The Carolina Hurricanes dropped a 5-4 decision in regulation Tuesday night against a Tampa Bay team that will undoubtedly have their best shot at a Stanley Cup since they won it all in 2004. On its face, there’s no shame in losing a one-goal game to a team that will likely be playjng deep into the spring. So why should the Hurricanes be disappointed in their effort against one of the league’s top teams?
For those keeping track, they’ve now allowed two hat tricks in as many games (Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Johnson) and have given up an average of 4.25 goals per game over the past four games. They’ve now gone 1-3-1 over their last five games and sit one point out of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Something’s got to give.
Look no further than the defense and goaltending to blame for this cold streak. Many blunders by the defense cost them this game, including an especially noticeable one by Noah Hanifin on Johnson’s hat trick goal. The third year defenseman, a 6’3”, 206-pound man, was outmuscled by a 5’9” forward:
At that point of the game, there were five minutes left with the Hurricanes down a goal. You can’t get that kind of effort from Hanifin with the game still in reach.
Frankly, the Hurricanes could have been in an entirely different situation. Chris Kunitz’s goal was waved offside after a monumental coach’s challenge win by Bill Peters. Yes, really. This kept the scoring at three apiece until this happened:
Cam Ward’s glove still has holes in it, I suppose. With little traffic in front, Ward let Dotchin’s shot beat him high and the Lightning took the lead. From there, there was no looking back.
Cam Ward is 1-2-1 with a .855 SV% in his last 4 starts.— Kyle Morton (@k_morton9) January 10, 2018
So with Ward struggling to return to his performance of the month of December, what do you do about the goaltending situation? Do you turn to Scott Darling to see if he can produce a few wins and get into a rhythm? Or do you stick with Ward in a stretch of important games heading into a week off? I’m not an NHL head coach but Bill Peters definitely has a tough decision ahead of him.
Goaltending is not necessarily entirely to blame for the recent woes either. Weak defensive pairings and a Justin Faulk who looks like he is stuck in quick sand still despite scoring a late garbage time goal doesn’t help the situation.
Despite a two-for-four power play night, the team ranks a measly 23rd on the power play. Four goals against the Lightning can’t deny the fact that the team sits tied for 21st in goals for. This team’s offense has to overcome its inconsistent goaltending situation if they want to remain competitive down the stretch. Receiving secondary scoring from their depth forwards - not to mention the imminently-returning Lee Stempniak - could help out an overworked and highly productive first line.
We’ve reached the halfway point of the season, gentlemen. Time to figure out what you really are.