For the first time in this year’s season series between the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders, the latter came out on top. And the winner didn’t score at least five goals. And the loser failed to reach four goals. And the goalies, for the most part, actually made a few first-rate saves. You see where I’m going with this.
Yes, after three utter shootouts that resulted in a 20-12 scoring lead for Carolina across all three games, the two teams decided on a more traditionally paced competition and saw the #JohnTavaresExperience continue its show at PNC Arena yet again.
Let’s get into what was so different last night, and why it was.
The three goalies who played two nights ago let in four goals each. Somehow, two of them played again last night.
Thomas Greiss found himself back between the pipes after giving up two goals on the first two shots he faced after his entrance into the game two nights ago, while Cam Ward faced him from the opposite crease. Both goalies had their fair share of game-saving moments, and deserve plenty of credit for their bounce-back performances.
But why Eddie Lack sat on the bench for this game despite a highly questionable showing from Ward in Barclays Center is beyond me, even with Ward’s not-great-but-better play last night. Bill Peters offered this as an explanation:
Peters on decision to start Ward (starting with his record vs. Isles): pic.twitter.com/X8cAymBvND— Cory Lavalette (@corylav) March 15, 2017
So...we’re equating Cam Ward to Grant Fuhr now? That’s, uh, bold.
Look, I know Peters is not saying Ward is as good as Fuhr, and I get the point he actually is trying to make about coming up big when needed most, but this statement confuses me. Why does Ward get a pass for the awful goals he’s let in over the past few games?
The fact that Ward does make some strong saves late in games (as he certainly did last night) does not mean he’s “Grant Fuhr good,” and it certainly doesn’t put him head-and-shoulders above Lack, as Peters’ start-selection tendencies would suggest. There are plenty of times that he doesn’t make those saves, and that’s on top of the shockingly soft goals he lets in.
The common sentiment after the de Haan goal two nights ago was that “an NHL goalie cannot give up that goal.” Same with Rielly’s last weekend. And while this one from Jason Chimera isn’t quite on that level, it’s still a very stoppable puck.
Related: I do not claim to be a goaltending expert, but it strikes me as odd that Ward drops his glove instinctively when he goes into butterfly position—that forces him to do twice the work to make a save in the upper corners. Also, Matt Tennyson could have easily poked the puck away, or at least deflected it, but that’s beside the point.
The other issue here is that the Hurricanes are now playoff spoilers, which means they do not have playoff hopes to be spoiled. They also have a goaltender who has publicly been dealing with confidence issues in net. He exorcised some of those demons, but like most aspects of hockey, it’s a process.
So why, especially in the latter half of a back-to-back, would you not start the goalie who would most benefit from playing time? You’re not chasing a postseason spot and he needs to continue to get his feet under him—it’s a win-win. Sure, every point matters, but if you can’t trust your backup to come through in the team’s second game in as many nights, why is he on your team?
The point is that Peters’ infatuation with Ward is wholly unfounded. He has posted a sub-.900 save percentage in three of his last five starts. He’s given up at least three goals in all five. It’s time to look at the bigger picture and stop focusing on the odd fantastic save he makes every now and then. Peters’ pipe dream of Ward saving the game every night is becoming exhausting, and it’s time retire this narrative and at least give Lack a chance to get into some rhythm before his seemingly inevitable departure to Vegas/waivers/beer league this summer.
One trend that did continue into last night was that of scoring in quick succession. The Hurricanes carried the flag in Brooklyn with a multiple goals in <2 minutes on a couple of occasions, and last night was the Islanders’ turn. Towards the end of the second period, Carolina seemed to have mentally retired to the locker room. That was a bad idea.
Joshua Ho-Sang scored an unofficial power play goal—Sebastian Aho was out of the penalty box, but only by a second or two, making it so the Isles’ advantage remained—and Jason Chimera added another just—you guessed it—25 seconds later. All within the last minute and five seconds of the period.
Goals, especially when they come in pairs, in the last minute of a period will kill ya.— Section 328 (@Section_328) March 15, 2017
Giving up two goals in less than a minute any time is not a great strategy to use, but even moreso at the end of a period. The Hurricanes had played rather well to that point—a strong first 30 minutes saw them with a two-goal cushion and plenty of scoring chances—but they shot themselves in the foot by losing focus.
The third period was evenly contested, and the Hurricanes again dictated pace of play. But overtime gave way to another mental lapse, which ended up costing them the game.
Victor Rask was responsible for John Tavares, but instead followed Ho-Sang, leaving Jaccob Slavin (and Ward, by extension) in no-mans land. It was probably a three-second brain fart that cannot happen when a player like Tavares is on the ice.
For at least 55 of the 60.5 minutes played last night, it was Carolina’s game to lose. They carried play and dominated the face off circle, and looked to be working the possession-centric style they love. But two brief stumbles turned out to be game-deciding plays. And if this were the playoffs, those lapses could be season-deciding.
Only Five Goals? Zzzzzzzzz
The barnburners we saw from these two teams in prior engagements this season seemed like distant memories last night. Each team suffocated the other in the neutral zone, forcing dumps and chip plays rather than crisp passes.
Jaccob Slavin noted in his post game interview two nights ago that Carolina had an easy time cutting through the Isles neutral zone trap—I think New York heard him. Doug Weight’s team clogged lanes regularly, forcing the Hurricanes away from their style at times. Not to be outdone, the Hurricanes stout trap kept the Islanders from gaining the blue line too easily on a regular basis. This kind of defensive standoff was unexpected to say the least, and almost felt weird.
We were certainly spoiled by the fast-paced action from two nights ago, not to mention the past two Canes/Isles games as well, and seeing each team run into the defensive wall of the other just felt odd.
On a more positive note, congratulations are in order for Lucas Wallmark, who earned his first NHL point with an assist on Joakim Nordstrom’s opening goal. The young Swede made his much-anticipated NHL debut in Brooklyn the other night, and now has a milestone in his first home showing.
The Hurricanes’ road from here doesn’t change much—they still don’t have much hope at a playoff position nor do they look to be a challenger for a high lottery pick. It’s familiar territory for the franchise, and they once again get to play out their final games of the season with pride as the only motivator.
Next up is a date with former captain Eric Staal and the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.