The Hurricanes do not have many pleasant recent memories from games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the 5-0 white-washing they took last night was just another chapter added to the book of what has been a painful three weeks for this team. It seems that each loss is more frustrating than the last and last night's game may have been the worst of the last 11 games, which is odd to say because the Hurricanes did not play as bad as the final score indicates. They certainly don't lose any points for work ethic from me, since they had a pretty huge territorial advantage over Tampa Bay in this game and fired 78 shots at the net during even strength play alone. The 45 that actually got on net were turned away by Tampa Bay's newly acquired goaltender Ben Bishop, who frustrated and shut down the Hurricanes all night to earn his second career shutout.
Sometimes there's nothing you can do when you run into a hot goalie and Bishop played as well as any goaltender that Carolina has faced this season. Considering that 24 of the shots he faced were scoring chances, I think it's fair to say that he was the main reason Tampa Bay won this game, but he also got a hefty amount of goal support from the team in front of him. Part of that was due to some shaky goaltending on the part of Dan Ellis and brutal defensive breakdowns by the Hurricanes in the third period. Ellis took the blame for the loss after the game and while the first and third goals he let in were awful, the Canes defense left him out to dry on the other three.
Tonight's game was pretty much a microcosm of what this entire season has been for the Hurricanes. They outplayed the Lightning in the first period but did not get rewarded for it, gave up an early goal in the second period and then everything just seemed to snowball after that. "Fragile" has been the word of choice to describe this team lately for this exact reason, since everything seems to become more difficult for them whenever they fall into a hole. I wouldn't say that they "give up" whenever they are in a tough spot, but I do notice that they get rattled easily, become too afraid to make mistakes and it results in them getting away from their game and leading to more mistakes. This is what I saw after the Hurricanes fell down 2-0 and it's becoming a common theme for this team lately. Bishop stopping everything thrown his way probably added to their frustration.
The Canes had no problem responding to adversity earlier in the season, so I'm not exactly sure what happened to them over the last three weeks. If a team is playing well but falls behind due to unfortunate circumstances, the coach's response is usually just to "stick to their game" and that hasn't been happening for awhile now. The team was able to win games despite their flaws earlier in the season but now it seems that all of their problems are insurmountable. I'm also not sure what Kirk Muller needs to do to fix this since it's been almost a month of these performances and we've yet to see much of a change. It's disappointing, but the end of this season really can't come soon enough for the Hurricanes. They are beaten up physically from all the injuries and mentally since nothing has gone their way for over three weeks. It might be easy from the fan's standpoint to tell them to "just suck it up and win the game," but hockey is a tough game and the Hurricanes are making things a lot more difficult than they need to be right now.
Tampa Bay Lightning at Carolina Hurricanes 4/5/13
The Hurricanes did have a huge edge in shots and territorial play but scoring chances were a lot more even. I've tracked a good chunk of Lightning games this year and they have a tendency to do this against porous defense. They haven't been a good territorial team in a couple of years, but they have a lot of talented forwards who can make a lot of teams pay for defensive miscues, something the Hurricanes were very guilty of last night. A good few of the Lightning's chances came during the same sequences after the Hurricanes turned the puck over in their own zone. So while the Hurricanes created plenty of offense and owned the territorial play, their defense was still very suspect, which is why I don't put 100% of the blame on Dan Ellis.
I would say that score effects were another reason why the Canes dominated the Corsi report for this game, but they did outplay the Lightning in the first period and could have had at least one or two goals if it weren't for the play of Bishop (and Alex Semin kicking the puck into the net). Everything went downhill after that, though and it seemed almost appropriate that the Lightning scored on their first chance of the second period, because they controlled the game after that happened. The Canes had a chance to even things up with a 5-on-3 powerplay shortly after Tampa scored the opening goal but they ended up coming away empty handed yet again despite producing two good scoring chances.
Barring the results of the Washington game, which I have still yet to track, this is the first time that the Hurricanes have outchanced an opponent at even strength in three weeks. Since the bar is currently set lower than whale poop on the bottom of the ocean, I'm going to consider that point a small victory in a very frustrating game to watch.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Jordan Staal +6
Worst EV Forwards: Riley Nash & Drayson Bowman -3
Best EV Defenseman: Jay Harrison +6
Worst EV Defenseman: Joe Corvo -5
It's hard to call anyone in a 5-0 loss "explosive," but I thought Jordan Staal's line with Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu looked very good tonight. Skinner led the team with six shots on goal and Ruutu had his strongest game since returning from injury. None of these three were able to find the back of the net, though so their great effort tonight likely won't be remembered. They were creating the bulk of the scoring chances for the Hurricanes tonight and was pretty dominant in terms of puck-possession.
