The Carolina Hurricanes ran into a perfect storm of calamities on and leading up to Saturday night up in the tri-state. The only thing that could have made it worse would have been a healthy Dougie Hamilton playing in the game and scoring that seventh goal against.
At least we can all take solace in knowing that didn’t happen.
To the tune of a 7-4 final score, the Hurricanes’ three-game winning streak screeched to a halt at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.
Let’s talk about last night.
Hot Start and Shaky Goaltending
Fresh off of a three-game stretch wherein the Hurricanes had scored 17 goals, the early stages of Saturday night’s game felt like just another big offensive showing.
Andrei Svechnikov wired a long-range, low-danger shot through traffic on the left-wing and somehow managed to get it by Jon Gillies to put the Hurricanes on top at the 2:20 mark of the opening period.
Just over three minutes later, the Svechnikov line was on the ice again for an offensive zone face-off. Vincent Trocheck and company won the draw, got the puck to Ian Cole, and the stay-at-home defender sent a slap shot off of Gillies and into the back of the net to make it a 2-0 game.
In under six minutes of in-game time, the Hurricanes had scored twice off of shots that didn’t have much of any business ending up in the back of the net. Gillies was leaking.
Spotting this Canes team two goals right from the jump has proven to be a death sentence for opposing teams this season, especially for clubs like Devils. Entering last night’s game, the Hurricanes had a .857 winning percentage when they scored first, which was good for the fourth-best winning percentage in the NHL in such scenarios. On the other hand, the Devils had a .250 winning percentage in games where they trailed first, which ranked 23rd in the NHL.
If games were played on paper, you could have just turned the game off and gone to bed. But, instead, it was the Hurricanes who went to bed.
A Dreadful Defensive Outing and More Shaky Goaltending
As it turned out, Nathan was a Bastian of script-flipping goals.
That wordplay doesn’t really work, but the Devils’ offense certainly did.
In less than two minutes of in-game time, Nathan Bastian scored twice to wipe out Carolina’s lead. At 17:26 of the first period, a physics-defying puck bounce off the end boards wound up soaring through the air, right back to the front of the net, and Bastian put a stick on it and batted it by Jack LaFontaine.
Then, at 19:06, Ryan Graves’ point shot got deflected in the slot by Bastian, and the game started all over again on an even slate heading into the second period.
At the onset of the second period, Josh Leivo roofed a shot on Gillies after a phenomenal power move to the front of the net to make it a 3-2 game, giving the Hurricanes yet another early-period lead.
The Devils then struck back to score three times in the period and outscored the Canes 5-1 the rest of the way.
In fairness, the Hurricanes were profoundly fortunate to even find themselves on top at any point in this game. The team played one of their worst defensive games of the season, and they did so in front of a rookie goalie making his first NHL start.
The Canes had allowed 13 high-danger shot attempts through two periods and generated just four of their own at 5-on-5. It wasn’t until the second half of the third period that the Hurricanes managed to start controlling the pace of play, but by that point, it was too much of an uphill climb to make a difference in the outcome.
When you give up seven goals, the immediate blame typically goes to the goaltender, and while there was some truth to that last night, LaFontaine was far from the deciding factor.
The Hurricanes had their third-worst game of the season in terms of expected goals against at 5-on-5, trailing just behind the egg they laid on home ice against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 6-0 loss last week.
After their two early goals, the Trocheck line got blasted by the Devils, as did every other line outside of a strong game from the trio of Leivo, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Derek Stepan.
Jaccob Slavin and Tony DeAngelo were on the ice for three goals against and logged one of their worst games of the season. Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis might have also had their worst outing of the year.
When your best players are missing in action, I have a hard time justifying some kind of lengthy tangent about the performance of a rookie goalie. It was a team failure, not one that lay on the shoulders of a particular individual.
“Their goals were real goals,” Rod Brind’Amoiur said after the game. “We gave up 40 shots. That’s not going to win games. I hate that that’s how that went for (LaFontaine). But we’ll get a plan for him. That’s part of it. But the group in front of him wasn’t good enough.”
The Hurricanes are in a position where they can very easily flush the results of Saturday night’s game and move on. They beat Boston. They beat New York. A dud in New Jersey isn’t the end of the world, especially on the second night of a back-to-back after having their flight to Newark delayed due to the winter storm in North Carolina.
The team has two off days leading up to their game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday, and they should be a bit healthier by that time after having several game-time decisions last night.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.
If the entirety of this season is any indicator, expect a sunny day when the Hurricanes hit the ice on Tuesday.