This might sound terrible since the Hurricanes are battling for a playoff spot right now, but their game against the Canadiens last night was one I did not expect them to win. Montreal has been one of the best teams in the NHL this season and has been very tough to beat at home on top of that while the Hurricanes recently ended a seven game losing skid. The Hurricanes showed some improvement in the game against Winnipeg, but Montreal is at a different level than the Jets, so the most I was hoping for was for the Canes to get at least a point or show some improvement from the last two weeks.
Considering they lost 4-1 and were outchanced 18-13 (15-10), neither of those things happened but after watching the game, I didn't feel that the Hurricanes played as poorly as the final score indicates. They simply lost and were outplayed by a better team and you know what? That happens a lot. I'm not exactly sure what it says about the Hurricanes playoff chances, but I think it does show that they aren't good enough to be competitive with the other top teams in the Eastern Conference like the Canadiens. They won't have to play the Canadiens for the rest of the season, but they do have a a few more games against top Eastern Conference teams remaining, which could prove to be a very tough test if last night's game is any indication.
With that being said, I did not think the Hurricanes were awful last night despite putting up only 19 shots on goal and losing 4-1. In terms of territorial play, things were relatively even, but the Hurricanes weak powerplay and inability to hit the net (39 total missed & blocked shots) came back to haunt them again, resulting in them being on the losing end of the scoring chance battle for the ninth game in a row.
Carolina Hurricanes at Montreal Canadiens 4/1/2013
Again, Carolina was establishing possession at even strength, but failing to hit the net with most of their shots. I have to give the Canadiens credit for getting into the lanes and blocking shots when they needed to, but the Hurricanes execution of Muller's gameplan was very poor to say the least. The Hurricanes have been playing a lot of dump-and-chase lately and while it's resulted in some good shifts, the Canes aren't producing many chances off these entries. I get that Muller likes establishing a strong forecheck, but Carolina has kind of been starving for offense these past few weeks, so it might serve the team better to maintain possession of the puck when they enter the zone. Patrick Dwyer was able to crash the net and set up the first goal by doing this, and the Drayson Bowman also generated a couple of chances off carry-ins, as well. The rest of the team just needs to follow suit.
The Canes also resorted to dumping the puck in on a lot of their powerplay entries and you can tell that didn't work out as they produced only two scoring chances in ten minutes of powerplay time. They had one good powerplay sequence that came in the second period where they were able to keep possession in the Montreal zone for the entire two minutes but didn't score. Aside from that, the Canes could not get much of anything going with the man advantage and it allowed Montreal to pull away in this game. I think it all relates to how they enter the zone, because once the Canes establish possession, they are much better at creating chances, being able to get to that point has been the challenge, though.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Jordan Staal +2
Worst EV Forward: Jeff Skinner -7
Best EV Defensemen: Brett Bellemore & Joni Pitkanen +1
Worst EV Defensemen: Jamie McBain & Tim Gleason -4
It was yet another game where most of the top-six did their jobs but the rest of the lineup didn't make much of a contribution. The real disappointment was the new third line featuring Jeff Skinner & Riley Nash, who were demolished at even strength. There haven't been many games where Skinner has been completely shut down but that's what happened last night. The only time where he was close to generating a scoring chance was in the second period when he had the puck in the slot and a clear shooting lane but he hesitated and the Habs broke up the play. I think a return to Jordan Staal's line will help him because placing him with a weaker center to expose a favorable matchup did not work at all.
Jordan Staal scored the only goal for Carolina and he was probably the team's best forward from my viewpoint. He was able to keep Tomas Plekanec's line in check for most of the game and was on-ice for half of Carolina's scoring chances. He's actually made a fairly solid tandem with Patrick Dwyer and Drayson Bowman, although the latter's two-way game has been severely lacking this year. Just about everyone in the top-six had fairly solid nights all around, but it's fair to say that they all could have done more.
It was short-lived but we finally saw some new defense pairings last night with the McBain/Pitkanen defense pairing getting broken up for a few shifts. Unfortunately, McBain didn't fair much better when paired with Jay Harrison since that duo ended up on-ice for Max Pacioretty's goal in the third period. McBain was crushed at even strength yet again, but that goal wasn't necessarily his fault since Harrison made a bad pinch earlier in the play and Patrick Dwyer got turned inside out by Pacioretty seconds before the goal. I think Muller knows that McBain was being asked to do too much and finally reduced his ice-time a little. His replacements didn't fare much better, though as both Gleason & Harrison had pretty rough showings.
Meanwhile, Pitkanen escaped most of the damage that McBain & Gleason took and had one of his better nights since returning from injury and Bellemore also looked pretty solid in a third-pairing role. He definitely adds a good physical presence and hasn't made too many mistakes since being called up from Charlotte and he might earn himself an extended look if he can keep improving.
Canadiens Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Max Pacioretty +9
Worst EV Forward: Brian GIonta -4
Best EV Defenseman: Nathan Beaulieu +5
Worst EV Defenseman: Andrei Markov -5
Carolina had absolutely no answer for the Pacioretty-Desharnais-Gallagher line, who produced just about all of the Canadiens offense in this game. They contributed to 11 of Montreal's 15 even strength scoring chances, had 19 combined zone entries and recorded 15 shots on goal. Part of the reason for this was Michel Therrin constantly getting them on the ice against Riley Nash's line while the Staal Brothers played most of their minutes against Tomas Plekanec and Lars Eller respectively. That's a favorable matchup for the Canadiens, but you still have to play pretty bad defensviely to let one line do this kind of damage to you.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
The hilarious/sad thing about this chart? Carolina's forwards won most of their matchups except no one could contain the Pacioretty-Desharnais-Gallagher line. They simply demolished everyone who they were out against. The Canadiens' third defense pairing also had a field day in their matchup against Riley Nash's line and they easily shut them down. The lack of another shutdown option on defense makes matchups like this tough on the road, but this is still an impressive amount of damage for one line to create by themselves.
|1||CAR||16:22||J. Staal – GOAL||11||39||21||44||73||35||27||81||8||74||79||31||5v5|
|1||MTL||4:52||Markov – GOAL||11||39||6||44||35||51||11||67||76||79||31||4v5|
|2||MTL||18:14||Halpern – GOAl||20||53||36||25||73||35||24||20||32||40||74||31||5v5|
|3||MTL||9:02||Pacioretty – GOAL||11||39||21||4||44||35||51||11||67||40||55||31||5v5|