The first note of concern is that the last five games were all against Metro division opponents. The entire season the Canes struggled against the Metro and this is something I discussed when looking at the second half of the season.
As of now, the Canes are 4-11-2 against Metro opponents this season. Beyond the Metro issues, three of the four losses were on the road too—they’ve greatly struggled there as well and are 6-14-6 on the year.
Looking forward, they now have 13 remaining games against Metro foe and eight are against WSH, PIT, WSH and NYR. In addition, looking at their results against those four teams, they have only won two games. Given these results, there is a noticeable difference in talent between the top Metro teams and the Canes.
Another recent issue is the fact that in the last five games the Canes have been outscored 24-13. While this statistic on the surface doesn’t look to significant, one must remember that they scored seven of those against the Islanders. If you take that game out of the picture, the past four games have the Canes outscored 20-6.
While part of it is that the Canes defense is clearly overwhelmed with covering these top tier teams, another component is that teams are now playing their starting goalies—they aren’t just starters either, their top tier goalies as they’ve seen Bobrovsky (twice), Holtby and Murray.
Now that the Canes are facing top talent goalies, the scoring issues are exploited even more. The fact of the matter is that the Canes truly aren’t a deep offensive team. The bottom six have over-performed throughout stretches, however, the better teams are able to shut them down consistently. Not having to worry about the offensive threat of the third and fourth line allows teams to play their shut down lines against the few scoring threats.
Another area that continues to be exploited is the third defensive pairing. Dahlbeck, Murphy, Tennyson and Hanifin have all struggled to consistently provide reliable defensive coverage. While all of them have provided reliable D at times, they are far from reliable against top teams. Hanifin and Tennyson both noticeably struggled tonight against the Capitals and lost many net-front battles.
Finally, Cam Ward isn’t playing that great either. While he certainly isn’t the sole reason for the recent struggles, he was a primary reason the Canes won many of their games in November and December. As of late, most of the wins in January came from offensive production, not goaltending. Hopefully he will return to form soon, especially as the All-Star break will provide some much needed rest.
Overall, the big picture is that the Canes are losing battles in front of the net, the transition game/odd-man rushes, and special teams. These were all areas that the Canes did well when they strung together a majority of their wins in November and January. Many of the goals the Canes recently are allowing come as a result of failures to win in those three areas.
The good news is that the All-Star break is coming soon, so the Canes can hit reset. They need to focus on getting back to their basics. The Canes need to focus on winning the battles in front, possession statistics and controlling the pace better. GM Ron Francis will certainly be faced with some big questions if the Canes don’t see much improvement soon.