Maybe it’s my fault for developing an impending sense of doom throughout the third period, but that had to be the epitome of a Carolina Hurricanes game, right? To double the other team’s shot output, score three goals, and still lose is something of a specialty for these Canes, and their stereotype was cemented with yet another strong outing ending in a defeat.
Give credit to the Tampa Bay Lightning for bouncing back from an off first period, and to their star players for driving the comeback bus; they outlasted what honestly was a solid effort from most of the Hurricanes at Amalie Arena last night. But there is plenty to talk about from Carolina’s standpoint, so let’s discuss.
Yep, .750% was Eddie Lack’s save percentage last night. Is that his fault? Not really, but those numbers won’t do him any good. Still, he was not as good as he needed to be, and he certainly knew it.
But let’s think about those Tampa goals for a second. Victor Hedman shooting through a screen below the tops of the circles. Tyler Johnson with a deflection. Nikita Kucherov unopposed from the slot on a 2-on-1, and the same for Hedman’s winner.
Those are star players with goals that they will score literally nine times out of ten. That’s on the team defense as much as, if not more than, the goaltender. For example, look at Kucherov’s go-ahead goal in the third:
There are two Canes players in the frame at the start of that clip, and none at the end. That’s bad. As Tripp Tracy pointed out on the telecast, Teuvo Teravainen is responsible for either Johnson on the wing or Kucherov in the middle, but he fails to stay with either one, leaving Klas Dahlbeck (and Lack, by extension) exposed.
Dahlbeck attempts to right the ship by stepping to Johnson very early, but this leaves the lane wide open for Kucherov to get to the net. One slick pass across to the slot later, it’s a 3-2 lead for Tampa because of a very preventable defensive breakdown on the part of Carolina.
Lack was by no means great or even that good last night, but the 16 shots he faced should never have been as high quality as they were.
In case you were wondering what a team desperate to make the playoffs looks like, the Lightning gave a fine example last night. Carolina enjoyed a solid offensive night from some depth players (and Derek Ryan) and their defensemen, and it almost seemed like they were going to pull it off.
But the difference in star power become glaringly obvious in the third period last night when Hedman and Kucherov took over. Carolina doesn’t (yet) have the talent to match these types of world-class players, especially with the notable absence of Jeff Skinner, but they usually do a better job of making up for that in other areas of their game.
They were simply overwhelmed by a far more driven and focused Lightning team last night. Even the sound Jordan Staal was beaten defensively on Hedman’s OT goal:
The clip above doesn’t do Hedman’s speed justice, but for Staal to be so easily passed in a crucial situation is highly uncharacteristic. However, the point remains: if Carolina wants to compete for a playoff spot in coming years, their workhorses cannot be Jay McClement and Derek Ryan, though the roles they play are important.
And of course, seeing such production from Jaccob Slavin and Noah Hanifin was promising, particularly for the latter in what has been a down year for him.
But the bottom line is that without Skinner in the lineup and Aho, as good as he is, still only in his first year, the Canes lack the true game-breaker(s) that can steal a win as Hedman and Kucherov did.
After turning in two respectable performances in as many nights, the Hurricanes have just two points to show for their troubles. And it’s not a new trend; this is the same team who ceded three or more goal leads on multiple occasions during the first month of the season.
But with the playoffs mathematically slipping further and further out of reach each day, how will the players respond? Will they continue to play with pride and energy, or will they become discouraged and lose focus?
These two ideas also run parallel to the notion of tanking for a higher chance at the first overall pick vs. staying the course in terms of strategy and style of play. Personally, I lean towards the latter, particularly in a seemingly shallow draft pool such as this year’s and when Carolina has hoarded enough draft picks to field a second team.
There isn’t a “generational talent” like Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews up for grabs this year, and it’s not like the Canes only have a first-round pick to use. Their placement in the draft lottery is not as crucial as it has been in years past, so the way they finish the season is more important to ego than any kind of tangible result.
With that said, will they use some of their stockpile to trade for a big name like Matt Duchene, or continue to deepen their oceanic prospect pool? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Whatever the Hurricanes do with the remainder of this season will not be as important as what they do in the offseason, but they have a chance to begin finishing the season with a flourish as Arizona comes to town on Friday night. Jeff Skinner is likely to make his return after wisely taking an absence to get a stiff neck examined, and should provide a nice jolt to the Canes scoring touch.