GDB 61.0 WRAP UP: THE MASK
I’m just going to come right out and say this is going to be a somewhat negative spin on what was an extraordinarily entertaining hockey game. As an objective hockey fan, it was stunning to watch 16 goals be scored over 60 minutes. I’m not old enough to remember the 80’s and it gave me a very rough idea of how wild things must have been back then. That said, this is a Hurricane-centric blog and I make no qualms about that. We are hockey fans first, but when I watch these games, I look at them through a (mostly unbiased) Hurricanes focused lens.
With that out of the way, there were all sorts of things to take away from tonight’s 9-8 SO loss to Regina, some of them good, many of them not. So while it may be tempting to focus on the exciting comeback they almost pulled off, the real takeaway for me is how inept they (the Hurricanes) were in the opening frame so as to require such a comeback in the first place.
I know it’s pretty on the outside (and truly, there were some positives), but don’t be fooled by the mask of goalscoring entertainment. What lies beneath is actually completely grotesque and unsightly. It was a sloppy, turnover imbued defensive trainwreck where one team was foolish enough to let the other back off the mat.
The first period was insane so let me do my best. Regina’s Zablocki scored in the first 29 second – the first of a 7 goal period. The Hurricanes team defense was completely absent and the Pats made them pay. Before the game was 8 minutes old, Sam Steel and Cole Sanford would add to the visitors lead. Both goals were of the tap-in variety and to say it was ugly would be an understatement.
It looked like things would get better for Lethbridge when Tyler Wong got the home team on the board just over a minute later – but the reprieve was short lived. Just over a minute after Wong has scored, Sanford would cash-in his second of the game to give Regina a 4 – 1 lead. At this point Skinner was given the mercy-pull and Jayden Sittler entered the fray.
There was a six minute break from scoring after Sanford’s second, but with Merezhko and Bellerive in the box at the 15 minute mark, Rykr Cole cashed in what I am calling the “Inverse Taco” goal. Things were bleak for Lethbridge, but thanks to a couple late Regina penalties, the Hurricanes powerplay would make things interesting. Goals from Ryley Lindgren (PP) and Brady Reagan (ES) just over 40 seconds apart put a cap on a wild twenty minutes of hockey.
The second period wasn’t quite as wild as the first but the goals didn’t stop. Kroeker would score against his old team courtesy of a fortuitous bounce off a Pats defender at the 13:22 mark to pull Lethbridge within one. Unfortunately for the home team, a turnover by Pankewicz at the Pats blueline gave Wagner a clear cut breakaway from centre. Atwal, try as he might, couldn’t catch up enough to disrupt the shot and Wagner put Regina back on top by two. Before the period was over, Tyler Wong would score his second of the evening at the 17:08 mark.
The goal parade didn’t slow down in the 3rd either. With Regina on the powerplay, Wong would escape on a breakaway. He was denied by the pad of Brown, but the rebound remained in the crease and Brayden Burke was in the perfect position to put it home. The goal tied things up, but Zablocki would damper the party shortly after while all alone in front. His backhand beat Sittler to help Regina regain the lead.
Cue Kroeker. The former Pat exploded for two goals within three minutes to give the home team the lead! It was thrilling and it looked like it might stick – at least until Zablocki netted a hat trick of his own with just over 3 minutes remaining in regulation.
Overtime would solve nothing (though both teams came within mere millimeters) and the gave needed a shootout to decide a winner. With their backs against the wall, Wong was able to keep the skills competition going with a clutch goal as the 3rd shooter. Both goaltenders then turned away the next batch of shooters and you got the feeling it might take a while till we had a winner.
On his turn, Bellerive lost the puck while skating in and it set the stage for Wagner to plant the final dagger. He skated in with speed and rifled a perfect shot over Sittler’s blocker and in. Final score, 9-8 SO.
- The team didn’t quit tonight. I respect that as a hockey fan and as someone that’s watched this team for a long time.
- For the first time in a while now, the Hurricanes were actually able to establish some form of meaningful zone time and a cycle. As a result, they generated more chances tonight than they have in any of their previous three losses.
- Kroeker. Just wow. Pretty amazing for him to do what he did tonight against his former club.
- Reagan was the LONE, and I do mean lone bright spot on the blue-line tonight. In a game where his team allowed 8 goals, Brady was a +4 (the only plus player on the whole team). I can’t remember one bad play he made all night. MASSIVE credit to #28.