Aside from that trio and a few others (Semin & Tlusty namely), most of the Hurricanes forward corps were giving up more chances than they were producing. Pretty much everyone but the third line did their part in creating chances, but most of them ended up being in negative territory because they gave up more in their own end. Some of this wasn't exactly their fault since Carolina's defensemen were guilty of some horrific turnovers in their own zone, which emphasizes my earlier point about how dangerous the Lightning can be despite their weak underlying numbers.The only goal where the forwards were at blame was Tom Pyatt's goal in the second period where he was able to beat Riley Nash to the front of the net & deflect in a centering pass. Nash also lost a faceoff earlier in the sequence.
Skinner is one player who this applies to since three of the Tampa chances he were on-ice for came after Marc-Andre Bergeron's horrific shift in the second period where he turned the puck over three times in the defensive zone. It is only two games into his tenure with the Canes and we've already seen just about everything Bergeron offers. He can provide offense (check), help the powerplay (check) and make some absolutely baffling plays in his own zone that make you wonder what he is thinking (check). My hope was that the Hurricanes could use him in a way to mask his flaws and while he has helped out a little, he is also prone to making mistakes like that.
Despite that blunder, Bergeron wasn't on-ice for any goals against and he wasn't even the worst defenseman on the team tonight, that would be a toss up between Tim Gleason & Joe Corvo. These two got destroyed by the Lightning's top line tonight, giving up ten scoring chances at even strength play alone. Gleason looked especially lost in his own zone on the Benoit Pouliot goal and Corvo had a shift from hell where he failed to get the puck out three times prior to Martin St. Louis goal. When you are playing tough minutes against other team's top lines, these kinds of errors will most likely come back to haunt your team. Both of them escaped scapegoat honors tonight because Jay Harrison ended up with a -3 rating despite having a relatively good game otherwise. Harrison did his job in terms of preventing offense with being on-ice for only six of Tampa's 5v5 shots, but three of them ended up going in. The only one I fault him for was the St. Louis goal which mostly happened because of Corvo's inability to get the puck out of the zone.
Lightning Individual Scoring Chances
|26||Martin St. Louis||16:09||5||6||0:51||1||0||0:00||0||0|
Best EV Forward: Alex Killorn +3
Worst EV Forward: Richard Panik -4
Best EV Defenseman: Matt Carle +4
Worst EV Defenseman: Sami Salo -7
The Lightning had a pretty balanced attack going with Stamkos' line producing the most offense, but they got a lot of contribution from their second and third lines, as well. Alex Killorn had a very impressive game and the Hurricanes had a lot of trouble dealing with his speed and creativity in the offensive zone. Brett Connolly also gave the Canes a bit of trouble in the third period when he produced a couple of breakaway chances right out of the gate.
Tampa Bay also lost one of their big-minute defensemen in Victor Hedman but Matt Carle was more than fine stepping into his role. Carle was the only Tampa Bay player who was able to greatly tilt the ice in his team's favor and he was also their main offensive catalyst. Without him on the ice, the Lightning were outchanced 6-14, so that should tell you what kind of an impact he had.
Every matchup was a bit of a struggle with there being a lot of give-and-take between both teams. The only player who was dominated was Sami Salo and he was missing his defense partner for most of the game. Jordan Staal's line were able to do a number on him regardless and they also did some good work against Stamkos. Unfortunately, that line was able to make up that damage by crushing Eric Staal's line, who were only able to really get things going against Tampa Bay's fourth line. The Nash line also struggled to do much against anyone Tampa sent out and most of their ice-time was against the Purcell, Pyatt & Killorn, who I thought was Tampa's best territorial line last night.
|2||TB||19:33||Purcell – GOAL||20||39||21||4||44||31||11||17||16||2||25||30||5v5|
|2||TB||4:05||Pyatt – GOAL||20||39||21||6||77||31||11||17||16||2||25||30||5v5|
|3||TB||17:36||St. Louis – GOAL||37||39||59||44||77||31||91||26||67||25||75||30||5v5|
|3||TB||12:30||Pouliot – GOAL||12||53||15||6||77||31||91||26||67||2||3||30||5v5|