The Carolina Hurricanes have had a horrible stretch of games. The word “hapless” comes to mind when recently watching this team. Not only has their play been abysmal on offense, which I have written about as an ongoing challenge, but their defense is also breaking down. The ‘Canes have been getting blown off the ice. This Tweet is a bit salty, but unfortunatelyit is also accurate:
Cant lie, #Canes playing like ass this 2nd half. Turnovers, defense aint there & cant hit a damn shot. Cmon guys lets go
— Sebastian26 (@Sebastian5706) January 22, 2017
The last game for the Hurricanes before the All-Star break was a home tilt versus the Los Angeles Kings. Any attempt to articulate how crucial a winning outcome was for the ‘Canes would fall short as an understatement. In their previous four contests they lost each game and were outscored 20-5. Yes, 20-5.
Of course, the team was playing the Metropolitan Division’s best during that time. They lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets (twice) and the Washington Capitals.
— Logan McElroy (@loganmcelroy) January 24, 2017
Playing the best in the division was a challenge that the Hurricanes did not meet well. But, if this team has playoff aspirations, it will have to learn how to run with the big dogs.
What a Difference Five Games Can Make
The ‘Canes and Kings last met on Dec. 8, 2016, and the Hurricanes won 3-1. The size and strength of the Kings did not match up well at that time with the faster ‘Canes. Prior to Thursday’s game, both teams were fighting for a spot in the playoff as a wild card, the Kings with 50 points and the Hurricanes with 49.
The game was a real yawn-fest for two and a half periods before the dam that was the Hurricanes’ defense broke and the Kings scored three unanswered goals. Final score: 3-0 in favor of the Kings.
Make that previous statement above now read, “In their last five contests they lost each game and were outscored 23-5. Yes, 23-5.”
Hurricanes’ Troubles on Both Sides of the Ice
Before the bloodletting that was the ‘Canes’ last five games, there was great momentum building for the team. At one point they were only one point out of the second wild card spot. Obviously, there is still a lot of hockey left to play before the playoffs, but things in general were trending up for the Hurricanes. That is not the case now.
Over the last five games, the Hurricanes have played a dismal brand of hockey. Many of the areas that they need to strengthen have been exposed, in particular their play, or lack thereof, in front of the net. Head coach Bill Peters has preached repeatedly the importance of being in the “dirty area” or the space in front of the goal.
Before the recent downward spiral, the Hurricanes beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 at home. Brock McGinn said after the game,
I think you aren’t gonna score very many highlight-reel goals out here. I think a lot of them are coming from in front of the crease and areas like that. So you just wanna box out guys and get to those dirty areas, and they’ll go in.
Bingo! That’s the Peters mantra exactly. Unfortunately, in the past five games, the ‘Canes are the ones who have been getting boxed out both on offense and defense. This is the biggest thing that the team needs to reset when they return from the All-Star break.
Hurricanes at Goalie
I have written extensively about the ‘Canes’ goalie situation, so I won’t reiterate here. In summary, however, Cam Ward has been the workhorse and he needs help. With Eddie Lack having missed serious time due to two concussions, Ward has had to play more than what should have been expected of him.
Michael Leighton has NHL experience, but he does not seem to be at a stage in his career where he can carry the load of full-time backup consistently. Lack had been sent to the Charlotte Checkers for conditioning, so perhaps he will be able to return to the Hurricanes’ lineup soon.
— betsy tessler (@kbmtessler) January 28, 2017
Recapturing the Momentum
I made the point in my latest article, “Insights From Recent Hurricanes Losses“, that elite teams have elite goalies. They also have a surrounding cast that screens out the opposing goalie when on offense, and works to clear the opposing team out from in front of their goaltender when on defense.
Again, it’s all about that blue painted area in front of the goal. If the Hurricanes want to regain the momentum they had before the last five games, they must commit to helping Ward have clear vision by clearing out the crease, and they must crash the paint when attacking on offense.
Youth Must Mature
Jordan Staal said after the Hurricanes were throttled 7-1 by the Penguins that the Pens made them “look like a high school team.” That was a pretty telling statement that summed up Staal’s frustration in vivid fashion. A fan joked with me a couple of days later that the team wasn’t that far from being a high school team when it came to the age of many of the players.
Obviously, that was a humorous comment, but when you think about Sebastian Aho at 19, Noah Hanifin at 20, and Elias Lindholm, McGinn, Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin and Teuvo Teravainen at 22, it is easy to remember that the ‘Canes are still very young.
It will take time for them to mature. That being said, the “young guns” have shown at times this season that they are capable of playing at a very high level. Maturity at this point means being able to shake off the last five games and come out of the All-Star break with confidence and determination.
Their first game out of the break is at home against the Philadelphia Flyers, a team they have been chasing for a wild card spot. The Flyers are a physical team and will likely test the Hurricanes in the important area in front of the net and in all-around physicality.
The ‘Canes are not a big, bruising team. They will need to stay in their lane, so to speak, and beat the Flyers with their team speed and getting to the net. A win will help to erase the bad taste of the last five games. A win is crucial.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.