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About Last Night: Deja Vu All Over Again

Hank does it again. Haven’t we been here before?

NHL: New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes played what could have been their best period of hockey all season, but it was spoiled by a familiar nemesis. The script was an old one. The Canes dominated possession and shots on goal yet lost to a divisional opponent.

What to make of it? Well, let’s take it apart to see what was good, what was bad, and what was all too familiar.

The Good - The Fourth Line

With Erik Haula out nursing a knee injury, Eetu Luostarinen made his NHL debut. He didn’t disappoint. Along with Brock McGinn and Brian Gibbons, Luostarinen brought a physical style of play that created plenty of scoring chances. Perhaps on another night - against a different goaltender - Luostarinen would have registered his first point(s) in the NHL.

With Haula listed as day-to-day, it’s unclear whether Luostarinen will stick around. Yet he certainly proved he’s capable of playing at the NHL level. It’s a silver lining on what was a difficult night overall, but the performance of the McGinn/Luostarinen/Gibbons line is something to smile about.

The Bad - The Moments That Matter

If hockey were judged like a boxing match, the Hurricanes would have won by unanimous decision last night. Scoring chances (21-9), shots on goal (47-19), shots attempted (90-38!!) all favored Carolina. Alas, hockey doesn’t work that way. Ultimately, it comes down to players making plays in the moments that matter.

In the end, the Rangers made them, and the Hurricanes didn’t.

Ryan Dzingel, Nino Niederreiter and Brett Pesce all had wide-open chances in the dead slot at different points last night. None of them scored. The man in the crease had a lot to do with that, but nevertheless, NHL players have to score in those situations. Simply put, the Canes’ hands just aren’t there right now.

On the defensive end, there were problems too. The Canes were hardly ever in their own zone defending. Yet when they were, they often found themselves hemmed in, which led to high-danger scoring chances for the Rangers. Dougie Hamilton, Pesce, and Jake Gardiner all had blown coverages that led to goals for the Rangers.

In the last three losses, the Canes have given up four or more goals in each game. In particular, the Gardiner/Pesce pairing is now a combined minus-5 over the last three games. Last night was another rough one for the pairing as they conceded goals and took the only two penalties of the night for the Canes.

Gardiner and Pesce are both long-term signings for the Canes, and it’s clear the plan is for them to be the second pairing behind Hamilton/Slavin. But with Pesce now minus-1 on the season, and Gardiner minus-5, it may be time to split them up for a bit. Their chemistry may develop in time, but it’s just not there at the moment.

The “Why Does This Seem Familiar?”

“The Hurricanes outshoot the New York Rangers but lose as Henrik Lundqvist stands on his head.”

If you feel like you’ve read something like this every year for the last few seasons, you’re not alone. Lundqvist has quite simply owned the Carolina Hurricanes. He’s now won eight of his last nine games against Carolina. Thirty-plus save performances are the norm for him, and last night was no different. He made 45 saves, including 22 in the first period alone.

Although the emergence of Alexandar Georgiev means that Lundqvist’s days are (eventually) numbered in New York, he’s not ready to concede the net quite yet. The Canes have three games left against the Rangers this year. I would strongly suspect Lundqvist will be starting those games, and based on last night’s evidence the Rangers will certainly feel confident in their ability to steal a win.

In the end, the Canes played well but lost. It happens. Still, three straight losses against divisional opponents (who are near the bottom of the division) are a problem. If the Canes are going to make it back to the playoffs - let alone challenge for the divisional title - they need to win these games.

Two games against lowly Ottawa might be the recipe for tightening up defensively and getting back on track. Otherwise, November could be shaping up to be a scary month.