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About Last Night: Hurricanes Stumble in Ottawa

Carolina loses by one yet again, and scores just once for the second consecutive game.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes’ previous five-game winning streak has given way to a two-game losing streak, and the familiar sting of losing by one goal is creeping back after last night’s game in Ottawa.

The Canes started well, with a strange bounce leading to a goal for Sebastian Aho, but that was all the production offense would create. From there, all puck luck left the building for the team in white, and noted Cane-killer Kyle Turris struck again to crush the spirits of the Carolina faithful.

Most worrisome, though, was the fact that a few negative trends continued for the Hurricanes last night.

Talking Points

Offense falters again, but Ward keeps it close

What began as a strong asset for the Hurricanes this season has reverted to being their current pitfall. While they averaged 2.8 goals/game over their five-game win streak, the team has now posted just one goal in each of their past two games.

The worst side of this is that the Hurricanes are still getting the same solid goaltending from Cam Ward (#ForNow) that they got during their win streak, but lack of productivity in the offensive zone is ironically the cost of their newfound losing streak. Ward has not given up more than two goals since November 10 against Anaheim when he let in three, and has averaged a .949 save % over that span, including a .929 % over the past three games (TOR, MTL, OTT).

It’s only a two game slide, but the Hurricanes would be wise to not waste such a long string of impressive performances from their veteran goalie. After all, who knows how long his play will last? Ideally, this is a revitalized Ward who has rediscovered the spark that made him a #1 goalie to begin with, but without the goal cushion he was receiving from the team in front of him last week, it will be interesting to see if his game changes at all.

The bottom line is, scoring one goal in a game is not a great way to win a game in the NHL. Sure, they beat San Jose 1-0 last week, but that game was far from the norm. If the Hurricanes want to win consistently—as in, playoff-level consistency—they need to start putting multiple goals on the board on a regular basis again, or risk letting this low-scoring style become a bad habit.

Third period woes continue

As Tripp Tracy noted multiple times last evening, the Thanksgiving night loss to Montreal marked the first time that Carolina had lost the third period since falling to New Jersey in a shootout back on November 8th. That is to say, the Hurricanes had either had more or equal third period scoring than/as their opponents for two weeks (six games) before giving up the game winner to Max Pacioretty the other night in Montreal.

Regrettably, the same movie was showing in Ottawa last night. And while Carolina did not play particularly bad in the third period of either of the past two losses, their physical and mental fortitude exhibited at the ends of their wins last week was simply not present. Take a look at Turris’ game winner.

I’m no expert, but I do know that Assistant Coach Steve Smith’s defensive strategy for the young core does not include getting walked around at their own blue line. In fact, most of the time, they are encouraged to step up and make a play to push the player to the outside, which definitely does not occur.

This goal at any other point in the game is not nearly as backbreaking, but here, with just over three minutes left in the game, and your best defensive pairing on the ice, giving up a goal like this is absolutely gutting for a Carolina player or fan.

What’s most perplexing about this goal in particular is that Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are both in really good position as Turris is about to enter the zone. I’m not sure if Slavin fails to anticipate Turris’ speed or if he thought he would dish the puck off, but he gets caught flat-footed in a big way. And Pesce, because he was well-positioned to cover the passing option on the wing, cannot get over in time to help out his partner.

Now, the silver lining is that this play is not a trend for either of these two defensemen. More than likely, they were tired and lost focus for a second or two. But those two seconds cost them last night, just like how two seconds of lost focus cost the team in Montreal. And the difference between this week and last week has been Carolina’s consistent focus throughout all 60 minutes of the game at home and in Toronto, but lack thereof in the two games since.

In the tight games that the Hurricanes often find themselves in, they cannot afford these brief lapses in concentration. As they have now seen, it can and will cost them two points in the standings. They need to regain the aforementioned fortitude, which starts with their leaders. It will be interesting to see if the four designated captains (and others who may not wear letters) can step up and help keep the team on track.

Moral of the Story

In a game that Carolina probably should have won, losing can often cloud the positives. For example, Cam Ward continued to be the reason the Hurricanes remained competitive instead of the reason they were losing, and hey, Sebastian Aho scored his third goal of the season.

Sure, it was a fluky deflection that was mostly luck, but the young Finn is still looking dangerous with the puck on his stick anywhere in the offensive zone. His vision created that play for him, and the fact that he got credit for the goal was just an added bonus.

But the most important positive lies in the fact that the team continued doing many of the things that have made them successful thus far. They entered the offensive zone as a line with the puck instead of dumping it in, the defensemen skated up the ice when the passing lanes were closed instead of going for home-run stretch passes, and their penalty-kill (I know, they only had to kill one penalty, but the point remains) was still stifling.

So yeah, the loss may be the second in as many games, and they may have continued some negative trends, but the team’s identity is still there. And as long as they have an identity, they have a chance to win. Next up is Florida tonight at PNC Arena, and it’s a safe bet the Hurricanes will be eager to get the sour taste of last night out of their mouths with a big win at home.