Last night was a tough pill to swallow for the Carolina Hurricanes. Dropping game one 4-2 to the defending Stanley Cup Champions is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is how the Canes lost that is the difficult part.
Time after time throughout the regular season the Hurricanes’ power play unit failed to deliver in clutch moments costing the team valuable points. There were also multiple games where the team took five to ten minutes off and that became the deciding time in the contest.
Both of those known issues from the regular season arose again last night resulting in the Capitals taking a 1-0 advantage in the series.
The Good - Svech
By far the best player on the ice for the Hurricanes last night, Andrei Svechnikov looked right at home in his first ever playoff game. The 19 year old rookie held his own against fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin and was the sole source of life for the Canes during the third period.
Rod Brind’ Amour has been cautious with Svechnikov throughout the entire year and time after time Svechnikov has proven he deserves more trust and more ice time. His first goal of the game that finally got the Canes on the scoreboard was one of pure beauty.
He burned past the Capitals defender and easily put the puck past Braden Holtby in what is an early candidate for the best goal of the entire series. We’ve seen flashes of this throughout the season as Svechnikov has the potential to be an elite power forward with his strength and desire to get to the net.
Strength and effort are one thing but what puts Svechnikov above so many other players is his shot. His second goal was all about his shot.
Lucas Wallmark got a fantastic pass over to #37 and he once again easily put the puck past Holtby. It’s almost hard to believe this guy is only 19 years old.
The Bad - The PK
Everyone knows how dangerous the Capitals power play unit is. It’s been deadly for years. Alex Ovechkin camps out and waits for his chances to blast the puck and nobody has ever truly been able to figure out a way to stop it.
That being said, the Hurricanes faceplanted on the penalty kill in the first period. The key to success versus the Caps is to stay out of the box — which was their first mistake — but once on the PK you have to be at your very best to stop Washington.
One their first power play goal Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin came up short, plain and simple. Slavin failed to take away the pass and Pesce gave Nicklas Backstrom about three feet of breathing room in front of Petr Mrazek. You simply cannot do that, especially when it is your two best defensemen on the ice.
Both Pesce and Slavin have to be better in that situation. Slavin was partially to blame on the Caps first goal as well and you need those two guys to step up and be the shutdown defensemen they have been all year.
On the second power play goal the Canes broke rule number one of stopping the Capitals power play: cover Alex Ovechkin. This was a few seconds before the goal-scoring sequence, but it was indicative of the lack of attention to detail:
Left all alone Ovechkin skated in from his camping position to tap a rebound home. This time Brock McGinn is the culprit who loses his man and it came back to bite the Hurricanes hard as this eventually became the game winning goal.
The Hurricanes penalty kill unit improved drastically from the start of the season, climbing all the way up from the mid-twenties to a top ten unit. But those statistics reset in the postseason. They were able to settle down and kill off the remaining two Capitals power play chances, but giving up two goals a night on the PK will not get you anywhere against Washington.
The easiest solution to this problem is to simply stay out of the box. But penalties are inevitable in hockey and the Canes’ PK unit has to be better going forward in this series.
The Ugly - Power Play Struggles
As with many games throughout the regular season the Hurricanes were gifted a golden opportunity to tie (or win) the game late in the third on a power play and failed. The Power Play struggling narrative has been written about time and time again yet here we are. It’s still the main topic from last night, in game 83.
Rod Brind’Amour called an audible going into the third period, changing his line combinations drastically. It worked out quite well as the team pulled to within one. Yet he didn’t do anything with his power play combinations. He continued to roll with his top unit of Sebastian Aho, Justin Williams, Nino Niederreiter, Teuvo Teravainen, and Justin Faulk on the point. This combination has been together essentially since the Canes acquired Niederreiter in January despite its continued inability to score.
Meanwhile, the second unit features both Svechnikov and Dougie Hamilton, two of the Canes’ best players down the stretch. That second unit saw just over a minute total of the four minutes of man advantage time Carolina late in the third period. Hamilton saw only 1:24 total of power play time while Faulk saw 4:36. Svechnikov saw 1:28 and Aho saw 5:29.
Canes powerplay: 0/3— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) April 12, 2019
Caps powerplay: 2/4
That's your hockey game.
One can understand wanting to go to your big guys late in the game to try and tie it up. But they have proven time after time after time they cannot get it done on the power play. The second unit was the better option last night and Brind’Amour failed to utilize them correctly. That’s not to say they would have scored, but they weren’t given much of a chance to try.
The Capitals will undoubtedly score more power play goals throughout this series. The question is whether the Hurricanes will join them in scoring on the man advantage. If they cannot, they will be going home sooner rather than later.
Moral of the Story
There are a lot of positive things to take away from game one last night. The Hurricanes fought back and made the game interesting against the defending champions at their arena. But playoff hockey is about results, not positive takeaways. At the end of the day the Canes were not able to get the job done.
That being said there’s hope for game two. Brind’Amour needs to find it in himself to make changes to the power play units and push the penalty killers to not lose their men. If those two things can be adjusted there’s reason to believe the Canes can come back and even this series up.
In the end just remember this: the 2006 Hurricanes lost both of their first two games and the 2009 team lost their first game as well. So the world isn’t over yet. There’s a lot of playoff hockey still to be played.