The 2020s haven’t been too friendly to the Carolina Hurricanes so far. The Canes dropped their second straight game at home Sunday afternoon, falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 in a game where Tampa scored twice in the opening five minutes.
The Canes got a third-period goal from Andrei Svechnikov, but it was much too little, much too late to help the Hurricanes overcome the Lightning, who have now won seven straight games.
A sloppy game
Carolina fell behind 2-0 less than five minutes into the game, and there’s not much to attribute apart from just sloppy play from the Canes. The Hurricanes came out flat without much edge, and the red-hot Lightning took full advantage.
On Tampa Bay’s first goal, it was mistakes from Carolina that paved the way. A whiff at the puck by Dougie Hamilton in the Canes’ offensive zone gave the Lightning a chance on the break. After a good recovery to stop the initial chance, the Hurricanes let Mitchell Stephens skate into the zone completely unchecked. Stephens received a good pass from Carter Verhaeghe on the back side of the play, and slotted it past Petr Mrazek in net.
The Lightning’s second goal came just moments later and was again the result of some Canes’ sloppiness. Hamilton took the puck from Mrazek behind Carolina’s net, and appeared to think he had much more time than he did. After facing some pressure, Hamilton attempted to clear the puck away, but instead passed it straight to the stick of Steven Stamkos, who made it 2-0 with a strong wrister.
All things considered, the final score sheet could have been much worse for the Hurricanes if not for Mrazek. Four or five more times throughout the night, Carolina gave the puck away or didn’t close down on it with enough urgency, only to be bailed out by Mrazek.
It’s a long hockey season, and sloppy plays leading to goals are going to happen. The key is to not let them compound, but the Canes didn’t do a good job of that early in the first period and it cost them a chance at the game.
Bad starts becoming a trend
The Hurricanes are currently on a bit of downswing, as Carolina has lost five of its last seven games. A big reason for the recent struggles has been that the Canes just aren’t getting out to good starts, and that was the case Sunday afternoon against Tampa Bay again.
In those last five losses for the Hurricanes, their opponent has scored the game’s opening goal four times. In all four of those games, the Canes have faced multi-goal deficits before getting their first goal, including the 3-0 deficit they faced Sunday. The only exception to both of those was a 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers, where the Hurricanes opened up the scoring but then let the Rangers score four unanswered goals.
On top of that, the Canes have been really bad during the first minutes of games recently. In the last seven outings, Carolina has given up seven goals in the first 10 minutes of play, and has twice given up multiple goals in the first 10 minutes.
The slow starts and growing deficits have become a continued issue for the Canes, and here recently they aren’t finishing off the comebacks like they were doing in the early part of the season. Scoring first and getting leads early are clear recipes for success in the NHL, and it’s something that the Hurricanes just don’t seem capable of doing as of late.
And so are compounding losses
Another issue for the Canes that has presented itself again, is that Carolina has made a habit of letting losses compound this season. With the loss to Tampa Bay Sunday, the Canes have lost two straight, something they’re not too unfamiliar with this year.
So far this season, the Canes have had a losing streak of four games, two three-game losing streaks and have now lost back-to-back games twice. On the other side of that, the Canes have just four losses this year that were one-off losses, preceded and followed by wins.
Every team is going to hit losing streaks, but in an 82-game season one of the most important things is how a team responds to losses. So far, the Canes haven’t been too great at limiting those losses after losses. They’ve fallen in two straight, and it seems like this is a big moment to stop that bleeding as a seven-game homestretch enters its back half.
In fairness to the Hurricanes, they’ve also done a really good job of letting their wins compound this year too. They’ve been a fairly streaky team, and right now that streak is trending in the wrong direction.
The Hurricanes had an incredible five-game road trip in the middle of December that resulted in nine points, a result better than any Carolina fan could have asked for. Now however, they’ve gotten an opportunity to play seven straight games at home, and it isn’t going to plan.
The Canes started the homestand with two wins, but have lost their last two. With three games left on the extended stay, Carolina needs to find its form and pick up some wins. The change from 2019 to 2020 has been pretty ugly to the Canes so far, and they’ll look to turn the ship around Tuesday night when they host the Philadelphia Flyers.