Hurricanes Mistakes Costly; Lose 2-1 to Bolts

Hurricanes are usually a force of nature that have great potential to do much damage. Especially in Florida. Hurricanes are not known for self-inflicted damage. Except if it happens to be a hurricane in name-only, as in a professional sports franchise. A prime example would be the Carolina Hurricanes, the NHL franchise from Raleigh, North Carolina that bore down on Florida’s Gulf coast Thursday night. Certainly a category one or less in strength, this hurricane did the unthinkable and inflicted irreversible damage on itself.

How many shots does it take?

Apparently not enough. The Carolina Hurricanes fired 31 shots at Tampa Bay Lightning backup goalie Evgeni Nabokov. The result was the same as it has been in the last four Hurricanes outings: one goal. It seems that backup goalies have become the Achilles heel of the Hurricanes. Pittsburgh Penguins backup, Thomas Greiss, San Jose Sharks rookie, Troy Grosenick, and Petr Mrazek of the Detroit Red Wings all kept the ‘Canes at bay. Nabokov did the same Thursday night. At least it wasn’t his NHL

Huricanes' Justin Faulk
(James Guillory-US PRESSWIRE)

debut. Evgeni Nabakov has been around awhile, having been drafted in 1994 and playing with the Sharks and New York Islanders before landing in Tampa. His status as a backup did not impede the Lightning’s chances of winning at all.

Nabakov’s one gap in the wall he built in front of his net came in the third period. It was scored by the Hurricanes’ Justin Faulk. Who else, right? Faulk started to come alive in November, finishing the month ranked second among NHL defensemen with 3 goals and 10 assists. He has scored the Hurricanes’ only goals in their past two games. It is certainly to his credit that he has scored, but it speaks volumes about the forward lines that are not producing. Jeff Skinner, Eric Staal, Elias Lindholm, and Jiri Tlusty have been firing blanks, and the team has suffered as a result. It’s not a result of a lack trying, but the offense has repeatedly come up empty. To his credit, Faulk’s goal was excellent:

The goal was very similar to Faulk’s in the game against New Jersey Devils Monday night. A good play started by Andrej Sekera led to a nice pass from Riley Nash and Faulk laced it by Nabakov. All the superlatives in the world however won’t obscure the fact that the Hurricanes’ offensive productivity is anemic and almost non-existent. Again, it is not for a lack of trying – sometimes hockey is just unmerciful in its refusal to allow the puck entry into the net, no matter how diligent a team is at shooting. But, something has to give.

Hurricanes’ bizarro world

When thinks are going bad in sports, events can become a little freakish. For example, the first goal of the night in Tampa. The puck looked sort of like a pinball bouncing around looking for an exit. It found a place to rest behind Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, nestling itself into the webbing of the net. The Lightning were on a power play and Anton Stralman rimmed the puck around the wall. Not too bizarre, right? Suddenly, it bounced right to the front of a vacant Hurricanes net. Ward had slid around the back of the cage to slow down the puck – as he should have – and as he would do again in an instant. The puck was waiting for Nikita Kucherov to tap it in, and the Bolts were up 1-0. Enjoy a sample of the strange and weird:

Cam Ward did what he was supposed to do. He anticipated the puck going where it would go on that dump-in 99 times out of 100. As the Tampa Bay television guys marveled, “It took a goofy bounce.” Ward’s play throughout the game was outstanding, as it has been since the beginning of November. Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters voiced a refrain that is becoming all too familiar:

“Especially early, I thought he did a real good job of keeping us in it and giving us a chance. It would have been nice to get one for him coming down the stretch.”

This save against Tampa Bay’s Valterri Filppula in the second illustrates just how dialed in Cam Ward is:

“Wardo” has done everything an NHL team can hope for and more. He has been consistent and is playing as well as any goalie in the league. But, even the game’s best can’t do much with this:

With :30.3 seconds left in the game, and at least one point secured for the Hurricanes, what looked like an intended pass from Kucherov bounced off of Ron Hainsey’s skate and right past Cam Ward. Game over. Hainsey, who was skating in his 700th career game, broke it down after the game,

“We didn’t execute our breakout properly, and then it kind of ended up as a mini two-on-one in front there. The puck came by, I tried to react and I kicked it into the net.”

And just like that the Hurricanes exit an arena with no points and another game in the loss column. Joe Smith, Tampa Bay Times beat writer for the Lightning, tweeted Nabokov’s summary of the game:

Stuff does happen in hockey and in every sport. Winning takes getting a break every now and then. Thursday night in Tampa, the Hurricanes did not get the breaks, and their lack of offensive firepower left them vulnerable. I’m not a big analytics guy, but this tweet from Michael Stuart, who covers the Lightning for the Hockey Buzz, is very telling:

He expanded on this point in his article about the game. The Lightning should have won the game by their dominance in the 5v5 part of the game. Tampa Bay was winning the even-strength battle. But, Cam Ward kept his team in the game, and it took the scoring of freakish goals to get the win for the Bolts. What does this mean? It means that the Hurricanes need to score. Duh, right? The guys with all the zeroes on their paychecks need to step up and get it done.

They will have their chance on Saturday in Philadelphia. Maye the ‘Canes left the freaky stuff in Florida, and can get a win in Philly against the Flyers. They are learning the hard way that mistakes are costly, sometimes leading to bizarre endings. Hard work and continued shooting will pay off. As Coach Peters said Thursday night, “Our guys care. Our guys want to get out of the hole we’re in. They work hard on game days and in practice. If we stay with it, we’ll be all right.” Let’s hope so.