For nearly 56 minutes the Carolina Hurricanes held their own with the Boston Bruins who are one of the best teams in the NHL. One critical error by a player who has struggled this season allowed Boston to come away victorious 2-0 while the Hurricanes are left searching for answers yet again.
The Good - James Reimer
For the first time all season James Reimer got to start in consecutive games after a great performance in net Saturday against Tampa Bay. Reimer did not disappoint, holding his own in a goaltender duel and making key saves throughout the game. After a very rocky start to his season, Reimer has settled in, and over the past two weeks has actually been the better goalie over Petr Mrazek.
The Hurricanes relied heavily on two goaltenders last season and for a while it looked like the team would live or die on Mrazek’s shoulders this season. Over the past few weeks Reimer has found his groove and performed very well in some tough road contests. Reimer deserved a win last night especially since neither of the goals where his fault. With the upcoming long road trip expect Reimer to see at least two games and the Canes will need him to be just as good as he has been his past few outings.
The Bad - 11/7
Last season the Hurricanes rose to fame for doing things unconventional from management to storm surges. This season those unconventional ways have become normal ways of life in Raleigh. But there is one new unconventional thing the Canes are doing this season that is costing them games: playing with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen.
In normal NHL operations, if a forward gets injured the team recalls another forward from the AHL to replace them. While the Hurricanes have recalled forwards such as Brian Gibbons, Eetu Luostarinen, and now Clark Bishop when they knew an injury would hold a player out long term, they now seem insistent on just inserting a seventh defenseman in to the lineup instead of recalling a forward for a short term injury.
The prevailing theory here is that they have seven NHL caliber defensemen and sitting one of them for too long is not good. There is also the salary cap issue. The team is cap strapped this year and every day they can keep a call-up off their roster they save cap space for a player who may or may not return or be acquired.
The problem isn’t that the seventh defenseman isn’t capable of playing at this level, it’s that the Hurricanes are already struggling to score and adding another defenseman is not helping that problem. It leaves the forward lines uneven with multiple players having to double shift and, in some cases, leaves the seventh defenseman with very minimal ice time. The Hurricanes have only scored in one of their last nine periods of play and they could use any offensive help they can get.
This short-sighted plan to not call up a suitable replacement when a player gets hurt may pay off should the team acquire a player down the road but for now it seems wasteful, costly, and just unneeded. There are plenty of forwards in Charlotte that could come up and play in a 4th line role, giving the Hurricanes a better chance to win nightly. Saving a few dollars now to potentially use it later is no excuse for not putting the best possible lineup on the ice now.
The Ugly - The Gardiner Shift
You knew this was coming.
Jake Gardiner has caught a lot of flak this season for his subpar play. Brett wrote in more detail about the Gardiner situation Monday and it’s worth a read. After the Hurricanes’ loss to the Nashville Predators on Friday I wrote about how Gardiner needs to be benched. There’s a reason so many people are talking about Gardiner’s play and it’s not a good reason. Having scored just one goal and sitting at a team worst minus-18 (which is fourth worst in the entire NHL), to say that Gardiner is struggling is a major understatement.
For most of last night Gardiner actually played a solid game, but just when you thought he might escape the game without hurting the Hurricanes, he gift wrapped the game for the Bruins. With just over four minutes to go Gardiner fumbled a puck at the offensive blue line leading to a turnover and an odd man chance for the Bruins. Trying to make a cute play when he didn’t need to, Gardiner then got beat back to his own net, allowing Charlie Coyle to score the go ahead goal.
(Editor’s note: sorry about subjecting you to Jack Edwards here.)
The play at the blue line was clumsy and unnecessary, but what is unacceptable is his blunder in his own zone. Gardiner hustled back in to the zone, but instead of heading straight for the net to cover his man, he tried to force Danton Heinen to turn the puck over. Problem is, Lucas Wallmark already had Heinen covered, and Gardiner’s mistake left Coyle untouched in front of Reimer for an easy tap in.
Brought in to improve the offense, Gardiner has been creating more offense for the opposing team than his own. It’s hard to sit Gardiner when the team continues to use seven defenseman but it is beyond time for him to take a trip to the press box. Haydn Fleury and Trevor van Riemsdyk have both been outplaying Gardiner, and neither of them have earned a trip back to the press box over Gardiner.
For as many good moves as Don Waddell has made over the year, so far this Jake Gardiner experiment is going south just as fast as the Scott Darling one did. Signed for four more seasons, if Gardiner doesn’t turn things around quick he will be just as big of a headache for the organization to deal with as Darling was. First things first is for the Hurricanes to recall another forward so they have 12 and send Gardiner to the press box for a couple games. In the NHL you have to earn your ice time and right now the only thing Jake Gardiner has earned is a trip to the land of healthy scratches.
Moral of the Story
A lot of blame for last night will go towards Jake Gardiner, and rightfully so. He made another horrible play at the worst possible time and it cost the Hurricanes the game. However, there needs to be a fair share of criticism to the Hurricanes management for choosing to ice a lineup of seven defensemen that has proven time and time again to not work.
Losing Martin Necas and Erik Haula is not ideal and it essentially leaves the Canes without a second line, but someone else has to step up and find a way to score. Being shut out twice in three games and only scoring goals in one period out of the last nine are much more fundamental issues than one player’s boneheaded mistake.
December is a critical month and the Hurricanes will face a lot of good teams with a nearly two week long road trip in the mix. They must turn things around now or else they will be playing catch-up in the standings by the end of the month.