On the night of the State of the Union address, the Carolina Hurricanes played some of their most uninspiring, sloppy, and downright terrible hockey of the entire season in a 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues. That outcome, combined with the way 2020 has been going so far for the Canes, inspired us to discuss the State of the Canes.
Spoiler alert: It ain’t good.
The Bad - Goaltending
For nearly a decade, one of the primary reasons the Hurricanes failed to make the playoffs was their lack of consistent goaltending. We all witnessed the dramatic events that unfolded last year when the team got quality goaltending from Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney. For once, the goaltending was above par, and it directly led to a playoff run.
The start of the 2019-2020 season seemed promising and up until the team returned home from a five game road trip in December, everything seemed in line to repeat history with another playoff run.
The the wheels began to crumble.
Since December 21st, Mrazek is just 4-8-0 with a .890 save percentage and a 3.08 GAA. He ranks 57th in the NHL in save percentage since then and he’s demonstrating the form that led both the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers to cut ties with him.
James Reimer, on the other hand, has gone 4-1-1 during that same time frame with a .906 save percentage and 2.87 GAA. That puts him 29th in save percentage during that period which, while much better than Mrazek, still isn’t nearly where the Hurricanes need their goaltenders to be at.
Reimer’s play this season has been a surprise to say the least and he, at least right now, isn’t really the problem. Mrazek was brought back and paid to be the starting goalie for the Hurricanes. He’s had some great games and then he’s had quite a few horrendous games like last night.
The first goal of the game only happens because Mrazek puts out a juicy rebound off a long shot from the point. Yes, having no defenseman there to clean up the puck hurts, but that rebound cannot happen.
We're not going down in a Blais of Glory... we're just starting off in one. #stlblues pic.twitter.com/JwTZaHrto8— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) February 5, 2020
The second goal was another blunder on Mrazek as he failed to secure the far post on a wrap-around. Then the third goal happens. This was the back breaking goal that gave the Canes no chance to come back and it looked like a goal we all watched Cam Ward give up numerous times throughout that painful decade.
This should be an easy save for Mrazek but he cannot come up with it. This has been a common theme since December with Mrazek: consistently giving up goals that an average goalie stops. Think back to the games against Washington early in January. He allowed Alex Ovechkin to score on a couple easy shots from far out. These are killer goals to allow, and ones a starting goalie simply cannot allow.
120 MPH?!! It very well could have been! #stblues pic.twitter.com/g91Sv9D8mh— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) February 5, 2020
If the Hurricanes want to make the playoffs they need Mrazek to find his stuff and find it quick. James Reimer, simply for the fact that he is winning, has to be the starting goalie for now.
Goaltending solved the problems last year, but currently, it’s one of the many bad things wrong with the state of the Hurricanes.
The Ugly - Lack of Consistency
One of the worst things that has plagued the Hurricanes all season is their lack of consistency at a high level. The team has been consistent in the win-a-couple, lose-a-couple category, but that doesn’t get you in to the playoffs. There are plenty of nights where the Canes have looked like a playoff team that could compete with anyone. But then they turn around and give you nights like last night where they completely don’t show up.
The team has only had two streaks of four or more wins in a row and both of those occurred before the middle of November. Since then they’ve have three streaks of three wins in a row but two of those were followed by multi-game losing streaks essentially nullifying any progress.
Meanwhile, other teams in the Metro that the Canes are competing against have found ways to go on long winning streaks. Columbus has had both a five and six game win streak since the start of December, Philadelphia has points in seven of their last eight, and the Penguins have only lost four games in regulation since December 12th.
This is exactly why the Hurricanes have fallen all the way from a top tier Metro team to outside the playoffs completely. The inability to string together wins has become the downfall of this season.
The Putrid - The Defense
A long time staple for the Hurricanes has become their worst enemy this year. Jaccob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton, and Brett Pesce made a formidable top three for the majority of the season, but with the loss of Hamilton the true defensive issues have become glaringly more obvious.
Over the summer the Canes made a decision to move on from Calvin de Haan and Justin Faulk in favor of Jake Gardiner and Joel Edmundson. Edmundson has been an okay addition to the back end. He’s not a top four guy like both Faulk and de Haan were, though, and that’s one of the main problems. Gardiner, on the other hand, is supposed to be a top four guy. But his well-documented struggles, along with Trevor van Riemsdyk’s inability to even hold down a bottom pairing spot, has created a scenario where the Hurricanes only have two legitimate top four defenders.
Combine all of that with the fact that the additions at forward, Ryan Dzingel, Erik Haula, and Martin Necas, have all struggled defensively, and that leads to the current situation where what used to be your strength is now your worst nightmare.
Some perspective on the defensive issues can be found from the fourth goal last night where everyone forgets to cover the net except Edmundson. Chasing the puck instead of playing their positions soundly leads to an easy goal for the Blues.
There ain't no goalie gonna stop that one! #stlblues pic.twitter.com/ZByQbBUWXv— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) February 5, 2020
The fifth goal is another complete lapse in defense leading to a Blues player being wide open.
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!!!! #stlblues pic.twitter.com/xEMlphWmzw— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) February 5, 2020
(No. No, Blues twitter account, we really aren’t.)
You could show these examples all day from throughout the season. Failing to cover a player leads to either a wide open guy for the opposition or a two on one.
The Hurricanes needed a top four defenseman before Hamilton’s injury and now they need two. Many thought it to be impossible for the Canes to get worse defensively when they traded Faulk yet here they are. With only two top four guys on the roster, and forwards not helping out in the defensive zone, the defense for the Hurricanes is by far the most glaring problem for Carolina.
The Good - There Is Time
Let’s end on a good note. There is still time to fix things. Don Waddell has to act quick on fixing the defense or at least bandaging it. Justin Williams has inspired the team and he needs an increased role to continue to help out. Rod Brind’Amour must elevate Williams off the 4th line and in to a role where he can help the team.
Brind’Amour also needs start going with the goaltender that give them the best chance to win. On multiple occasions since December, Reimer has given the team a good start, then gets benched only to have Mrazek fail. If Reimer is winning, let him play. If Mrazek gets a shutout, let him play. You don’t have to alternate them just because. This is a results business and right now Mrazek is not getting results.
Lastly, Brind’Amour needs to have a heart to heart with his captain Jordan Staal. This team is young and at times needs to be given a hard lesson. Justin Williams was a master of this with his wording and charisma. Staal has yet to have his defining moment as captain, if anything he’s watched his team go from really good to really bad over the season. He needs to step up and lead by example.
Outside of the Penguins and Capitals, everyone in the playoff race in vulnerable. But the time to get moving in the right direction is now. The toughest stretch of hockey for this team is still to come in March. If they play like they did last night even a third of the games down the stretch there will not be a second straight year of playoffs. But if they can turn things around and go on a run like they did last year, there is plenty of time to recapture some of that glory of last year and secure a playoff spot.