So, uh, that happened. For a little over two periods of last night’s game, the Carolina Hurricanes looked like they had a legitimate chance to start on the right foot and come out of a tough building with two points. But after Victor Rask scored to put the ‘Canes up 4-1 five minutes into the third period, Jets Captain Blake Wheeler sparked his team with a shorthanded goal, and they responded with three more unanswered to take the game in OT. A 3rd period meltdown is never fun to revisit when your team is the one collapsing, but there are important takeaways to acknowledge.
Some Thoughts/Things We Learned
Skinner/Rask/Stempniak is a winning combination. Well, not literally, but still. They were three of the most noticeable players on either team, along with the Jets’ Wheeler (1g, 1a). Each of the three had a goal, plus Jeff Skinner and Lee Stempniak assisted on each other’s tallies. In a game that felt like a gut punch, the realization of this line’s already present chemistry and talent is something to cling to.
Mmmm look at that chemistry.
Carolina still needs to learn how to play with the lead. One of the issues noticed in the preseason was the lack of finish that the ‘Canes seemed to have. They let teams back into the game late and even dropped a few of them despite having led in the second half of the game. That trend continued here, as the Hurricanes managed to come out in the 3rd period and increase their lead from two to three before falling apart when Winnipeg began to push back. It’s one thing to keep your foot on the opponent’s throat when they lie down for you, but these ‘Canes need to learn how to handle a team that fights back when they go down.
Defense, not offense, was the downfall of the Hurricanes for once. That’s not to say the defensemen played poorly, but rather that Carolina’s team defense was very weak, especially down the stretch of the game. Scoring four goals is a good sign, but those goals mean nothing if the defensive zone coverage is lackadaisical. Look at the Jets’ game tying goal, and notice how easily they move the puck around within the slot.
Mathieu Perreault (the goal scorer) and Mark Scheifele (the guy who eventually scored the OT winner) are left completely alone in front of the net by two of the best Carolina players in Justin Faulk and Jordan Staal. This leaves Jaccob Slavin to try to cover both Wheeler and Perreault by himself, which cannot happen, particularly when the Hurricanes have a one-goal lead with a minute and a half left.
The point is, for as much potential as this team has, lapses like this will continue to negate the positive strides made in other aspects of the team’s game.
That was not Cam Ward’s fault. Okay yeah, that first goal off his back was brutal. He has to be better than he was last night, and there were times where he reminded me why I was halfway hoping he would leave last summer. But the calls for his head after the 3rd period implosion were unwarranted. Wheeler’s goal? A breakaway from the blue line in is unfair for any netminder, and Ward cannot be wholly faulted there. Instead, point the finger at Skinner for that dreadful neutral zone turnover that sprung Wheeler. Laine’s goal? Trying to find a goalie who could stop a laser of a shot like that one without being able to see it would be the world’s most difficult game of “Where’s Waldo?” Just chalk that one up to the skill of Laine and the Jets’ powerplay. The Perreault goal was dissected above, and it’s been established that that goal does not happen if the ‘Canes execute basic defensive zone coverage. The OT winner was a 2-on-1 between Wheeler and Scheifele and again, any goalie would barely have a prayer on this play.
Moral of the story? Cam Ward may not have had his best game, but the weight of this loss comes down on those in front of him and their lack of execution last night.
The Hurricanes play at Vancouver on Sunday night at 10 p.m. ET. Hopefully the sting of this loss is short lived but long remembered, and nobody has to go through this type of gut-wrenching loss again.