For a team on a now-eight-year playoff drought, you’d think the Carolina Hurricanes would be used to grinding out “meaningless” games post-elimination. You’d be wrong, at least for now.
The New York Islanders had their way with Carolina right from the get-go, and the young Canes were punching above their weight-class against a team that still had motivation from slim hopes of a post-season berth. Still, a few storylines emerged and are worth a discussion.
Home Ice and Starting On Time
What happened to the dominant team that just couldn’t have a bad game at PNC Arena? In each of the past two home games, the Hurricanes have come out flat and ended up being shut out.
In particular, their first periods have been noticeably lacking. Against the Stars, Carolina put up just seven shots in the first frame. Last night saw them muster six. And in each game, the first period was one of two that saw the team fire fewer than 10 shots (cue the Gretzky “100% of the shots you don’t take” quote).
The Canes kept pace with the Wild for a breakneck first period last game, but the other three in this losing streak have all featured an especially bad start. At the heart of it, Carolina just looks discouraged, like they don’t want to be there. Some disappointment after coming closer to ending the drought than they have since it began is expected, but the season is 82 games long.
Then again, maybe they just hate playing knowing they don’t get to keep their jerseys.
Since 2008 the Canes are now 1-9 in jersey giveaway games. Only win came in 2015.— Brian LeBlanc (@bdleblanc) April 7, 2017
Either way, the Canes have two more chances to figure out how they want to end the season, and what tone they want to set for the next one.
Are You There, Eddie?
For the better part of March, it seemed like Eddie Lack might actually give this team a chance at the playoffs. And he did, up until that scary neck injury he suffered against the Red Wings. He made a surprise return to the nets this past week, but just hasn’t been the same.
His rebound control, much like Cam Ward’s on Tuesday night, was severely subpar, as evidenced by Scott Mayfield (really, that guy?) easily jumping on a rebound.
It seems repetitive, but the point remains: if you cannot hold onto an incoming shot, make sure it gets kicked out as hard as it came in. Ideally, a defenseman will be in position to clear a rebound in the event that neither of those things happen, but the first line of defense is always the goaltender’s ability to control the rebound.
The dagger came from a goal we’ve seen both goalies give up time and time again. You know, the one where a forward comes down the wing with potential options in the middle, looks off said options, and flops a wrist shot that somehow finds the back of the net? It’s gone in both short and far side on each goalie, and seems to be a play that opponents have keyed in on, given its frequency.
That’s a shot that Lack stops in March. So given the sudden change in his play, is Lack really okay? I don’t mean that a neck strain is keeping him from stopping a wrist shot from the boards; I’m more referring to his psychological state. Is he losing focus in the game? Is he in his own head too much again?
Lack’s best stretch of the season came when he “turned off his brain” (and probably turned off his goalie coach, too) and just played how he felt comfortable. Now, he’s fighting the puck and doesn’t look like the confident, prepared goalie from just a few weeks ago.
He could just as easily have simply lost the momentum that he built up before the injury, but you can tell by his play style that he’s just not the same goalie. Here’s hoping he gets another shot to get back to the “good” Eddie while he’s still in Carolina.
It’s a rare occurrence for the Hurricanes’ defense is getting called out. But it’s not as shocking once you realize it’s Klas Dahlbeck and Matt Tennyson under the microscope.
It’s hardly a surprise that the bottom pairing isn’t matching up with Carolina’s up-and-coming top-four, but they were especially dragging last night. Statistically, they were, uh, bad:
Fourth line evened out a bit, but after 2:— Cane-alytics (@Cane_alytics) April 7, 2017
Bottom Pair + 4th line: -21
Rest of the Canes: +33
Hey hey, ho ho,
Tennyson, he gots to go
The eye test was equally as glaring. The Hurricanes are a team driven by speed and puck movement when they’re on their game, and it’s evident that they cannot play that way with a combination of Tennyson and Dahlbeck. One playing alongside one of the top-four can work, but the Hurricanes would be better served to find other options going into next year. Perhaps it’s time to see a couple of the roughly 8,682 defensive prospects in the pipeline?
In Bill Peters’ postgame comments, he discussed “continuing to watch and evaluate players.” The players on this team mailing it in now will be quickly noticed, and I’d expect that Peters’ evaluations include those still pushing for the playoffs in Charlotte.
One player who certainly is not taking these games for granted is Bryan Bickell. He made his return to NHL hockey on Tuesday against Minnesota, but last night saw him play in Raleigh for the first time since his diagnosis. After the game, it was easy to see just how much it meant to him to be back through his emotional comments:
But even as far as he’s come, it’s clear from Bickell’s comments that he’s still got a bit further to go before he’s at 100%. The video cuts out a bit of context, but Chip Alexander of the News & Observer provided some insight as to what followed the conclusion of that clip (or lack thereof):
“We’re just going to take it game by game,” he said. “It’s tough. I haven’t told my teammates yet. I’ve got to talk to my teammates in the next couple of days and let them know first, you know, what’s happening.”
Bickell didn’t say what he would tell his teammates. He didn’t talk of retirement. But playing hockey, at the highest level, is stressful and takes a physical toll on all who play it.
You can find the remainder of Chip’s article here. Regardless of what the future holds for Bickell and his family, his time in Carolina has been and will be impactful on a deeper level than just the scoresheet, and he serves as a reminder of how fortunate these players are just to play at all.
The Hurricanes’ final home outing is Saturday night against the Blues.