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About Last Night: Carolina Hurricanes Reality Check

Are we sure the Hurricanes can’t just have an 82-game home schedule?

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

It was bound to happen eventually. Riding a 32-year-old Cam Ward for 20 consecutive starts for the Carolina Hurricanes was a bold strategy to begin with, but couple that with a road game in a raucous environment and some choice turnovers to a quick team, and suddenly you’re down 4-1 before the third period.

The Hurricanes came into this one riding high on a four-game winning streak. Their offense had been running at an impressive clip to say the least—each of the four games in the streak had seen the Canes score at least four goals, including seven in Saturday night’s win over the Islanders.

So what happened? The Blue Jackets’ passionate fan environment certainly didn’t help things, but that felt and looked like a very different Hurricanes team.

Flip the Script

In many ways, this game was a typical Hurricanes game. The home team fell behind early despite dominating the shot count, but stormed back to overwhelm their opponent in the second and third periods and win by a large margin. The problem here is that Carolina wasn’t the home team.

The team that we have seen make crisp passes through the neutral zone and break the puck out with ease ran into a team that saw them coming. The sound Canes team gave way to one that, in order to combat the tenacity and will of their opponent, unwisely resorted to forcing the puck into turnovers that ultimately cost them the game. The Lukas Sedlak goal is a prime example.

It’s hard to tell, but the play begins with Scott Hartnell intercepting a Carolina breakout pass that wildly missed its mark. But the turnovers were a mere part of the disaster.

Last night, the Canes tried to play their style some of the time, but their timing and chemistry was all wrong, and their feet were moving through molasses. They were outskated and outworked in most scenarios.

The problem wasn’t a lack of effort, but rather a lack of execution and sharpness. The pristine showings we have grown used to in the past week(s) made last night’s performance unrecognizable (which I suppose is a good thing).

But the Hurricanes, for as great as they have been so far, have yet to figure out how to win consistently on the road. And that is the threshold that separates the good teams from the great. They have a fantastic, puck-possession driven game plan to win games, which has worked beautifully on home ice, but they must learn how to implement it across all 20 players in each game.

The good news is that the coaches and players know that and will make adjustments for next game. The better news is that next game is a home game—one more chance to get it right and build confidence.

Oh, hey Ned!

Yes, some good did come out of that loss, albeit unexpected. Alex Nedeljkovic, on call from Charlotte/Florida (ECHL), unwittingly dressed to play time in his first NHL game when he put on the Carolina jersey last night. With Cam Ward having what can only be described as a bad night, #35’s number was called and the much heralded prospect saw his first NHL minutes.

Safe to say, he made the most of it. He did about as well as one can do (stopping all shots against is a good thing), although his first two minutes started with a bump in the form of a holding penalty(?) called against him.

But on that penalty kill and the two more that followed in the third period, the man they call “Ned” stood tall to keep the team alive, and made 17 saves in all situations including this gem:

His first minutes may have come a bit sooner than imagined, but it was nice to see the 2014 second-round pick get well-deserved time in net—as well as some well-deserved rest for #30. His stay in Raleigh may be short, but for now, welcome to the NHL Alex Nedeljkovic.

PK Perfection

Is it a dead horse at this point? Is anyone really surprised that Carolina’s penalty kill had a great evening, even in the house of the #1 power play in the League?

The Hurricanes went 4-for-4 against the potent Jackets power play attack, and continue to hold their place as the League’s top PK. This was the one facet of Carolina’s game that managed to travel with them from Raleigh.

The killers were aggressive, limiting the Blue Jackets’ options and frustrating them with each simple poke check. But at the same time, they stayed responsible and kept the middle cross-ice passing lanes clogged at all times, further suffocating the Columbus playmakers.

For eight glorious minutes, the Hurricanes looked like the Hurricanes. Sadly, the PK couldn’t provide the spark that it has in the past and Carolina’s 5v5 play soured.

Still, to see that the penalty killers can still shutdown the best attackers in the League, even on a very off night for the team (and in a road game), is a very encouraging sign. Credit Steve Smith and Rod Brind’Amour for their continued success as special teams coaches.

The Hurricanes are a team full of intrigue. One night they look like champions, but the next, they can’t seem to get out of their own way. This kind of inconsistency will haunt them if they continue to rely solely on home performances.

With that said, the next game is an important one. The Penguins are as dangerous as ever, considering that they have far more competition than usual near the top of the Metro division. After dropping two points to a divisional rival in Columbus, the Canes would be wise not to do so again, particularly on home ice.