If you were to only look at the numbers for this game, you might get the idea that the Hurricanes "outplayed" the Canadiens but lost 4-1 because they either didn't the bounces, were let down by their goaltender or ran into a brick wall at the other end in the form of Carey Price. Part of this is true because the Hurricanes did a lot of good things in this game and Price had to come up big a few times, but that wasn't the entire story. The Hurricanes started this game on a strong note and worked hard to take a 1-0 lead in the second period. They were playing a clean game in their own zone, creating offense by forcing turnovers by the Canadiens and winning most of the races to the loose pucks in the offensive zone.
Had they followed this method for an entire 60 minutes, they would have likely gone into the Olympic break on a high note. Unfortunately, this didn't happen. Carolina stuck with their game plan even after they got a one-goal lead, but had a brief meltdown near the end of the second period and seemed to be thrown off course by it. One over-aggressive play by Skinner in the offensive zone led to the Canadiens scoring off an odd-man rush. Shortly after, the Habs would take the lead after a total breakdown in the defensive zone from the Hurricanes first line & top defense pairing.
All of the hard work Carolina did for the first 35 minutes or so was now meaningless and they now had to play catch-up the rest of the way. They may have been in good shape if they stayed the course, but they had trouble adjusting to the Habs defensive schemes, got frustrated and ended up taking a 4-1 loss. Montreal is a very weak five-on-five team, but they are very good at playing with a lead and the Hurricanes were trying to force things way too much once they fell behind. This did nothing but lead to more mistakes and Montreal adding a insurance goal, salting away a win.
Earlier in the year, this would have been an easier loss to take because there were some positives, likes the Canes finally getting some contribution from their depth forwards, but this is the time of the year where they need to get results and all this loss does is make the rest of the season a tougher climb. Ever since December, one of the Hurricanes trademarks has been letting good performances go to waste by self-destructing for a few minutes and this game has plenty of footage to add to the blooper reel.
Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater
Even strength play has not been the Habs specialty this year and they've been able to overcome it with special teams & goaltending. They had only one power play but Price did his part and the Hurricanes did a fine job of handing them the game late in the second period and all they had to do was go into lockdown mode to win the game. This is what Michel Therrien does and while it sometimes blows up in his face, it worked very well last night. The Hurricanes registered three of their scoring chance after falling behind two goals and were stifled in the neutral zone for most of the period. It seemed like they were too afraid to make another mistake and fell right into Montreal's trap (literally) late in the game. Their top players had an especially tough time with this.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Tuomo Ruutu, Drayson Bowman & Riley Nash +5
Worst EV Forward: Nathan Gerbe -2
Best EV Defensemen: Andrej Sekera & Brett Bellemore +4
Worst EV Defenseman: Jay Harrison -3
It's been awhile since the Hurricanes got this kind of a performance out of their fourth line, although it's hard to call them that going by their ice time & quality of play. Ruutu, Bowman & Nash produced about half of Carolina's even strength offense and seemed to be the catalyst for everything last night. They were constantly making an impact whenever they were on the ice, hounding the puck, getting to the scoring areas and pressuring Montreal's defense whenever they lost possession. It's good to see the team's depth come through like this because it hasn't been there for most of the year.
While one line came through, the rest of the forwards struggled to do much of anything. Eric Staal's line had an okay night and Tlusty was able to do get free to produce a few chances. Semin, unfortunately, had a very bad game and was blanked completely in terms of chances. The second line also failed to do much, save for a couple of good shifts early in the game and the "third line" was invisible. I've said this before and I'll say it again, it's been rare for the Hurricanes to ever have multiple lines working for them in a game and this was just another one of those nights. The fact that it was the fourth line just magnifies it. When Bowman is creating the majority of the team's chances, then you know something is wrong.
To make things worse, the team's top players were all committing some brutal mistakes in their own end and away from the puck. Semin looked really careless in his own zone, committing a couple of giveaways and Montreal's second goal was made possible after a poor clearing attempt from Eric Staal. I mentioned Skinner's mistake on the first Habs goal earlier and Manny Malhotra looked awfully slow on the back-check on their third goal, which all but sealed up a victory for Montreal. Just a disaster from the forwards in terms of their support in the defensive zone and it pretty much nullified all of the positives they had earlier in the game.
Also on the ice for the first three Montreal goals was the team's first defense pairing of Justin Faulk & Andrej Sekera. These two, like some of the team, did a lot of good things and were responsible for most of the Canes offense. This was negated by them giving a lot back in their own end. They weren't completely at fault for the goals, but they didn't exactly look good on them either. They gave the Habs too much room to work with on the first & third goals by backing up into their own zone while trying to defend on the rush. All this did was give Montreal more space and room to make a play. They also looked kind of lost in their own zone on the second goal, as neither of them were able to pick up Ryan White in front of the net after Staal turned the puck over. Again, they didn't get a lot of help but these two have seen better days.
Canadiens Individual Scoring Chances
Canadiens On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Brandon Prust +3
Worst EV Forwards: David Desharnais & Brendan Gallagher -4
Best EV Defenseman: PK Subban +4
Worst EV Defensemen: Andrei Markov & Alexei Emelin -4
Scoring does a lot to off-set a sloppy defensive game and that's what Montreal's second line was able to do. Desharnais & Gallagher combined to score twice in transition, but they had some trouble when it come to playing in their own end. The first line also had some problems in this area and the third line was the only one in the black in scoring chances. Speaking of which, Brandon Prust always seems to play like an All-Star against the Hurricanes. I don't know what it is about that.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
A really impressive performance from the Nash line, beating most of the Habs top-nine in head-to-head matchups. Jordan Staal's line was a little disappointing, though. You'd expect them to handle Plekanec but they couldn't do that. Faulk/Sekera managed to do a decent job against them and somehow were a positive against the Desharnais line despite being on the ice for both of their goals.
5v5 Zone Entries
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Nothing like letting a good showing in the neutral zone go to waste, because that's exactly what the Canes did here. Even the third line, who had a bad night territorially, was able to get some traction here with Dwyer carrying the puck in four times. Ruutu & Nash also had a very impressive game and were the Canes best two forwards by a wide margin.
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The Habs lost Max Pacioretty early in this game and not only is he one of their best offensive players, he is also relied on heavily for zone entries. Desharnais & Gallagher were able to make up for his absence by carrying the puck in a combined ten times with Gallagher doing the bulk of the work. Plekanec also had an impressive performance and Eller was leaned on in this area, as well.
5v5 Zone Exits
Stats in a one-game sample are often misleading and that's sort of the case here with the Canes having a a fairly decent performance overall but a five-minute meltdown negated all of it. The zone exits from their defense were a little sloppy, though. Hainsey had to ice the puck twice and they also turned it over seven times.
Clean game from Montreal aside from Beaulieu's three turnovers. Subban also had a couple of blunders but they didn't end up hurting Montreal too much, if at all.