Last night was another great effort put forth by the Canes, however, they came away with nothing to show for it. It was the similar feeling to earlier in the season when the Canes would blow one-goal leads in the third and ultimately end up losing the game.
Many times this season the Canes have seen winnable games evaporate away because of scoring issues, mental mistakes, defensive zone errors and the occasional soft goal. Last night was no different as two botched defensive plays and an inability to convert on prime chances sunk the Canes. The sad part is—almost everyone watching knew it was going to happen at the end of the second when the Penguins went on a long 5v3 PP.
The Canes looked very strong for most of the game actually. I was impressed with how fast they were transitioning the puck, the fore-check/neutral zone pressure and the pace overall. The hustle and effort they were putting forth showed too—the Canes had 14 takeaways around the mid-point of the game.
In fact, the Canes dominated the pace so much that the Penguins had more blocked shots than they did shots on Ward half way through the game. While I might be 1-2 off, around the 12 minute mark in the second they had 17 blocked shots and only 11 SOG. The Canes had played aggressive and drew 5 penalties from the Penguins in the first half of the game too—three on Malkin and two on Crosby.
Speaking of blocked shots, this was probably one of the main reasons that the Penguins were able to skate away with a win last night. They had a total of 25 blocks which is more than the total amount of shots they had on Ward (22). In fact, their PK had some huge blocks as they were able to kill four of the five penalties. Many of the times when the Canes had the Penguins scrambling, they were able to find ways to prevent the puck from getting to the net.
The Canes need to do a better job of getting pucks through traffic and to the net overall. The ability to get the puck to the net was the deciding factor that cost the Canes offensively and defensively. The defensive aspect isn't much of a surprise, as the Canes have had issues with deflections, screens and pucks finding twine through traffic through extended stretches this season.
The Penguins saw two of their three goals come off of deflections from guys that were within 3 feet of the crease. Granted, the Crosby goal was on a 5v3 PP opportunity, however, the Penguins still had two players providing a double screen in front of Ward with no D to help. The result was a Crosby deflection goal that many NHL spectators have seen over and over again.
The one interesting thing that stood out to me was the turnovers as a result of playing a faster pace. The Canes typically do a decent job of limiting their turnovers, however, last night they had 21 giveaways.
This has been an issue that I’ve noticed more recently as the Canes continue to miss wide open guys and have unforced turnovers with the puck. Since the 5-day break, the Canes have struggled with making “tape to tape” passes and some of the errant plays have cost them. Last night, I think they missed out on a few scoring chances because they were simply trying to move “too fast.”
Victor Rask continues to struggle to find his game. In his past 14 games, he has no points and is a minus 10. He was the direct reason for the Penguins third goal, as he lost Malkin off a defensive zone face-off and Malkin finished the play off with a slot feed from Hagelin. Rask continues to appear to be less concerned with playing sound defense consistently as he continues to spiral offensively.
Rask and his offensive production problems aren’t a result of a lack of chances either. He has had plenty of opportunities, as well as set up teammates with some great feeds. It leads me to believe that at some point, something has to go his way.
In fact, he is so cold right now that he had one shot at an open net that was saved. He found a loose puck sitting in the crease unknown to Murray on his blocker side and fired it but Murray was still able to catch the puck (YES, he actually caught it was his blocker hand). It was the type of save regardless of the whistle blowing the play dead that just made your eyes pop out of your head.
Moving forward the Canes schedule will really start to pick up soon. Perhaps the slowness and lack of consistency of playing in games from mid-January to now hurt the Canes. Hopefully, now that they will be playing much more consistently they will find some fire again.
Yesterday, I talked about the Canes scoring woes and mentioned the amount of games they’ve had against back-up goalies. Given this, I decided to start crunching some numbers to have some data. Tomorrow, I am hoping to have a write-up analyzing the goaltending match-ups the Canes have faced this year.