The Hurricanes surrendered first place in the Southeast Division after getting just one point out of four against two teams behind them in the Eastern Conference standings. The Rangers prevailed in the shootout in New York Monday, 2-1, then Florida scored four times in the third Tuesday in a 4-1 Panthers win. Carolina has 32 points, putting them in a three-way tie with the Rangers and Maple Leafs (with the Devils also tied but one more game played than the rest) for the the final three playoff spots in the East, and two points behind Winnipeg for first in the Southeast with one game in hand. Here's a closer look at the Canes’ two losses.
1. When does having an ineffective power play truly become a problem? When a team’s even-strength play sputters. That's where the Hurricanes are right now. Carolina has scored just five goals in the last four games — all losses — after scoring 29 in the previous six games. The Canes did get a power play goal Tuesday, but it was in the game’s final three minutes with Florida leading by three and it was hardly a team effort — Jordan Staal powered down the ice on his own and beat Jacob Markstrom to end the rookie goalie's shutout bid. You can live with a team struggling at even strength for a little while, but when the power play is nonexistent, there's literally no way to score.
2. If Dan Ellis hadn't been so good the past two nights (see below), Kevin Westgarth might be residing where Ellis is. The last two games were arguably Westgarth’s two best in a Carolina uniform. He had Grade-A scoring chances in both games, plus quickly put away AHL callup Eric Selleck in a late-game fight that left the Panthers player — in his NHL debut — wobbly on his skates and facing NHL discipline for coming on the ice solely to fight. It wasn't a perfect two nights for Westgarth — he took a bad slashing penalty in the third period against the Rangers with the game tied that jeopardized the one point the Hurricanes did manage — but the fourth line (along with new addition Adam Hall) was very effective.
3. The Hurricanes defense was bruised and battered Tuesday. Both Bobby Sanguinetti and Tim Gleason had to head to the dressing room for stitches during the game, and the team lost Justin Faulk to a right knee injury when Jack Skille accidentally went leg-on-leg on Carolina's top blueliner while forechecking behind the Canes net. The Hurricanes announced Wednesday that Faulk will be out two to four weeks with an MCL sprain, leaving a huge hole in the Carolina D corps. The question now becomes: can Carolina survive that long without their best defenseman, or does Jim Rutherford need to fill a need on defense even earlier than he would have.
Number To Know
10 — Combined missed shots and shot attempts blocks for Jeff Skinner in the two losses, with just three shots on goal. Skinner has now gone five games without a point.
Dan Ellis — One could take issue with Ellis’ harsh words following both losses — he called out his team for not playing hard enough — but he backed it up with his play on the ice. He stopped 75 shots on back-to-back nights and seemed to seize firm control of the No. 1 job in Cam Ward's absence. Ellis is just 4-4-1 on the season, but his .925 save percentage ranks sixth in the NHL among goalies with at least 10 appearances, and he's giving the Canes a chance to win each night he's between the pipes.
Bobby Sanguinetti — The Hurricanes weren't setting the world on fire Tuesday, but they had managed to remain in a scoreless tie with Florida into the third period. Well, until Sanguinetti's turnover to Tomas Kopecky that led to Tomas Fleishmann goal that gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead and opened the floodgates. While the Carolina broadcasters claimed Sanguinetti was trying to scale the puck around the boards, replays show that he instead made one of the biggest mistakes a defenseman can make: sending the puck through the middle of the ice. Rather than finding Jordan Staal right in front of Ellis, Sanguinetti gave the puck directly to Kopecky, leading to the goal.