into this game off two straight losses and no divisional wins to their name, many fans considered Carolina's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning a "must win." It's still too early to consider any game a must win, but the Canes would have done themselves a huge favor down the line by getting a win over Tampa Bay at home. It would have been a great way to lift some sprits before going on the road again for the next two games. This wasn't a must win, but it was a big game for the Hurricanes but you wouldn't know that judging by the score, as Carolina ended up losing 5-2 on the back of a terrible third period which rivals the Florida game as some of the worst hockey this team has played this season.
Carolina gave up the first goal yet again, but they managed to hang tough with the Lightning for a good portion of the game despite not being able to solve goaltender Mathieu Garon for the first 40 minutes. Down only 1-0 to begin the third period, the game was still in reach and the Canes could have easily found a way to get a point out of this game. Unfortunately, they came into the third period flat and let Tampa Bay walk all over them. The Lightning out-competed the Hurricanes, were able to easily maneuver around their defense and added on four goals for good measure.
The Hurricanes injury problems and lack of depth showed in a bad way tonight, but even with that there is no excuse for how bad they played in the third period tonight. The game was still within reach after 40 minutes but it looked like the Hurricanes thought the game was over before the third period even started. This kind of performance shouldn't be acceptable in any game but it's especially troubling when it happens against a divisional opponent who has already beaten you once this year. Again, the injury bug has hit this team hard right now with five players on the shelf in the span of a week, but that didn't stop them from staying competitive against Winnipeg on Thursday. Where was that in the third period tonight?
Usually this is where I'll say that the team needs to "forget about the loss and regroup," but I think a lot more work needs to be done here. You have to wonder if this is just one bad game or a sign of things to come? Hopefully it's the former.
Corey's Ten Thoughts
– The reason why I say it wasn't a "must win" for the Hurricanes is because they are playing with a roster that's missing five regular players including three defensemen. All I wanted to see from the Canes is them put together a great effort, stay competitive and be in a position to win the game. For two periods, they were able to do that. Their defense was very leaky but Carolina's depth problems were going to lead to some favorable matchups for the Bolts. Then the third period happened and the team just fell apart and looked like they were already on the plane to Uniondale. The Lightning got a quick goal to make it 2-0 and then continued the onslaught by outshooting Carolina 13-2 in the first 10 minutes of the period. Carolina was playing from behind for most of that time, so this kind of effort is unacceptable in my book. I'm not sure what Muller can do to correct this with there being a game tomorrow but it's something I hope we don't see again.
– A matchup that Tampa Bay was able to expose tonight was having Vincent Lecavalier, Benoit Pouliot and Martin St. Louis against the Jay Harrison-Ryan Murphy defense pairing. As good as these two were against Winnipeg the other night, Murphy still only had one game of NHL experience under his belt and was going up against two very skilled veterans who can make him pay for his mistakes. Murphy didn't have any glaring mistakes to my recollection, but Lecavalier was able to overpower him on Tampa Bay's second goal to center a pass from behind the net which was put home by Pouliot. Of course, Pouliot had all the time in the world because both Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty were caught watching the puck and didn't pick him up in front of the net. Murphy isn't going to make every single play, so his teammates need to help him out a bit and he got zero help there from the back-checking forwards.
– Another example of terrible back-checking and decision making came on Tom Pyatt's goal. Jordan Staal went for an aggressive play in the defensive zone by trying to double-team the puck-handler Alex Killorn in an attempt to force a turnover. Killorn took advantage of this by finding a wide open Pyatt who made a bee-line to the front of the net and made it 4-1 to salt away a win for the Lightning. Staal was probably trying to get something going for the Hurricanes by forcing a turnover but he picked a very poor time to take a risk like that since it ended up burning the Canes.
– The first Tampa Bay goal was very weak on Dan Ellis' part, but he made most of the saves he needed to after that. The last four goals Carolina allowed were all due to defensive breakdowns and Ellis would have had to really come up big to stop them. Ellis is a good goalie but he was performing over his head for most of this season and can't be expected to steal every game he starts. Some might say that he didn't do his job because he allowed five goals but goaltending was far from the reason why the Canes lost this game.
