While getting points in two of four games against a quartet of top-ten NHL teams is an impressive accomplishment in the oft disastrous month of October for the Hurricanes, the contents of those games tell us a lot more about this team than the final scores.
I’ll expand on that thought and get into a big coaching mistake in this week’s Quick Whistles.
Jeff Skinner has been the spark for Carolina’s offense early in the season, dating back to the final minutes of game two against the Blue Jackets, wherein he tied the game late in regulation and broke reigning Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky’s 118+ minute shutout to start his season in the process.
In three of Carolina’s ten games this season, Skinner has been the club’s only goal scorer. In Dallas, he scored two of the three goals, and in Calgary, he had a goal and a primary assist en route to a 2-1 win.
In addition to his lethal knack for finding the back of the net, the maturation of his game as both a two-way player and a leader has been noticeable over the first 10 games. He is routinely hounding players on the forecheck and even finishing hits, which are things that he very rarely did through the first six seasons of his career.
On Sunday, Skinner again jumpstarted the offense as he scored Carolina’s first goal of the night, and while it wasn’t one of his patented snipes, it was a result of driving the net and doing what he had to do in order to score.
Jeff Skinner, the club’s leader in goals and game-winning goals in each of the past two years, did some good things against the Ducks, and his goal came at a hugely important time for Carolina.
I say all of this because, after Anaheim’s game-tying goal with 4:58 to go in the third period, Skinner did not set foot on the ice again through the remainder of regulation, overtime, and shootout.
If he was responsible for that third Ducks goal, then I can understand why Bill Peters would choose to send a message, but it’s hard to blame Skinner as he backchecked hard up ice, forced a turnover, and then Derek Ryan couldn’t do anything with the puck, ultimately giving it back to Anaheim and leading to a soft five-hole squeaker on Scott Darling as Ryan was caught in no man’s land.
I’ve found myself questioning Bill Peters and his staff a lot lately, and this was yet another instance where he made a decision that cost his hockey team.
In a tie game with just under 5:00 to go in front of a home crowd which you haven’t won in front of since October 7, it’s a flat-out mistake to not play the guy who gives you the best chance of scoring a goal. The fact that this went on for practically 10:00 of in-game time, including five minutes of overtime, is really inexcusable.
Just moments before Anaheim scored their third goal, Jeff Skinner did this.
Do you think that speed, strength, and skill could have been a little useful in a 3-on-3 setting?
That line of Skinner, Ryan, and Kuokkanen was on the ice for all three goals against, and the only goal you could possibly blame on Skinner was Anaheim’s second goal when, on first glance, it appeared he just turned it over blindly. In reality, Skinner tried to pass the puck to Ryan and exit the defensive zone, but the puck bounced off of Noah Hanifin’s leg and into the slot where Justin Faulk was nowhere to be found and Derek Grant had all the time in the world to score. Hanifin was also remarkably weak on Andrew Cogliano along the boards, which was the only reason why the Canes found themselves in that situation.
Skinner was not at fault for what went against the Hurricanes on Sunday. Quite honestly, even if every single goal was his fault, it doesn’t matter. This is the second-hottest scorer in hockey dating back to the second half of last season. You play him.
You have to know the situation you are in. The Ducks had played a 7:00 pm game in Tampa Bay the night before and they were about to complete their second full game in just 24 hours and their third game in four days to cap off a four-game road trip. In front of your home fans, you have to win that hockey game and putting Jeff Skinner on the ice at the end of regulation and during overtime gives the Hurricanes the best chance of winning that game.
If you want to punish someone, punish literally anyone else. Punish someone who actually played poorly, not your best offensive player in a setting where you desperately needed a goal.
October as a whole for the Hurricanes was a mixed bag. While it’s certainly 10 games that the team can build off of here going forward, there were missed opportunities that could have made it far better.
Over the past week, two games stick out to me.
The third period against the St. Louis Blues was a disaster for Carolina. They had been even with the Blues most of the night in terms of possession and score, and in their sixth period in two nights, the Canes let off the gas and let the Blues run all over them as Cam Ward stood on his head to hold it to a 2-1 loss.
On Sunday, the Hurricanes had a chance to put away the Ducks. They were up 3-2 in the third period against an Anaheim team that had played five periods in under 24 hours. Carolina has absolutely no excuse for letting a game like that get away from them on home ice.
When it comes down to it, this team deserves to be at .500 through the opening month, but I think the best version of this team is a team that can find a way to win those very winnable games.
If the Hurricanes close out and at least gets a point against the Blues and win a game that they, again, had absolutely no excuse to lose against the Ducks, then you’re looking at a 5-3-3 record, which would be good for seventh in the East.
It’s frustrating and it’s early in the season, but this team has to stop playing two good periods and losing in the period that they struggle in. Outside of a few solid 60-minute performances, the Hurricanes were either plagued by a bad first period, then having to play from behind, or they start well and blow a third-period lead.
It’s also worth noting that the Canes had the third-toughest strength of schedule in October, behind only Ottawa and Buffalo, according to Hockey-Reference. That, in conjunction with Carolina’s expected goal differential and largely impressive metrics, has them at a 68.6% chance of making the playoffs on Corsica and 55% according to The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn and his model.
Given where the Canes have been in years past, I think you take this record and run, especially knowing that this team can be much, much better than they have shown at times.