That one certainly felt like the fifth consecutive game away from home. The strong 60-minute effort we saw in Calgary seemed to be carrying over before a strong pushback from the Flyers sealed the game.
The Carolina Hurricanes played a solid first period, trading scoring chances with the Flyers, but nothing went up on the scoreboard for either team. The second period was like an entirely different game. Seven goals were scored between the two teams, and it was a 4-3 Flyers lead after two. The third saw Philadelphia tack on two more goals, and goaltender Steve Mason stifle any Carolina chances. It seemed like the long trip finally just caught up to the Canes in this one, but there are still some key narratives to discuss.
Get a lead, lose the lead, lose the game (repeat)
As mentioned, Carolina and Philadelphia seemed fairly evenly matched after the first period. Eddie Lack was sharp, the teams were going back and forth, and the game felt like it would be a defensive struggle for the remaining 40 minutes. Then Justin Faulk potted a goal early in the second, followed by some gorgeous passing finished off by Jordan Staal (more on that later). But just as quickly as Carolina gained the two-goal lead, they lost it.
But this meltdown seemed different. It could have been due to the collapse occurring in the second period instead of the third, or possibly because it was two goals instead of three.
Or maybe it was because, while it was a collapse, it was undeniably also a relentless effort and a bit of puck luck from the Flyers. And yeah, the refereeing was less than stellar, but credit Philadelphia for making the most of what was given to them.
Still, giving up a two-goal lead—not to mention four unanswered, again—almost instantly is inexcusable, and the Canes need to find a way to keep grinding during games like this, when they’ve been on the road all month and they’re playing a physical, energetic team like the Flyers at home.
I wrote last week about their inconsistent play style. In this game, it seemed like the tried to keep the attack alive as they did in Calgary (see the Lee Stempniak response to the Flyers’ fourth goal), but ran out of gas, or just didn’t have enough fight for the whole 60 minutes tonight.
[HIGHLIGHT] Lee Stempniak and the #Canes take advantage of a #Flyers turnover. #Redvolution #CARvsPHI pic.twitter.com/fI0nLcV4ac— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) October 23, 2016
I’m not trying to defend that second period parade to the back of the Carolina net, but take this loss with a grain of salt. The team didn’t fold like a cheap lawnchair as they did in Winnipeg and Vancouver; it was more like one of those nicer, sturdier beach chairs that only fold when everything is lined up perfectly.
The Flyers lined everything up perfectly last night. They were the better team in this game, and even if the scoreline looks like a surrender from the Hurricanes, this one was more about the significant fight from the team in orange than the lesser fight of the one in white.
Aho the playmaker
Shockingly, Sebastian Aho seems to be flying under the radar. Perhaps it’s the fact that he has yet to score his first goal, or that the Rask/Skinner/Stempniak line—speaking of which, let’s get working on a nickname for that line—has been so dominant, but he hasn’t gotten the press that I expected he would out of the gates. It's almost like the hockey community is rhetorically asking “why should he get press if he hasn’t scored?”
Well, he’s got 5 assists in 5 games, including 2 in this one alone. That’s a point-per-game average pace. And it’s not like he’s glancing at the puck and getting credit for an assist; no, he’s creating plays and sparking those on the ice with him to finish the plays off. Check out this play leading to Jordan Staal’s goal.
[HIGHLIGHT] Jordan Staal finishes @Jo92No's feed for the second #Canes goal tonight. #Redvolution #CARvsPHI pic.twitter.com/V1AOpn55ch— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) October 23, 2016
The Canes’ Twitter only mentioned the assist from Joakim Nordstrom, but it was Aho who engineered the play. Notice the quick cut-back move to separate himself from a VERY experienced NHL defenseman in Mark Streit, then wire a pass to Nordstrom’s tape between a sliding Nick Schultz and, oh yeah, some dude named Giroux. Nordstrom of course then feathers a pass to Staal, who does the rest.
But Aho’s initial play to stop short with his head up once receiving the puck and find the passing lane is impressive on its own, but to actually make that cross-ice pass to a moving player between two defenders is a playmaking touch that not many players are blessed with. Aho may not have put the puck in the net yet—that will come, undoubtedly—but he doesn’t need to when he’s making plays like this that end up as goals anyway.
Lack squanders his (first) chance
Eddie Lack had a great opportunity in this game to essentially force Bill Peters’ hand to keep him in net as a likely #1 goalie. And for almost half the game, he looked like a #1 goalie. But then the Flyers got to him. He got undressed by Brandon Manning for their first, then a couple of deflections found their way past him. From there, the Flyers had the lead 3-2, but from the second that first goal went in, it felt like Eddie was just trying too hard not to make a mistake. For example, Manning’s goal.
Mann, what a goal. #CARvsPHI pic.twitter.com/GnboIPIh8C— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) October 23, 2016
He is so, so far out of position. At the end of the play, he’s almost into the part of the zone where goalies can’t even touch the puck. Granted, it’s a wonderful play by Manning to wait for Lack to move first, but for Eddie to be that over-committed shows just how jumpy he was. It was like he knew this was his chance to take over the net for the Canes, and it got to his head. He lost focus. Watch Shayne Gostisbehere’s goal.
The Ghost with the most. #CARvsPHI pic.twitter.com/AfLbcCJgmY— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) October 23, 2016
This time, he under-commits to the play, and leaves way too much net for a skilled shooter like Gostisbehere. Credit Lack for trying to learn from his mistake on the first goal, but overcorrection is just another mistake instead. His attention to detail (i.e. angle towards shooter, being at the top of the crease for what is clearly a shot, etc) was not there for the latter part of this game. From here, his rebound control failed him on the Wayne Simmonds goal, and it was clear that Eddie just didn’t have it tonight.
This will by no means be Lack’s last chance to claim the starting job, but expect Ward to get the start in Detroit.
Moral of the Story
Losses sting, every time. Especially to divisional opponents. But this one was a perfect storm. The Canes made several mistakes, and the Flyers exploited their weaknesses mercilessly. Carolina visited the penalty box too frequently, even if some of the calls were debatable at best, and it cost them. Eddie Lack seemingly lost confidence in himself, and some of those goals were certainly stoppable. But with his demeanor and desire, there’s no doubt he’ll be ready for his next start. The team should and will learn from this game, but most importantly they must simply put it behind them, and prepare themselves mentally and physically for Detroit.