For the second straight game Carolina saw Cam Ward chased from the nets and an opponent put a big number on the scoreboard. Saturday's 7-2 loss to Montreal — that saw the Canadiens relinquish a 2-0 lead, only to score the game's final five goals — was not as brutal as Thursday's pummeling at the hand of the Flyers, but a decided defeat nonetheless.
The Hurricanes now have three days off to think about allowing 15 goals while scoring just three the past two outings. Here are five observations from Saturday's loss.
1. The Canes rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game, but the Canadiens scored on a Brian Gionta short-side tally and Maxim Lapierre spin-o-rama to restore the two-goal lead. Despite the two quick goals, Paul Maurice's decision to lift Ward for Justin Peters seemed ill-timed. Gionta's goal, while perhaps a little soft, was a well-placed shot over the shoulder, and Lapierre's move stunned everyone in the arena, players included. But the game was not out of control (yet) and inserting Peters — who has not won this season — probably lessened the chance of a comeback and, more importantly, risked hurting Ward's confidence going forward. Pulling Ward against Philadelphia made sense — the team was lacking effort and didn't need to have its star netminder taking the brunt of the massacre — but the Montreal game was a back-and-forth game that could've still bounced in Carolina’s favor. Instead, the Habs scored on the power play less than three minutes later on Peters and the game spiraled out of control.
2. After scoring goals in consecutive games and registering five points in that span, rookie phenom Jeff Skinner has been mostly invisible in Carolina's two blowout losses, managing just three shots. That's not meant to pin blame on the 18-year-old — the entire team has struggled — but it illustrates how important Skinner (and usual linemates Tuomo Ruutu and Erik Cole) are to Carolina's efforts to have a balanced attack that can control the pace.
3. Despite the overall team results, fourth-liners Tom Kostopoulos, Jon Matsumoto and Jussi Jokinen all had good moments in the loss. Kostopoulos got his first goal of the season when a partial line change led to Eric Staal feeding him a pass in the slot that he one-timed past Price to tie the game in the second. Jokinen assisted on the goal as well, and also garnered another secondary assist on Carolina's first goal, an Anton Babchuk power play tally. And Matsumoto, while held without a point, drew an early game penalty and played decently in his 8:26 of ice time. If the assists can help Jokinen snap out of his slump, a reunion on the top line with Staal could go a long way in helping the Canes.
4. Staal's awkward collision with Andrei Markov that led to the Montreal defenseman being helped off the ice with another apparent knee injury was a case of two players getting tangled up, not a situation where Staal took out his team's frustrations on the Canadiens' top blueliner. P.K. Subban took exception when he saw Markov on the ice in pain, but the dust-up was quickly defused and the remainder of the game finished without incident. To suggest Staal was trying to deliver a knee-on-knee hit — from behind!? — is just Montreal fans taking out their frustrations due to an unfortunate situation. Markov, rather than go for the puck, tried to put his body on the closing Staal, and the two collided when Carolina's captain tried to hop around the hit to pursue the puck. Hopefully Markov's injury is not as serious as it seems, but to blame Staal is silly. Watch for yourself.
5. Carolina has three days off to try and right the ship before facing Ottawa Wednesday. Whether that means line changes, recalling players from Charlotte or running the team through a couple "remember the fundamentals" practices, Maurice needs to send a message that continued careless mistakes will drown the Hurricanes' chances of building off their decent start to the season. The opening shift of Saturday's game showed that Carolina was willing to give the effort — now the baffling errors that continue to occur need correcting.