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About Last Night: An Unfortunate Gut Check

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A 4-1 lead became a 6-5 shootout loss, and we’re left here with more questions than answers.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The term “gut check” has been thrown around a ton this season. The Hurricanes fall behind on the road in the middle of a losing streak — time for a gut check. They have a goal lead to defend in the finals minutes, and the opponent is putting up a ton of shots — time for a gut check.

Last night should never have gotten to that point, having been up, 4-1, near the halfway point of the game. The Caps wouldn’t be at the top of the table if they weren’t good, but when the Canes score four in 30 minutes, they’ve got to find a way to put the game away.

What turned this from a normal game into a “gut check” for me was the third Capitals goal. Clearly, Dougie Hamilton was interfered with as he defended Alex Ovechkin, but there wasn’t a whistle, and Ovi skated into traffic to fling it by Scott Darling.

What do you do when something like that happens? That’s a real feet to the fire moment. But instead of an answer by the Canes, it was a quick strike by the Caps, and things never really picked up for Carolina.

A ton to talk about. Let’s just go ahead and get the most obvious rant out of the way...

Six players on the shootout, few of the “skills guys”

Sebastian Aho had a four-point night for the Hurricanes. He was stellar for much of the night and showed his ability to finish with two goals. Yet for some reason, he didn’t take a shot in the shootout.

Andrei Svechnikov has had some pretty dastardly dangles and scoring chances in the past few games, making life tough on goalies, and he didn’t get a shot in the shootout.

Neither got their chance last night, and it might have been less egregious in my opinion if I didn’t have to hear RBA’s post game comments about why he went the way he did with the shootout options.

A couple points here. A la Allen Iverson: “We talking ‘bout practice. Not the game. Not, not the game I give my all for. We talking ‘bout practice, man.”

OK, this one was maybe the least disheartening to hear. I get it. If you practice these things a lot, I could feasibly understand a gravitation towards a couple of outstanding candidates who show that skill in practice. But we’re talking about six guys. Six!

The more confusing part to me is the whole “you get a feel” business. He showed earlier in the season the focus on feel with Brock McGinn going against the Sharks and Red Wings — games in which he scored — and he ended up scoring the winner in the shootout against the Sharks, too.

But Brind’Amour’s feel is that well, ya know, Willy got the last goal, so he’ll probably come through for us. What are you talking about? I get that he’s the captain and all, but did you see his goal? Braden Holtby packaged him a gift, throwing the puck off the back of the net and right in front of both Williams and an open net.

Meanwhile, Aho has FOUR (4) POINTS. He also scored on a clear breakaway, which is, like, the definition of a shootout. This is like taking an Accelerated Reading test with the answers highlighted in the book for you. “The correct interpretation of ‘you get a feel’ on who goes in the shootout is… C) choosing the guy who created four of your five goals and scored on an unpressured breakaway.”

Then, RBA almost shrugged off the shootout in general, calling it a “specialty point.” These are the kinds of quotes that tend to get blown out of proportion — maybe he was just saying that we don’t have those specialty shootout guys, which I honestly think would be a fair statement. But you’re going to have PDG, McGinn and Williams all get a chance before Aho or Svechnikov — two high-skill guys — I’m going to have to adamantly disagree with you there.

(One quick concession, though: Aho went 1-for-5 in shootouts last season. Would really like to see that tick up, so I guess...like, go hard in practice or whatever RBA wants, idk.)

But let’s be for real: we didn’t lose that game in a shootout as much as we lost it in regulation. I’m running out of words, so let’s discuss a good and a bad of a rare high-scoring affair for the Canes.

Powerful power play

First up, a piece of good news. The power play was dominant, finishing the night 3-for-6. Sure, the last one came with two seconds on the advantage and was a complete blunder on the part of Holtby, but other two goals showed a couple of improvements.

For one, the shooting was better. Many a power play had failed us because pucks went directly to the goalie’s chest protector, and we had to hopelessly wish for a rebound. Last night, Aho’s one-timer was beautifully placed in the high gloveside corner, and the same for Teravainen’s wrister in the high blockerside corner. Other things definitely helped both of those pucks have a better chance of going in, but the shots themselves were more than quality.

Second, on the Teravainen goal, notice that two Canes actually filled the front of the net for a pass from behind the goal by Svechnikov. Too many times I’ve seen centering passes on power plays flung to the net for either no one or one man who’s being stick checked so hard he can’t even attempt a shot. In this case, Janne Kuokkanen was stick checked fairly well by Nic Dowd just beside the crease, but Teravainen filled in so that the puck didn’t work its way back to the point.

Lastly, the screening was great. Teravainen actually waited for Dowd, skating over from his check on Kuokkanen, to take Holtby’s line of sight away, then fired top shelf. In Aho’s case, Svechnikov rubbed up on Holtby, and the Caps’ defense just kind of let him do it. So he kept on, and it helped Aho’s one-timer find the net as Holtby flung his glove at it.

Ovechkin + circle = goal

Since the dawn of man, humans have known about the lethal shot of Ovechkin from the left circle. Yet I am sure that history doesn’t influence the future, because we continue to leave him open.

Two of Ovi’s goals in his road hat trick came from there. The first came at even strength, when it appeared that Justin Faulk (who has been on the ice for seven even-strength goals in the past two games) stuck to Jonas Siegenthaler, the puck carrier, for a second to long while Victor Rask skated over to mark Siegenthaler. That allowed the Cap to dish it over to Ovi, who had too much space and just ripped it.

The second was on the power play, and with the puck being passed from right to left, Brett Pesce rushed over to try to get his body in front as it reached Ovi, but the puck found a way through and Scott Darling couldn’t track the hot shot. Even a man down, there should always be someone lingering on the border of the left circle when Ovi is in the offensive zone.

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But the point remains: up 4-1, we gave away the lead in a 5:19 span of time. That’s just indefensible, and the Canes have to be better. These weren’t breakaways. They weren’t odd-man rushes. They were largely plays set up in the offensive zone, and we let them score.

The biggest gut check of the season thus far was a failure, and though we have a long homestand, it’s gotta sting to let this one go. Hopefully, it doesn’t have ramifications for our confidence as a team in the near future.