As most Canes fans know, the last two-games for the Canes have not gone according to plan. Going into New Year’s Eve against Tampa, the Canes were six points out of the final wildcard spot with three-games in hand to Philadelphia. Unfortunately, despite putting forth good efforts the Canes came up on the losing side against Tampa and again last night against New Jersey. Thus, the Canes still sit six points behind Philadelphia and have two games in hand now.
The Canes have seen some recent struggles with the special teams, scoring in general and D-zone lapses/mental mistakes cost them winnable games. I don’t think it is quite time for the alarm bells to go off despite dropping three of the last four games.
One reason the results aren't as bad as they look is because the loss of Justin Faulk and Elias Lindholm have impacted the Canes more than many realize. The good news is that both have reports of potentially being available on Thursday night when the Canes take on St. Louis. I imagine that the Canes will work many of the recent issues out when they return to the line-up.
Special Teams and Scoring Woes:
The injuries hurt an already struggling PP which has not converted on the PP in their past seven-games. Looking at the PP, the Canes have not converted on 16 opportunities—While the PP was struggling before Faulk and Lindholm went down, this certainly has not helped it get back on track.
In the event that Lindholm isn’t ready on Thursday night, I would like to see what Stalberg can do on the first PP unit with Skinner and Rask. Many of Stalberg’s goals this season have come on rebounds and in-tight one-timer type plays. His 6’4 frame provides a good screen option in front of the net for point opportunities as well. He also has really good speed and could be useful to spread the ice on the PP breakout. I think he could provide the grit that the first PP unit appears to be lacking recently.
Looking at the scoring in general for the Canes, in their past four games they have only scored seven goals. In two of those, they out-shot their opponents by more than 10 shots and lost both times. Furthermore, looking at the past seven games, the Canes have scored 13 (14 if count 1 EN) and allowed 14 goals (15 if count 1 EN).
One general problem continues to be the Canes inability to get in front of the net and screen the goalie. This appeared to be one of the main issues in the losses against Pittsburgh and New Jersey—last night Schneider had little traffic on many of the shots and was easily able to see the puck. Granted, the Canes had 2-3 scrums in front that easily could have resulted with pucks in the net—they need to continue to get to the front of the net and look for the ugly goals.
D-Zone and Mental Discipline/Lapses:
Cam Ward is posting a .921 save % and a 2.00 GAA in the past seven games. While he has allowed 1-2 “weak” goals, many of the goals allowed have come off of one-timers, the PK and a few poor defections/bounces. The top NHL PK unit has become notably exploitable and has killed only eight of the last 11 penalties (72.7%) –notably lower than the 89% season average.
The loss against New Jersey last night should be disappointing because the mental mistakes are what cost the Canes. Looking at the first goal, Aho was caught chasing the puck and Tennyson was caught in “no-man’s land” watching the play—the result was a nice “point-to-point” pass, setting up a high-low pass to Cammalleri who faked a shot and found a wide-open Henrique slipping past Tennyson for a back-door one-timer goal. Tennyson has cost the Canes two big-goals now (Pitt and NJD games) and I think this correlates more with the loss of Faulk.
The GWG scored by Cammalleri came on a shot just above the bottom of the circle on Ward’s glove side. The puck took an unfortunate redirection off of Slavin’s stick and went “elbow-down” on the far-side of Ward. There has been a lot of criticism on Ward regarding this goal, however, I am looking more at the stick positioning error of Slavin. This isn’t the first time that Slavin has hurt his goaltender more than helped him because of poor stick/body positioning on poor angle shots.
There is nothing more infuriating for a goalie than players who try to “do too much” on poor angle shots. Slavin should have come across with his stick defending the passing lane and “forcing” Cammalleri to the goal-line. If you aren’t able to get “stick-on-stick,” it is always smarter to leave the shot to the goalie—that’s why he’s there.
Yes, it was a surprise shot but that still doesn’t change the fact that Slavin came in with a poor angle and approach—by having the stick in the shooting lane it allows for a poor bounce. As a result, the re-direction four/five feet into the shot created an almost impossible situation for any goaltender to react to and leaves the “save” basically up to luck and hoping a “blocking” technique works.
Eddie Lack has been put on the IR with his second diagnosed concussion in a short time-span. He was previously activated from the IR on Dec. 21st, so this should be a great concern for the Canes’ management.
While football and hockey are significantly different, the treatment of Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers should serve as a potential precedent for how smart management should handle players who suffer multiple concussions in short-time spans. For those unfamiliar with the situation, Kuechly, a star linebacker, suffered two concussions in around a month span. He then later passed concussion protocol near the end of the season, however, management kept him out for the remaining three-games in the season.
While I do not know the extent of the injury or circumstances, I think the issue of multiple concussions in a short-period should be taken seriously. I do not think it would be unreasonable for the Canes to potentially shut Lack down for the season,—at best, they shouldn’t be looking at any return until the end of the season. It is better for the Canes and Lack’s future as a netminder in the NHL to get fully healthy.
Now that Lack is on the IR, Michael Leighton has been re-called to serve as the back-up. I think now or sometime very soon may be the time for the Canes to pull the “trigger” on a more capable option.
Ward has been one of the most used goaltenders this season, especially since the beginning of November. As he is aging and has an injury history, there must be concern over his durability. In the next three weeks, the Canes have three sets of “back-to-back” games.
Given how valuable points are right now, one can see why having a sound back-up is important. Depending on how everything with Lack plays out, it might be time to take a look at either Halak or Pavelec. Pavelec is the least financially “risky” move, as he is a UFA this summer and Halak has another year remaining after this season.
While there are certainly other goaltenders I ideally would bring in, I think one must consider the factors of “attainability and realistic options.” Both are cheap solutions that are probably are about the same “trade value” and could provide a reliable back-up option.
Time will only tell on how the Canes should approach their goaltending situation. There hasn’t been too much chatter around the circumstances of Lack’s concussion, so it really is speculation at this moment to the severity.
I am looking to continue the five-part series on Saturday with Part IV which will look at “solutions.” Thanks for reading—always enjoy any feedback/thoughts on the Canes recent struggles. Pre-game coming tomorrow as the Canes are on the road and take on St. Louis.