The ‘Canes fell behind early and failed to get back into the hockey game until the third period, a reversal of how games one and two went in Winnipeg and Vancouver. Ultimately, Carolina’s third period surge of life wasn't enough as they fell to the Oilers by a final score of 3-2.
There’s a lot to get into here, so let’s talk about last night.
More Fuel for the “Why is Cam Ward Still Here?” Fire
What most people will remember from Tuesday night's game is the weak performance in the early going from Cam Ward.
Starting with Anton Slepyshev’s goal (his first in the NHL, because of course) on Edmonton’s second shot of the hockey game, Ward allowed two goals on 11 shots in the first period.
Yeah, this was a very weak goal. Slepyshev let a wrist shot go from the outside of the right circle and was able to beat a stiff and slow reacting Cam Ward on the far side. This is a save that Ward absolutely has to make, especially so early in the game. That gave the Oilers early momentum that carried through the better part of the opening 40 minutes.
Edmonton’s second tally of the evening came off of a combination of poor goaltending (again) and an unfortunate bounce off of Ron Hainsey.
The Oilers had sustained offensive pressure until the puck rolled to the right side of Cam Ward, who flung it around the boards, but not out of the zone. Edmonton got the puck down low again for Jordan Eberle, who threw it in front off of Hainsey and past Ward on his short side.
Again, Ward has some blame to take here. He needs to be responsible for covering the short side post. He left it too early anticipating a scoring chance in front and it came back to bite him.
It’s tough to get upset with Ward for Edmonton’s third goal. An offensive zone faceoff win led to Tyler Pitlick corralling the puck at the top of the circle, and he sent it short side on Ward, using Hainsey as a screen.
Ward never saw it, and just like that, the Oilers were up 3-0 just over two and a half minutes into the second period. Not a great situation to be in for a Hurricanes team that is desperate for something to go their way.
Each of Edmonton’s goals on Tuesday were progressively less Ward’s fault. Slepyshev’s goal was inexcusable, Eberle’s goal was a combination of not covering the short side post and a bad bounce and Pitlick’s goal was just a well-placed shot through a screen.
I’m not going to be as hard on Ward as many others will be, at least for now, but I’m still left scratching my head as to why Eddie Lack did not start last night’s game. He single handedly got the Hurricanes a point in Vancouver after an atrocious third period from the team in front of him and he was rewarded with a spot on the bench in Edmonton. Unless Cam Ward is the undisputed starting goalie, which he certainly should not be, it would be smart to roll with the hotter goaltender, and through the first two games, that goalie was clearly Eddie Lack. But hey, I’m not an NHL coach, I just write things.
Starting on Time
The Hurricanes fell behind early on Tuesday, similar to how they did on opening night in Winnipeg, but the difference in Edmonton was how long it took for them to really respond.
Tripp Tracy said that this was Carolina’s best start of the young season. I mean, yeah, if I had to choose between taking a bath in boiling hot lava, corrosive acid or dirty pond water, I’d choose the pond water, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ideal.
In terms of starting strong, the Hurricanes, by definition, did so as they charged in the zone and nearly cashed in early on Cam Talbot, but that quickly went south.
The redeemable part of this game was that, at no point, was Carolina really blown out of the building. They were always at least keeping up with the Oilers, but they couldn’t find an answer for Talbot on a number of good scoring opportunities, including several from Jeff Skinner, who had another standout performance.
The pieces all seem to be in place for the Hurricanes, but it comes down to two things now, learning how to play a full 60 minutes and praying that they are able to get somewhat reliable goaltending. We have seen how well this team can play, and now it’s just about doing it on a shift-by-shift basis. This is a very young team, so getting these tough losses out of the way early may be good for them in the long run.
The Value of Lee Stempniak
The one thing that has consistently been there for the Hurricanes through three games is the stellar performance of the trio of Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask and Lee Stempniak.
So far, Stempniak has been everything I wanted him to be. He’s the smart, experienced veteran who can keep up and contribute with two budding stars in Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask. He has been the perfect compliment to the talented duo.
Calling him a complimentary player is likely a disservice to just how well he has played so far. He leads the ‘Canes in both goals (three) and points (five) through three games, and he found the back of the net twice in 58 seconds early in the third period, bringing Carolina back into the game and giving them a fighting chance as regulation time expired.
Bringing in Stempniak for cheap on July 1 may end up being one of the league’s best free agent signings of the summer.
Moral of the Story
In short, the Hurricanes were plagued by spotty goaltending and an inability to play a full 60 minutes. Sound familiar?
The first three games have been rough, but it could definitely be worse. If the Hurricanes can right the ship here in the second half of the road trip, then these losses will be looked back on as learning experiences for a young team.
This team is better than their record indicates, and they are very aware of it.