“Frustrating” is an appropriate word to use to describe the past week of hockey for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Following a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday, Viktor Stalberg said it was a frustrating ending to a game that they undoubtedly should have won given their opening forty minutes of play.
Here’s what was going through my mind while watching this team play last week.
- Outside of Jeff Skinner and Cam Ward, I don’t think there’s a more important component to the Hurricanes right now than Jordan Staal. Thanks to a stick to the head on Sunday against the Panthers, Staal is out indefinitely due to a concussion. Sure, nine points in 21 games doesn’t scream major contributor, but if you watch one shift from Staal you see his value to the Hurricanes. Not only do you lose a top-six center, you lose a first line penalty killer, your leading faceoff man both in winning percentage and number of draws taken, the league’s fourth-best player in corsi share, a talented net front presence both at even strength and on the man advantage and a 6-foot-4, 220-pound immovable object who not not only leads the team in hits but also drives the net on the rush relentlessly. Staal is Carolina’s “best two-way player, bar none”, according to a very honest Ron Hainsey following Tuesday’s loss, and he is 100% correct. No player on this roster can replicate what Staal does 18:29 a night and you’re hard-pressed to find a player across the NHL that can. That’s a huge loss for the Hurricanes.
- Ron Hainsey’s “hooking” penalty late against the Rangers led to an outburst of emotion from the 35-year-old veteran. That outburst turned a two-minute penalty into a game-deciding four-minute man advantage for New York. First things first, that was not hooking, and Hainsey was very strong in his convictions following the game, saying “The player fell. I’m right, he’s wrong. That’s it.” The Rangers would go on to score the game-winning goal on that powerplay. I understand where he is coming from, it was a bad call in a 2-2 game late in the third period. There are two ways to view his additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, you either appreciate his passion or you’re left scratching your head as to why he’d put his team at an even further disadvantage. For what it’s worth, I wasn't upset with what he did. This is an experienced, highly competitive professional athlete that knew he and his team was being wronged. Now, you move on.
- After a lackluster start to the season, the Hurricanes are finally back to the team game that they were playing from December on last year. In turn, Cam Ward is facing far less high danger shots and we’ve seen his numbers improve. Ward played very well in Montreal and Ottawa despite losing efforts and it’s tough to put much blame on him for the New York game. With three games in four nights coming up, it’s well within the realm of possibility, if not more likely than not, that Bill Peters goes with Ward in each game. Games in Boston and New York, followed by a home meeting with the Bolts on Sunday will pose a tough challenge for the Hurricanes, and they need Ward to play big, as he did for the entirety of November.
- Speaking of challenge, someone needs to have a long talk with Bill Peters. I couldn’t find any official stats, but I’ve gathered that Peters hasn’t had a successful coaches challenge since March 15, 1981. His challenge on New York’s second goal just over halfway through the third period also gave his team an elongated timeout so they could regroup and look to turn things around. Ultimately, that didn’t happen, but there was more behind the challenge than just looking to see if the Rangers were offsides.
- Carolina’s fourth line is not playing like a fourth line. The trio of Joakim Nordstrom, Jay McClement and Viktor Stalberg has turned into a tough line to play against at even strength, and Stalberg’s hot scoring hand has made them more of a two-way option. The big and mobile Swede has found the back of the net three times over his last two games and four times in his last five games. They’re routinely wearing down defenses with their physicality down low in the offensive end, and all three players are key contributors on Carolina’s league-best penalty kill.
- Michael Leighton momentarily stole the show in Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Panthers. A rocky start gave way to a fantastic finish en route to his first NHL win since 2010 in his first NHL start since 2013. I said “momentarily” above because the post-game coverage of this game revolved around the classless firing of Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant. For a deeper look at just what happened, Brian wrote about what it was like at the arena. In short, the Panthers opted to fire their coach just moments after their loss and Gallant ended up taking a taxi instead of traveling with the club. The phrase “In ___ years of covering hockey, I’ve never seen something like this” has been uttered by numerous hockey analysts and that’s because teams tend to show respect for their coaches, especially teams that finish atop the Atlantic Division like Florida did a season ago.
- My final thought is a positive one. Carolina could have had a perfect week based on how they played. They outplayed Montreal and Ottawa on the road but ultimately couldn’t get the bounces en route to a pair of 2-1 losses and they got New York right where they wanted them after a perfect first period on the road which saw the Canes go up 2-0. They are playing the way Bill Peters wants them to, now it’s just about forming sixty-minute efforts on a nightly basis. This team isn’t far off.