Consider the fork finally stuck in the Carolina Hurricanes. Their loss to the Minnesota Wild coupled with the Ottawa Senators’ win officially cements what Canes fans saw coming since Saturday’s loss to the Stars: the Hurricanes’ playoff drought will reach an eighth year.
The loss was the Canes’ third in a row—all in regulation—and marked Eric Staal’s first defeat of his former team in three tries. But even on the night where the season effectively ended, there’s still much to discuss.
No, I’m not talking about Bryan Bickell—amazing though it was to see him on the ice once again—but rather the job done by the Wild in front of Cam Ward. Here are three goals, see if you can spot the trend
I’m serious, those are different plays. There’s a whole lot to dislike in all three. Starting with the defense—if you’re going to clear the crease, clear the crease. Otherwise you’re just in the way, Klas Dahlbeck. Also, the “blocking the shot and just dropping it for whoever wants it” tactic is not one that should stick around.
Ward’s rebound control was dismal all night, and it showed in the Charlie Coyle goal. A shot from the point that makes it through should either be held on to or kicked out “with a purpose.” Leaving it four feet in front of the crease is an open invitation to disaster, and with a team swarming the slot as the Wild did, the risk is even higher.
And while the goals certainly show the effectiveness of getting to the net, this shot chart shows just what it takes to get those opportunities to go in.
Wild took the Hurricanes to the cleaners in shot quantity and quality. pic.twitter.com/JEfsKB4r7M— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) April 5, 2017
Think the Wild keyed in on getting to the crease? Also of note: the Hurricanes’ lone shot from between the inner hashmarks was Lee Stempniak’s goal. Funny how that works.
TL;DR: turns out going to the front of the net and putting the puck there makes the goalie’s job even harder and makes goals happen.
One positive of the slide the Canes have found themselves on has been the clarification of a few offseason to-do’s. Priority #1: find a goaltender. Not a “Grant Fuhr good” goalie, but one that will be consistent over 60+ starts. Consistent means—at the very least—above a .906 save %, by the way. And that’s just to marginally improve over Ward.
Carolina’s goaltending has been its largest downfall for a few years now. Ward’s shortcomings have often been overshadowed by the month or two in which he dominates opponents, showing signs of “old Cam” and giving glimmers of hope to Canes fans wistfully reminiscing on ‘06. It’s time to stop falling for it.
Watch the above goals again, then take a look here:
Ward doesn’t even try to push across the crease, instead electing to go with the “flailing blocker” objective. Sadly, this was not the one out of every 582 attempts in which he makes the save. His acrobatic save on Jason Pominville later in the game deserves credit...
...but that’s just they type of play that has fooled fans/management into believing in Ward as a season-long #1. It’s the exception to the rule, where the rule is most of the time he doesn’t get so lucky.
I fully understand the attachment Ward has to this organization and fanbase, and it will be weird to see him go when he does. But it was the same issue with Eric Staal—just time for both parties to move on. A team with as bright a future as Carolina cannot continue to be dragged down by subpar goaltending on a season-long basis. The short-term solution is to give Eddie Lack most of the remaining starts considering that his potential was only briefly seen before his shocking injury, while the long game involved paying someone (*cough* Scott Darling) a not-insignificant sum of money to take a big step in the rebuild this summer.
Skipping down a priority or two, it’s time to sew a “C” on Jeff Skinner’s jersey. He’s got a team-high 61 points, a career-high 35 goals, and that includes 15 in his last 16 games. Production does not always equal leadership, but it’s clear that the “bright future” is spearheaded by #53.
It is a totally different vibe when Jeff Skinner is here. It’s like a light turns on and everything is brighter.— Jamie Kellner (@jbkellner) September 15, 2016
That’s from September, before training camp. I think Jamie was onto something here.
We all know Skinner can score, but it’s how he is scoring that is cause for excitement.
Finding the open space and making sure not to get the shot blocked are staples of Skinner’s game already, but the cherry on top comes when he follows his own shot to chase the rebound. That’s a guy who wants to score and won’t be denied until he does. It would be easy for him to shoot and wait on the fringes for a teammate to try to bury the loose puck, but to get into the fray himself shows Skinner’s mile-high level of commitment to his goal...of scoring a goal.
When your leading scorer is still putting forth this kind of effort in a game that effectively amounts to nothing, you know you’ve got a leader. The higher-ups at 1400 Edwards Mill should recognize that.
“Bigger Than Hockey”
While Skinner’s play was certainly a positive within the context of the game itself, there were a couple storylines that had a nice feeling outside the lines. Bryan Bickell’s long-awaited return to the ice didn’t result in any touching game-winning goal or teary-eyed salute, and that’s okay. Just seeing him back with the Hurricanes after five months battling such a difficult disease was a wonderful and uplifting sight, and is a reminder of times when hockey takes a back seat to more significant situations.
Second, though Eric Staal’s 1000th game was actually an earlier contest against the Jets, the Wild chose to recognize the occasion when his former team—with whom he spent over 900 of those 1000 games—was in town. It was a respectful and surely appreciated move by Minnesota, and even with his departure, it’s clear that Carolina still holds Staal the eldest in high regard.
The 13-game point streak was fun, but now the Canes have hit a skid. They seem exhausted and frustrated, and understandably so. They kept a torrid pace with the Wild for one period last night, but failed to break through again. Playing post-elimination should be old-hat for these Canes, despite the obvious discouragement.
But it’s important to note that there is still something to compete for. Winning out would see the Canes reach the 90-point threshold for the first time since 2010-11. It’s another baby step, but it’s one in the right direction. First up are the Islanders on Thursday.