We are at the point of the season where the Hurricanes are playing for draft position and all winning will do is impact that negatively. The fact that it got to this point is sad, but this is what happens when you manage to win only one out of fifteen games during the most important time of the year. I'm not the type of person who roots for a team to tank the rest of the season but wins and losses are all but meaningless right now, so all I am going to be looking from here on out is for the Canes to play well and try to salvage anything from a dismal season. No one wanted it to end up this way, but getting an elite talent out of this year's draft could make the frustration from this season meaningless in the long-run.
With all of that in mind, you couldn't help but want to see the Hurricanes pull one out against Washington last night because it was a game that they played well enough to win. They obviously didn't play a flawless game, but they produced over 25 scoring chances and got a great performance in net from Justin Peters, so this was a good opportunity for the Canes to get out of this funk. The one thing that kept them from winning this game was the play of Washington goaltender Braden Holtby, who stopped 43 of the 44 shots he saw to steal this game for the Caps. I know the excuse of "running into a hot goalie" is getting old, but what else can you say about last night's game? The Canes played a solid game, put forth a great effort and probably deserved better than the result they got. That's just how things have been working out for them this season, though. Either the goaltending takes them out of games early and when they actually do get good goaltending, they can't buy a goal at the other end.
Losing isn't the worst thing in the world at this point in the year, but when you have only one win in your last 15 games, it's really frustrating to watch defeats like this from a fan's perspective and the players are likely even more frustrated right now.
Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals 4/11/13
The final scoring chance count is a tad misleading because of the damage the Hurricanes did in the first period and during non-even strength sequences. Carolina had probably their best first period in awhile last night, recording the first 14 shots of the game and 12 unanswered scoring chances. Seven of those chances came in less than two minutes of powerplay time, which is almost insane when you consider how weak this powerplay has been all season. However, despite this great start, the Hurricanes could only get one goal by Braden Holtby and that allowed Washington to regroup and get themselves back into the game.
After that first period, things were pretty even for the remaining 40 minutes with the exception of the final two when the Hurricanes lifted Peters to get the extra-attacker. I actually thought the Hurricanes looked a little deflated in that second period despite getting outchanced by only two since the Caps definitely had the edge in momentum and territorial play. Even with that, the Hurricanes still had no trouble producing offense and had plenty of chances to tie the game or add to their lead, but Holtby stood in the way of most of them.
The criticism with the Hurricanes recent shooting percentage slump is that "they've been shooting into the goalie's chest all the time" but I don't think this was the case last night. Holtby had to work for most of his saves and the Canes tried to pick the top corner of the net multiple times. Holtby was just on top of his game and was the key difference maker. Similar to how he was for the Caps in their playoff run last season. I also thought Peters played very well and he gave the Hurricanes a chance to win, which they could have done with more goal-support.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Jordan Staal +4
Worst EV Forward: Tuoom Ruutu -3
Best EV Defenseman: Bobby Sanguinetti +5
Worst EV Defenseman: Justin Faulk -4
Eric Staal somehow ended up a negative in scoring chances despite producing nine shots on goal and his line producing a whopping 21 shots, not getting rewarded for any of them. Even though he got roughed up defensively, I think Staal had a good game and he was a big reason why the Canes powerplay was so good in the first period. He produced three of Canes scoring chances during that first powerplay and created the rebound that Skinner cashed in on for the opening goal of the game. Staal was also getting double-shifted with the third and fourth lines, so that might explain why he performed worse defensively than his regular linemates, who were both +2 in chances on the night.
For what seems like the fifth game in a row, the Hurricanes highest rated forward was Jordan Staal. Staal produced four scoring chances last night and I think it's only a matter of time before him and Skinner start to produce in bunches. Of course it probably won't happen this year since there are so few games left, but I like what I've been seeing from this line lately. They seem to be really good at generating scoring chances even while dealing with a revolving door at right wing. Hell, even Kevin Westgarth produced a scoring chance when he was on a line with Staal.
