The Carolina Hurricanes giveth, and they taketh away. Friday night’s matchup against the Rangers featured a Canes team that seemed rejuvenated from their long road trip, having learned lessons from some tough losses during October. But last night against the Flyers, Carolina looked confused and failed to execute when it mattered most.
Cam Ward misses his shot
Much like Eddie Lack in his performance against Philly, Cam Ward had a chance to take a legitimate stranglehold on the number one goalie job for the Canes. Unfortunately, he gave up two very long distance goals to defensemen and his team lost by a goal. Here’s one for reference.
How...does that go in...on an NHL goaltender? Yeah, there were a few players in his sight lines and he probably didn’t expect that shot, but isn’t it his job to expect the shot?
The player covering the point, Elias Lindholm, should have been there sooner, but the shot is literally from the Flyers’ bench. The Gostisbehere goal from distance was similar, but marginally less awful, mostly because it was tipped in front by Brett Pesce. Regardless, Ward has got to make the easy saves if he wants to keep a job in the NHL.
As for the other two goals, no one can fault him on the Giroux goal; that was faulty defensive zone coverage (I’m sensing a theme...more on that in a bit). The Brandon Manning go-ahead goal (Cane-killer Brandon Manning???) however, was a play where, when the Canes needed their starter to come up with a game-saver, he failed to deliver.
It was a fantastic shot, yes, but saves made on fantastic shots are what separate starters and backup goalies. Cam Ward had his chance to make his mark last night, but it seems the goalie carousel will continue.
Spotty team defense
This facet of the game was particularly absent for the Canes last night. The fact that some of the team’s most promising players were the ones coming up short was especially disheartening. Check out Manning’s goal.
Noah Hanifin appears to be keeping an eye on Chris Vande Velde, who is already being defended by Victor Rask and has help coming quickly in the form of Jeff Skinner and Bryan Bickell. Hanifin should obviously not be doing this. Instead, he—or any of the backcheckers, really—should be searching for the trailer, who is Manning in this scenario.
With four red jerseys puck watching, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare easily finds Manning alone in the center circle. Hanifin’s gap on him is ridiculously lenient, and Manning walks in practically alone on Cam Ward.
Let’s examine who the Canes have on this play. Hanifin, Rask, Skinner, and Bickell. The first three are cornerstone pieces of the team, and the fourth is a ten-year NHL veteran.
There was a fifth man, Lee Stempniak, out there on the ice somewhere—it was a Carolina power play after all, which made this goal even more embarrassing—but he neglected to backcheck at all on the play.
Sadly, this was the second of two examples of “how not to play defense.”
How a team can leave one of the most talented players in the league completely alone in the slot is beyond me. Claude Giroux has time to make a sandwich, eat the sandwich, and shoot & score on Cam Ward before a Carolina player enters the same zip code.
Credit Wayne Simmonds for the slick play out of the corner, but Justin Faulk, Jordan Staal, and Sebastian Aho all taking their sweet time to cover a lethal scorer in prime position is inexcusable.
Faulk is covering...well, no one, actually. Staal is gliding to get back in position, and Aho seems to be torn between playing his position—which requires him to cover the defenseman up high—and covering for Staal.
Between Cam Ward’s inability to make the crucial save as he used to, and the Canes’ lack of desire to be defensively smart, it feels like this season has started heading in the wrong direction. The offense is finally here, but it has come at the expense of the previous strength on the back end.
Skinner and Rask continue offensive dominance
Speaking of offense (and happy thoughts), these two have exploded on offense so far, with Skinner’s 11 points just one off the league lead (held jointly by Connor McDavid and—ahem—Claude Giroux) and Rask one point behind him. Not to mention, Rask is riding an eight-game point streak, which is the second longest point streak to begin a season in franchise history.
Obviously these two are great players; that much has been proven already. But the start that they have both had has been beyond impressive.
For Skinner, shooting the puck from everywhere and getting to the front of the net have been key. That sounds cliche, but think about it. He took over the game against the Rangers on Friday, and nearly did the same in this one. The goals he scores are not all highlight-reel quality, but it seems like he finally realizes that they don’t all have to be.
Here is an example of a goal-scorer not being picky about his shot. Skinner might be right in front of the net, but his shooting position is awkward, hence the lack of power on the shot.
Nonetheless, he fires it immediately, catching Michal Neuvirth off-guard and sneaking it through. The Jeff Skinner of the last 3 years or so would likely have waited to get the puck in a perfect position before shooting, thus allowing Neuvirth to better position himself.
As for Rask, being on a line with Skinner has certainly helped his cause. But the playmaker is just as worthy as the one who puts the puck in the net. Rask’s vision is his greatest asset—although that wrist shot remains lethal—and he uses it to continually find his linemates when it seems like there is no play to be made.
Carolina must be careful not to completely rely on the offense provided by the 21/49/53 line, but as long as they are producing at this rate, the Canes will have a true first line once again.
Moral of the Story
Carolina’s lackadaisical defense and goaltending, coupled with their uncharacteristically bad special teams play, cost them this game. Bill Peters and company would be wise to key in on defensive zone responsibilities in practice this week, as well as a tune up on PP/PK.
And start Eddie Lack in Ottawa on Tuesday, I guess.