At one point late in the second period, with the Carolina Hurricanes looking as lifeless as ever, two press box scribes bemoaned the state of the game unfolding six floors below.
Person 1: “Good lord.”
Person 2: “This game sucks.”
And so it was, with the Canes returning home and showing very little motivation and even less determination - in front of their new owner, no less - in a listless 5-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in front of 15,303 at PNC Arena on Sunday.
The mistakes started early, and Vegas, as they’ve been wont to do all season in the midst of their improbable ascent up the NHL standings, made the Canes pay. William Carrier carried the puck into the zone just under three minutes into the game, and drew two defenders to him. That left Pierre-Edouard Bellemare wide open and ready to pick his spot from ten feet out, and he did exactly that in beating Scott Darling through the five-hole.
It went from bad to worse, and then to much worse, in the span of 39 seconds later in the first. Colin Miller tipped in a point shot on a Vegas power play, and then Jonathan Marchessault wired a top-corner wrister over Darling’s left shoulder. Bill Peters used his timeout, ripping his squad for their listless performance, and then pulled Darling for Cam Ward, although after Darling had returned to the crease to boos from the home crowd.
Late in the period, Elias Lindholm crunched Nate Schmidt along the far boards, and Marchessault took exception, earning himself four minutes (and taking Lindholm with him for two) for roughing in a “fight” that featured maybe one punch and a whole lot of bear-hugging. Jaccob Slavin cashed in on the Canes’ power play with 44 seconds remaining in the period, giving the Canes a glimmer of hope entering the first intermission.
But as they’ve done all year, the stifling Golden Knights forecheck snuffed out any hope of a comeback. The Canes were unable to get any dangerous shots on Marc-Andre Fleury, despite taking ten of them in the second period, and it certainly felt like game over 13:42 into the period when James Neal potted a rebound on the power play after a Victor Rask slashing penalty.
And it really was game over with 9:30 to go, when Brendan Leipsic got behind Roland McKeown and tapped in a centering pass after Victor Rask failed to clear the zone. The one-minute-to-go announcement earned a Bronx cheer, which succinctly summed up a miserable two and a half hours for the home crowd.
At this point serious questions have to be asked of the Canes’ goalie situation, and whether Darling would benefit from a stint to clear his head in Charlotte. He’s 2-9-2 since November 22, and while only one of the goals he conceded can reasonably be pinned on him exclusively, the fact is that the Canes are unable to win games when he’s in net for whatever reason. It’s an unenviable spot to be in, and at this point it’s similar to when a tire has a slow leak: you keep pumping it up, and it runs, but eventually it goes flat.
Similar questions can be asked of the Canes’ scoring attack, notably Jeff Skinner, who has two goals since Christmas, and of the defense, which still looks largely ineffective in the absence of Brett Pesce. It’s a toxic mix right now, and with the Metro handing out three-point games like candy on Halloween it’s not going to get any easier to make any headway in the playoff race over the next few weeks.
The Canes are next on the ice on Tuesday when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Steel City.
That’s what it’s about. The second one is unfortunate, it’s a deflection off our guy. The third one I have to go back to, it was right after that on the bump-up shift. Tough sequence of events.
I thought there was a stretch there in the first where the game was up and down, going pretty good and high energy. We didn’t stay with it.
[On if there’s a lack of trust in Darling:] You’d have to ask guys individually or collectively. I’m not the one to answer that. I know we have to be better in front of our goaltenders. When we play properly and are committed and competitive, we have a chance. When we don’t do that for sixty minutes, we don’t. We can’t have passengers.
[On how many guys were committed tonight:] I don’t know. I’d have to go through the tape and figure it out.
[On whether a change needs to be made for its own sake:] We did that on the back end bringing in McKeown and playing a fresh body there. We need some better play out of some guys. Some guys may be too comfortable, there’s no question about that.
Winning consistently hurts. There’s a physical price you have to pay to win.
[On home/road splits:] I don’t know what the reason is for that. Maybe we just get off to better starts on the road. I think the back to back had a little to do with that tonight.
I think we played a little bit of up and down hockey. There have been a couple games where we’ve played really well and a couple where we haven’t played well. We just have to be able to compete for the full 60 minutes.
In the second period we did skate pretty well and we had our opportunities. We just had a few that we have to capitalize on.
We weren’t able to execute execute as well as we wanted. All areas of the ice were a step below the level we want to play at consistently. I can’t pinpoint one thing right now. I’ll have to go over it again. We just didn’t have it tonight.
Every day you probably hear from someone that the start is important and it’s important to build a game early. Whether it’s creating offense or having your game going the right way, it’s always important, and we didn’t have that tonight.
We’re always trying to look for a spark. You can only say so much and you just have to go out there and do it. It doesn’t have to be fighting or a big hit, but someone’s got to step up and get the team going. That can be offensively, a big block defensively, just to get the team into the game.
- It’s January 21 and, with 66 points, the Vegas Golden Knights are in first place in the entire National Hockey League. What a time to be alive.
- Slavin’s goal was his first career power play goal, and Jeff Skinner’s assist on the goal was the 360th point of his career, passing Jeff O’Neill for fourth on the Canes’ all-time scoring list.
- Tonight was the fourth straight game in which the Canes have scored on the power play. They’re 6-for-17 in that stretch, and 10-for-30 since New Year’s Day with the man advantage.
- Peters said that injured forward Sebastian Aho wouldn’t be back before the All-Star break, and from there he didn’t have a timetable for a return.
- It’s notable that Peters hasn’t thrown Darling under the Eddie Lack “Make A Save” Memorial Bus, but given two chances in the postgame press conference to make a point to a player or players, Peters demurred to the “I need to watch the video” line. Which is fine, but he can’t describe a goal in pinpoint fashion and then credibly fall back on an excuse for another. What he’s saying in the locker room might be different than what he tells the media, but it leaves everyone hanging to hear such a dichotomy for no apparent reason.
- Along the same lines, to Peters’ credit, he said that too many guys are comfortable. But does that include the coaching staff? Sorry, but inserting Roland McKeown into the lineup at the expense of a fellow rookie isn’t exactly a profile in courage for a team that is in desperate need of a shakeup.
- Finally, a confirmation: Gerard Gallant did not leave PNC Arena in a taxi tonight.
Rank the Performances
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