The Hurricanes played a much better game than their previous two losses to Tampa Bay Thursday night, but weren’t rewarded in a 3-1 loss.
Carolina outshot the Bolts 32-22 and carried play and chances, but lost, largely due to the power play going 0 for 5 and losing the goalie battle.
Let’s talk about last night:
Tough luck loss
As mentioned in the opening, the Canes probably deserved a win in this one. They had numerous grade-A chances, including a shot off the post from Andrei Svechnikov early, one off the crossbar from Dougie Hamilton and myriad of quality stops from former Hurricane Curtis McElhinney.
Both of Tampa Bay’s non empty-net goals saw McElhinney make a big save, followed by the Lightning going the other way and scoring on two shots James Reimer would probably like back. Reimer made a few good stops, but Tampa clearly won the goalie duel in this one.
This was just “one of those nights” where the Canes couldn’t find a way to bury their chances and come away with at least a point or the win.
“It’s deflating, no question,” said Rod Brind’Amour. “We were the better team tonight. I thought it might have been our best game overall against them. There’s a lot of grade-As. We didn’t give up much, hardly. I was really, really happy. That’s hockey, unfortunately. You get some bad bounces, and a couple things don’t go your way.”
Starting on time
In their last two games, both losses to the Bolts, the Canes talked about not starting on time, and needing to play a full 60 minutes, as they were badly outplayed in both first periods. Thursday, there was no question they started on time.
The Canes were noticeably sharper out of the gate and got to their game early, outplaying the Lightning through 20 and outshooting them 13-6 in the opening frame despite going down a man three times.
Carolina was rewarded for its opening period efforts on a goal from Brett Pesce late in the first as the defenseman jumped into the play and tapped in a cross-ice pass from Jesper Fast to make it 1-0.
After the way the last two games unfolded, the Canes needed a significantly better start to this one, and they got it.
Five on five play wanted, special teams a mixed bag
There were penalties galore in this one, with both teams combining for 11 minors (six against Tampa, five against the Canes). There were some questionable, “ticky tacky” calls against both teams, and the plethora of penalties made it difficult for either team to establish a rhythm at 5-on-5, as through two periods, just 14:58 of the game had been played at even strength.
Overall, there was 25:02 of game time, nearly half of it, played with one team down a man.
“It’s hard to keep everybody engaged maybe,” Brind’Amour said. “But it’s the same for both teams. I’d like to see more flow, obviously, but that’s the way it went.”
It was a tale of two special teams units for the Hurricanes. The penalty kill was stellar, holding Tampa Bay scoreless in five attempts and generating numerous chances short handed. The Canes were probably more dangerous offensively shorthanded than the Lightning’s power play.
Unfortunately for the Canes, and it’s the biggest reason they lost, that was the case for their own power play too. Carolina went 0 for 6 up a man, and struggled to even hold and gain the offensive zone a few of them. The Canes did get a few good looks with their power play, but not nearly enough.
In a game the team lost by one plus a late empty netter, a single power-play goal could have netted them a point. It’s going to be tough to win any game, especially against a team like Tampa Bay, with the man advantage going 0 fer in six opportunities.
“It was a tough one,” said Sebastian Aho. “I felt like the effort was there all night and we battled hard. Obviously the power play cost us a game. If we score a goal on the power play, then that’s our game.”
Canes in a slump
Coming off last Saturday’s 4-0 win over Tampa Bay, it was starting to feel like this team would romp through this regular season. They were 12-3-1 and had yet to lose consecutive contests through 16 games. Three straight losses later, and there’s a decidedly different feel.
But slumps happen. They’re more pronounced and damaging in a 56-game schedule where every game is against a divisional opponent, and this team needs to break out of this one quickly. But the Canes are still in a good spot at 12-6-1, and there’s no reason to panic. Playing a team like Tampa Bay four games in a row through a scheduling quirk is a tough situation to be in, but the Canes won one game convincingly and could have at least earned a split with better luck.
“That’s a tough week for us,” Brind’Amour said. “I just think guys are down right now because they played really hard and deserved a better outcome. I asked a lot of them tonight and I thought they rose to the occasion. We had a couple guys that could be better, for sure. But overall, I can’t be unhappy with the way we played tonight.”
This team needs to figure its issues out relatively quickly, and get its top guns that are struggling to score going, especially with two games against the Central Division-leading Florida Panthers up next. The overall body of work shows there’s reason to believe that will happen.