Given the trend that the Carolina Hurricanes have been on when it comes to road games, last night’s loss to the Anaheim Ducks should have been anticipated. But somehow, the Canes managed to briefly buck the trends and score five goals. They maintained two separate two-goal leads in the third period. And they looked like the team we’ve seen at PNC Arena on the last six occasions.
And yet they crumbled once again, late in the game, to an opponent that they had every opportunity to defeat and lost their sixth straight road game. But while last night’s loss should be quickly forgotten, it’s important to learn from the mistakes they continue to make.
A Tale of Two Teams
Much like the stark contrast between the Canes at home and on the road, the team has developed a less productive persona towards the end of their games than the one seen through the start.
Last night saw the Canes battle through a sluggish start to find some momentum in the form of a Teuvo Teravainen powerplay laser beam before the end of the first period. They continued to play like the “home Canes” through the second, and even into the third, scoring 3+ goals for the first time since their win over Florida on November 27th.
Then, obviously things went south. Two Anaheim goals in 1:31 with under five minutes remaining sent the game into extra time, where the Ducks won in a shootout.
We’ve seen this movie before. Quite a few times, actually. The Hurricanes will play a confident, sound style for the majority of the game before somehow giving up the fundamental structure of their play style.
I’m not sure if playing with a lead late in the game gets too much in their collective psyche or if they literally just run out of energy every road game, but when Carolina starts to unravel in the third period, they don’t do it just halfway.
On Perry’s tying goal, more than a couple of Hurricanes stood still and swatted at the puck beside the net. But none picked their heads up and spotted one of the best goal scorers of the past decade-plus swooping in to halt a scoring drought (Canes narrative bingo, anyone?).
The same thing happened on Stefan Noesen’s first career goal (Yeah, Canes narrative bingo for sure.). All the Canes players were puck-watching as Noesen was able to walk into the high-slot and fire an unimpeded shot past a vulnerable Cam Ward.
These kinds of utter defensive breakdowns were unheard of from the team earlier in the game, and even when they did lose d-zone battles, they didn’t look as irresponsible and most importantly, they were able to recover and respond.
Help us Jordan Staal...you’re our only hope...
Okay not the only hope, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to get the team’s best defensive forward back when the rest of them continue to forget how to play in their own zone. I mentioned the woeful clearing attempts on Perry’s goal and the puck-watching on Noesen’s goal above, and while having 11 back is not an immediate fix, his presence would certainly have effects both on his team and the opponents.
At both ends of the ice, Staal is, statistically speaking, Carolina’s most reliable player. Defensively he remains solid and usually takes on the opponents’ top line, and offensively, while he may not be flashy, he takes maintains possession and takes shots when he can. Overall, he is the one player Bill Peters can rely on in any game situation.
Canes also have two players in the top ten 5v5 CF%.— Cane-alytics (@Cane_alytics) December 6, 2016
Jordan at 4 and Teuvo at 10.
Please get healthy, JStaal. pic.twitter.com/vt8vs2I1UE
Remember, if you will, the Boston game a week ago. David Backes stood in front of Cam Ward, and while Teravainen gets points for trying, his attempt at moving Backes out of the way was dead on arrival as he accidentally kicked the puck in the net in the process.
Tripp Tracy, like most of us, acknowledged that with Jordan Staal in that position, Backes likely has a much more difficult time making any kind of play there. That’s not a knock against Teravainen’s effort or positioning, but rather an acceptance of the fact that you cannot replace the best in Jordan Staal.
His physical strength and stature make him unique enough on this smaller Canes team, but his leadership and reliability, while not quantifiable, are his most important assets. I think what we are seeing in terms of these defensive shortcomings and instances of lack of focus could be somewhat remedied with the presence of their best two-way player and their leader.
The Finns. That’s all.
Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho have had a couple of games in which they look like they could score 10 goals each if they wanted to. Last night was one such game, although it’s a shame they had to stop at two points each.
Teravainen’s two goals both came a crucial times for Carolina, as his first got them back into the game before the end of the first period and his second was a strong response to Kesler’s third period tally. Meanwhile, Aho’s goal was a strong showcase of speed and skill, as he scored Carolina’s third goal to put them up by two for the first time.
As it has been so far, when the Finns are going, the Canes are going. That was the case for much of the game against Anaheim, and despite the wheels coming off towards the end, the offensive production that had been sorely missed in road games finally resurfaced. Obviously the defensive side of the equation needs to severely adjust to find balance, but the silver lining to that bitter loss is the number of scoring chances that came to fruition (Five, to be exact).
Giving up five goals is bad. Giving up two of those goals in the final five minutes of the game is really bad. Guess who did both last night.
To be fair, though, Ward actually looked like his usually solid self for much of the night. He was the victim of two point-blank deflections, and the other three goals should never have happened. They resulted from lost battles in the defensive zone and a lack of defensive responsibility.
Still, the Canes needed a “clutch” save or two in those last five minutes. On Corey Perry’s goal in particular, Ward could have challenged more even though his team had ample opportunity to clear the puck. Instead, he remained deep in his net and seemed surprised by the shot from #10.
Ward made the saves he needed to, some even in the third period. But when the team begins to dismantle itself, it seems reasonable that their goalie for the past decade can be counted on to be the guy who steps up and carries the team. That didn’t happen last night. But the veteran knows how to bounce back, that much is obvious. We’ll see if he or Michael Leighton get the start tonight, and if either one is capable of putting the team on their back when they’re needed to.
Losing 6-5 is a difficult reality for the Hurricanes. They did what everyone said they were supposed to—score a bunch of goals and you’ll be fine—but they again managed to sniff a win and say “no thanks” as they gave their opponents just enough to beat them.
These meltdowns are frustrating, to say the least. The fans know it, the players know it, and you can bet the coaches know it. Let’s just hope the latter two of those can come together and right the ship before its too late. They’ll have a shot at retribution tonight in L.A.