One close loss very quickly turned into a four-game string of close losses for the Carolina Hurricanes, who have watched all of the positive vibes surrounding their franchise-record run of wins all but disappear.
After falling to Rangers, Predators, and Blue Jackets in similarly dumbfounding ways, the Hurricanes experienced a multi-faceted disappointment of a loss against the New Jersey Devils last night, from defensive breakdowns at inopportune times to another rough outing for rookie goalie Pyotr Kochetkov.
For the better part of two periods, Carolina dominated New Jersey, but it wasn’t enough. Let’s talk about last night.
The First 39
Boosted by shorthanded goals from Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Sebastian Aho and Max Pacioretty’s third tally in as many games with the club, the Hurricanes were in command with as little as one minute remaining in the second period.
Kotkaniemi’s opening goal off of a beautifully-executed push faceoff win from Martin Necas got the home crowd into the nationally-broadcasted festivities.
Jonas Siegenthaler responded before the end of the first period on a weak short-side goal from a bad angle to knot the score up at one goal apiece, but the Hurricanes were the better club at 5-on-5 for most of the opening frame. That continued into the second period as the Canes consistently created issues for a Devils team that struggled to get and maintain possession of the puck.
Pacioretty’s flip pass to Seth Jarvis on a rush chance at 8:50 of the period bounced off of a Devils defender and went into the New Jersey net to give Carolina their second one-goal lead of the game.
Their lead grew by a goal thanks to another shorthanded goal. Aho buried a returning feed from Teuvo Teravainen that went through the legs of former Hurricane Dougie Hamilton, and it felt like a late-period dagger of sorts to put separation between the two teams.
The two-goal lead felt safe; perhaps the Hurricanes shared that feeling too hard.
The Final 21
As the final-minute announcement was made, Dawson Mercer corralled the puck in the corner of the Carolina zone and b-lined to the front of Kochetkov’s net. After experiencing virtually no defensive pressure, Mercer managed to slip the puck through the legs of the young goalie to make it 3-2.
The goal was a result of several players falling asleep at the worst possible time, and Kochetkov’s recent strugglers didn’t help matters for the home team.
One goal in that spot would be unfortunate. Two goals in that spot would be a disaster. Carolina’s finish to the second period was a disaster.
The very next shift, the Devils again secured an easy offensive zone entry. Dylan Coughlan fell down, which left Jesper Boqvist totally unmarked, and Jack Hughes found his open linemate down low. Boqvist made a move to the front of the net and scored New Jersey’s second goal in 18 seconds.
It was an absolutely deflating sequence for the Hurricanes, who went from up 3-1 and back to square one with momentum cascading the other way in less than 20 in-game seconds.
For as disappointing as the final minute of the second period was for Rod Brind’Amour’s group, the third period was just as bad. In a tie game on home ice, the Hurricanes went roughly half of the final regulation period without registering a shot on goal. Just before the halfway point, another defensive breakdown, combined with a great individual play and a rookie netminder leaking confidence, spelled Carolina’s doom.
Mercer got around Coughlin with ease, danced to the front of the net, got the puck by Kochetkov’s outstretch pad, and dunked in his second goal of the game at 8:53. The goal came almost exactly one period of play after Pacioretty’s second-period tally to give the Canes a lead, but at that point, the Pacioretty goal felt like it was scored in an entirely different game.
New Jersey didn’t wear Carolina out with constant waves of offense in the third period, but they got their goal, parked the bus, and made the Hurricanes look hopeless as they tried to get a game-tying goal.
That goal never came, and Nico Hischier’s empty-net tally sealed the deal for the Hurricanes in a 5-3 loss.
What To Make Of It
Last night’s game saw many of the lingering issues the Hurricanes have faced this season rear their collective head yet again, and that starts with their third-period play.
Carolina entered last night with a -9 goal differential in third periods this season, a mark that comfortably placed them in the bottom third of the league. Of course, that metric got worse for the Hurricanes, continuing a trend that has inexplicably held the team back at several points in the season.
Typically, previous iterations of the Hurricanes thrived late in games, which makes this dramatic turnaround additionally puzzling. It hasn’t been just one or two facets that have plagued them, either. Instead, it’s been a combination of things with new variables thrown into the equation on many nights.
The play of the team’s third defensive pairing, Coughlin in particular, was again an issue. Kochetkov would likely be the first person to tell you that he wasn’t good enough, either, though I have a difficult time placing loads of blame on the shoulders of a rookie goalie coming back from injury when this team is packed with veterans and considers itself a Stanley Cup contender.
They need better goaltending, certainly, but they also need a level of desperation in the game they play in front of whoever is in the net that was sorely missed in the final 20+ minutes of last night’s game.
It’s four straight losses now for the Hurricanes, who are getting dangerously close to their season-long six-game losing stretch from November without the added benefit of picking up a point almost every night. It’s not the end of the world, and plenty of time still remains for the team to get back on track and reestablish themselves as a top dog, but Jordan Staal’s remarks after last night’s game don’t paint a particularly pretty picture.
Staal on the four-game losing streak: “I hope this group doesn’t think they’re better than they are.”— Cory Lavalette (@corylav) January 11, 2023
If the Hurricanes are going to end their rut, they will have to do it in the same building they took a disappointing shootout loss in on Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. More than anything, this team desperately needs something to go their way, so hopefully, that is what happens on Thursday.