– Richard Panik's goal may have been the worst one Carolina allowed tonight. The rookie was able to carve his way into the Carolina zone, create two scoring chances and then catch his own rebound and put it into an open net. They got a bit of a bad bounce with Ellis knocking the rebound right into the slot but the Canes had multiple chances to clear the puck and couldn't get it out. There was some miscommunication there between Justin Faulk and Michal Jordan where the latter tried to chase Panik behind the net and ended up getting caught while Faulk was busy with Adam Hall in front. They would have been better off switching places because Faulk could have had a better chance to deny Panik if he took his focus off Hall and deferred him to Jordan. It was just another chapter in the comedy of errors that was the third period for the Hurricanes.
– With the game being out of reach mid-way through the third period, Muller decided to reward some of the players who actually showed up for the third period tonight by giving some extra ice-time to Riley Nash and Drayson Bowman. Nash was one of the few bright spots for the Hurricanes tonight as he played arguably his best game as an NHL-er and got his first point of the season by setting up Bowman for Carolina's first goal of the night. Bowman was actually demoted in the second period so it was good to see him respond and be rewarded accordingly by the coaching staff. It's just too bad that his first goal of the year came in a game like this.
– Carolina might have finished this game poorly, but there was a lot to like about the way they played before that, specifically in the second period. The Canes had 12 shots on goal in that frame and many of them were very good chances. Eric Staal and Jussi Jokinen were very active offensively in that period but Garon robbed them on multiple occasions. Staal finished the night with a team high four shots on goal and Jokinen had three himself along with seven shot attempts. The fact that they didn't get anything past Garon may have frustrated this team a bit and led to the huge letdown in the third period. That's just speculating, though because this team has battled back from worse deficits before.
– Murphy didn't have as good of a game as he did in his debut, but I don't think he played terrible overall or as bad as his -3 indicates. In fact, I thought he was one of Carolina's better players tonight and Muller certainly must have thought so too since he gave the kid over 25 minutes of ice-time, leading the entire team. For an offensive defenseman, he was actually pretty solid positionally tonight and didn't make too many mistakes. All three goals he was on-ice for came at the fault of his teammates and he actually bailed out Harrison on a couple occasions. There has been a lot more good than bad with Murphy the last two games.
– Adding to the ugliness, Carolina's powerplay looked completely incompetent tonight. They were able to create one good tip chance in the second period but after that, nothing was happening. They struggled to gain the zone and when they did, they spent more time just passing the puck around and trying to set up plays rather than attempt to get anything on the net. Setting up plays is good but with the way things are going right now, the Canes might be better off just firing the puck on net and hoping for the best because what they are doing now isn't working. This is where Skinner, Pitkanen and Brent are missing the most.
– It's hard to win with so many players out of the lineup, but if you look at who produced for Carolina and who didn't, it's hard to use that as an excuse for the way they finished this game. Carolina's only scoring chances in the third period came from Bowman, LaRose, Sanguinetti and Welsh. Guys who either started the year in the AHL or are battling for ice-time right now in complimentary roles. They are getting an opportunity to produce right now and they did that in the third period. The top players the team, however, did not and you would expect for them to do so in a game with so much importance. They didn't disappear for the entire game but they certainly did not play well in the third period when the game was within reach.
Kirk Muller was pretty unhappy with the way his team performed tonight and it's hard to blame him since the team just lost their third game in a row and played some of their worst hockey in awhile. I'm not sure what more he can do as far as lineup changes go but I would expect some interesting things to happen if we see another performance like this on Long Island tomorrow. Getting a couple familiar faces back into the lineup might help ease the pain just a little bit, but who knows how long it will be until that happens. Until then, people are counting on him and the rest of the coaching staff to get the most out of this team and he knows that this wasn't the case tonight and will do what he can to fix it.