The Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple Leafs met Sunday night and the Hurricanes were slow and sloppy, losing 4-0.
I’ve been covering the Hurricanes for The Hockey Writers for over three years. I’ve seen varying degrees of hockey from them along the way, some good and some bad. I’ve seen the ‘Canes play like they were Stanley Cup contenders, and I’ve seen them play like a cellar dwelling team. Sunday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, however, I witnessed one of the worst all-around performances I’ve seen in a long time.
The Sloppy Details
The Hurricanes defense was tentative to start, almost skittish. At times, it seemed as if they were unsure what to do with the puck. Not to let the Leafs totally off the hook, both teams played slow and sloppy hockey for the first ten minutes. The Hurricanes had a couple of nice looks in front of the net that were either blocked by Toronto backup goalie Curtis McElhinney or sailed wide.
Overall, the sloppy play bled over into the referees’ performance, most notably at 14:31 in the first period. The Leafs were penalized for slashing. Seconds into the ‘Canes’ power play, Jordan Staal got two minutes for cross-checking. The penalty had Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters shaking his head in bemusement, as nothing resembling cross-checking appeared to have happened on the play. The phantom penalty added to the misery of the 10,004 in attendance, as the sloppy hockey ran through the rink like a virus.
Even ‘Canes goalie Cam Ward fumbled, corralling a puck in front of his goal. Attempting to clear the puck out, he knocked it right onto the waiting stick of a Maple Leafs defenseman. Fortunately, Ward saved the ensuing shot on goal, but the sequence looked awful.
Who’s Ready to Play Hockey?
The hope was that the teams would come out of their locker rooms ready to play crisp, fast hockey. One team did, and it wasn’t the Hurricanes. At 1:07 of the second period, the Maple Leafs’ Connor Brown slipped the puck past Ward on a deflection play:
The play gave the Leafs a 1-0 lead and turned out to be the game-winning goal. The unfocused, disorganized hockey had been left in the Leafs’ locker room during intermission. The Hurricanes continued to be mired in it, as evidenced by this Auston Matthews goal:
— The Matthews Feed (@AM34Feed) February 20, 2017
The Hurricanes were caught on a change and Matthews was off to the races. The goal was freakishly good by a freakishly good player. Matthews shot across his body as he was going down, and nailed the shot past Ward. Sloppy defense combined with a superstar rookie usually means points, and that’s what happened, Leafs 2-0.
Matthews did not disappoint those who came to watch him skate (apparently, a number of the Hurricanes players included). From press row, we could see the Hurricanes defense doing a good job of watching Toronto play. The ‘Canes also played a nice version of “where’s the puck”, even when a player was carrying it by himself.
Put Them out of Their Misery (Third Period)
More sloppy hockey followed the Hurricanes out of the locker room after the second intermission. The Leafs scored another goal at 6:10 by Jake Gardiner.
Ward’s teammates effectively screened him out and Gardiner was able to thread the puck to the net. Leafs 3-0. A few minutes later Brown scored his second of the night to make it 4-0 and Ward was pulled. Eddie Lack came in and the ‘Canes mercifully did not allow any more Leafs goals. Lack needs ice time and got nearly 10 minutes at the end of a very disappearing outing.
The bottom line is that at there was no spark, no lively play from the Hurricanes. I asked Peters in the post-game press conference if he was yelling enough to get the fire going inside of his team. I told him I didn’t see a whole lot of fire. Peters answered, “No, I didn’t think we had enough fire either. I agree.”
Since they didn't want to put in the effort in game, I'd be disappointed if no bag skate today for the #Canes
— Aaron K-M (@caniacgso) February 20, 2017
I asked Peters this because I have always seen him as a hard, old school hockey coach. He needs to channel that and kick the team into the reality that they can’t play like they did Sunday night and expect to make the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins are in Raleigh tomorrow (Tuesday, Feb. 21) night. If the Hurricanes do not show more effort and fire quickly, it won’t be pretty. Of course, the loss to the Leafs wasn’t pretty, either. It was slow, sloppy hockey.