- Canes got a point and they deserved none. It’s fools gold of sorts, but we’ll take it.
- Clearly there were bigger issues than just one goal in the 1st period, but for me, allowing (another) goal against in the 1st minute deserves it’s own bad. It’s a disturbing pattern and it shows that the guys simply aren’t ready to play at puck drop.
- The top line of Burke, Wong and Kroeker had a disastrous night in their own zone. Before the first period was half-over they had already been on the ice for three goals against and had their netminders not bailed them out, it could have been worse. They would get their share of points, but aside from that, they were atrocious.
- There are a handful of defensemen who really struggled tonight. It’s funny cause I wrote in today’s preview that the issues the team’s been facing haven’t really been defensemen. That wasn’t the case. The Pats speed gave the Canes defenders all sorts of problems, and frankly, they didn’t do much to help themselves. Nielsen and Pankewicz were both responsible for turnovers that led directly to goals and again, were it not for big saves, it could have been much worse. Skeoch, Merezhko and Atwal had ugly moments of their own, the issues largely stemming from the blistering speed of Regina’s attack. I could go on, but the point is simple. The play of the defensemen in the neutral and defensive zones was not good enough and the turnovers were downright ugly.
- Too many turnovers.
- Babenko was invisible again.
- It’s becoming very apparent that really fast teams expose the Hurricanes defensive shortcomings. Pats and Kelowna are two examples.
THIS AND THAT
- It’s becoming a theme, but poor Stuart Skinner was put in an impossible situation. All four goals he gave up in the first were totally at the feet of his skaters. It was a mercy pull if ever I’ve seen one.
As I said in the opening, the game really should have been decided in the opening period. Regina was ready to go when the puck dropped, and once again, the Hurricanes were caught flat footed to start a game. They were down 5 – 1 before they shook out the cobwebs remaining from their pre-game naps.
Was it great to see the Hurricanes make a game of it?
Absolutely – and I credit them for it.
It would have been easy to roll over before the 1st period was even over. To their credit, Lethbridge found a way to get a couple goals late in the 1st and leave the door open for a comeback. The thing is, I don’t believe elite teams ever let the Hurricanes get a sniff at that comeback. No offense to the Pats, but this game never should have turned into what it did.
The Hurricanes are a top ranking team, but if they have plans to go beyond one round in the playoffs, then they need to understand that this comeback doesn’t happen against the league’s best. You cannot win meaningful games playing this kind of hockey, and frankly, part of me is happy they lost for just that reason.
Call me grumpy, call me negative, call me whatever you want. The last thing this team needs is to think they can get away with playing the way they did to start tonight’s game. The reason I’m willing to go as far as that is this is no longer a “one-off” game. Lethbridge has lost 4 in a row and have been blown-up for entire periods at a time over that stretch. Going back to the first loss, the Canes have now allowed 21 goals in four games. Show up like you did to start tonight, and you’re going to lose 9/10 games. End of story.
I missed the comments by Wong on the post-game show because I was writing this, but I was thrilled to hear his leadership in owning his lackluster play. I’ve never felt so divided when it comes to talking about an individual player’s game… but that’s where I’m at with Wong tonight. For a guy who had 6 points, I can’t imagine a worse defensive game. Tyler, and by extension, the entire top line struggled mightily tonight in the defensive zone.
They were also turning the puck over repeatedly and making ill advised neutral zone plays that would result in odd man rushes for Regina. For that reason alone I took exception to him being named 2nd star. Obviously the offense and, at the time, clutch shootout goal, played a factor, but from top to bottom, a poor (defensive) game from the captain and his line. Real leadership is being able to admit when you yourself need to be better. Tyler strikes me as that kind of guy. He’s shown nothing but integrity this season and while it was probably a game he wants to forget, I have nothing but faith in his ability to rebound.
In conclusion, they managed to grab a point in a game where they deserved none. That’s good. But they’ve now lost three in a row at home and four total. From a structure and execution standpoint, the team is playing arguably its worst hockey of the season and the playoffs are right around the corner. I can’t tell you how they will respond, but I CAN tell you that if the overall level of play doesn’t improve dramatically in the coming weeks, it could be a very underwhelming return to the postseason.
The sky is not falling, time remains to tighten the screws, but the screws undoubtebly do need some wrenching.
The next game is Friday. Remember we’l have your pre-game locked and loaded Friday morning!
Thanks again for reading. Remember to share your take on the game below.