Tuomo Ruutu was demoted pretty quickly after starting the game on the second line and he performed worse than most of the forward corps by a pretty noticeable margin. I actually thought he played alright once he was moved to Riley Nash's line since that freed him to easier matchups and I'm not sure he is at full-strength just yet. Nash's line underwent a few changes last night but managed to stay above water overall.
One are of the scoring chance report that conflicts with the eye-test is that Corvo/Harrison had a good game, when I actually thought they were a disaster waiting to happen. Corvo made a few incredibly careless plays in his own zone that nearly led to goals for the Caps while Harrison struggled mightily to get the puck out of the defensive zone. These mistakes must have not led to many chances but there's a good chance that won't happen if it continues. It didn't help that they made these mistakes while Ovechkin's line was on the ice. Faulk/Gleason actually had a worse game defensively according to the scoring chance report.
On a final note, I'd just like to say that Jamie McBain has looked better since being regulated to third-pairing duty. He isn't getting the tough-matchups anymore and he along with Bobby Sanguinetti have made a solid offensive-oriented pairing. In terms of creating chances and controlling play, they did their jobs last night.
Capitals Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Jay Beagle +3
Worst EV Forwards: Eric Fehr & Mathieu Perreault -3
Best EV Defenseman: Steve Oleksy +3
Worst EV Defenseman: John Erskine -6
The Caps dangerous first line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Johansson was kept off the board at even strength but they had plenty of opportunities to do some damage. Ovechkin had 15 shot attempts, six of which got on goal and he was buzzing around the offensive zone for most of the night. The Hurricanes did the best they could to contain him, but that seems impossible with the way he is playing now, so I'm sure they will take keeping him off the board. Unfortunately, the Caps other lines were able to produce. Their fourth line generated their only even strength goal of the game while Troy Brouwer & Mike Ribeiro made them pay on the powerplay.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Washington had the last change and dictated most of the matchups in this game and Oates tried to use this to his advantage by getting Ovechkin out against some of the Hurricanes weaker players. You'll notice that he was able to get Backstrom out against Westgarth, Wallace Harrison & Corvo a fair bit, which has bad written all over it for the Canes. This didn't end up being a huge problem because Muller was able to keep Jordan Staal out against Backstrom's line for most of the game.
On defense, Oates used John Erskine and John Carlson as his shutdown pair as this duo played most of their minutes against Carolina's top-six and a good chunk of their time came against Eric Staal. Remember, Staal's line produced over 20 shots on goal and the Erskine/Carlson pairing got mauled in terms of scoring chances, so Oates is lucky that this didn't come back to haunt him. The Hurricanes didn't really have any defensive matchups, as per usual on the road, but Muller did trust Faulk/Gleason with a ton of heavy-lifting.
The two first lines basically fought each other to a stalemate while Backstrom's line won their key matchup against Jordan Staal & Jeff Skinner. Those had a good night overall in terms of scoring chances, but they did most of their damage against Ribeiro & Perrault's lines respectively. Oddly enough, the only players who were able to contain Ovechkin's line were Nash's line and the McBain/Sanguinetti defense pairing, which I'm sure everybody could have predicted.
Here you can see the damage Erskine/Carlson took at the hands of the Canes tpo-six. I was a little surprised Oates stuck with this matchup for such a long time because Green/Alzner were playing much better against the same competition. Erskine failed to win any of his matchups while Carlson won only one. None of this probably matters to Washington right now, though since they came out on top on the scoreboard.
|1||CAR||14:58||Skinner – GOAL||12||53||28||77||35||19||27||74||70||4v3|
|2||WSH||11:52||Brouwer – GOAL||12||28||6||27||35||9||19||20||8||52||70||4v5|
|2||WSH||9:14||Green – GOAL||11||53||15||6||27||35||83||8||17||27||52||70||5v5|