RBC CENTER, RALEIGH—The Jeff Skinner bobbleheads arrived late. And so did the Carolina Hurricanes.
Anyone calling Saturday night’s win over Pittsburgh a turnaround game for the Hurricanes’ season would have to call Monday’s 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers a turn-back-around game.
The Canes are, figuratively, doing donuts in the RBC Center parking lot. And, literally, in the NHL standings. Don’t look now, but by this weekend the season will be a quarter over. As each leaf drops from the willow oaks in your front yard, it becomes less reasonable to say “Hey, we run off three or four wins and we’re right back in it,” and more reasonable to read the scouting reports for the 2012 NHL entry draft.
Claude Giroux scored twice on setups from Jaromir Jagr, Chris Pronger had three assists, and backup Sergei Bobrovsky held his ground in net behind a Philadelphia defense that only allowed 20 shots.
True, there were bright moments. Patrick Dwyer scored his first two goals of the season shorthanded—one on a penalty shot that brought the Canes to within a goal in the third period—and Tuomo Ruutu added his third goal in the past two games. Eric Staal added an assist and looked just as lively as he did against the Penguins.
But Cam Ward—the one player who has to bring his best every minute of every game for this team to succeed—was punctured four times on 17 shots and lasted only halfway through the contest. And the Carolina defense had difficulty knowing where to be on the ice to counter the Flyers’ attack.
Just 1:19 in, Jagr flung the perfect pass from out of a seemingly innocuous knot of players along the redline boards to find Giroux cruising up the center of the ice. In alone, his snap shot was too quick for Ward to glove.
The quick goal staggered the Canes, especially on the back end. Derek Joslin struggled to track Danny Briere, who darted in and out of the corners retrieving the puck and setting up linemates Wayne Simmonds and James van Riemsdyk during an extended siege of a shift.
About nine minutes in, it was Jamie McBain’s turn to capitulate as Jakub Voracek took advantage of the defender’s hesitation, taking the puck right off his stick as if it had been offered to him. Voracek threw it into the crease and Maxime Talbot banged it home five-hole to make it 2-0 Flyers before Ward could really react.
Ward steadied matters, though. When Joslin’s passivity allowed Harrison Zolnierczyk to cruise past him down the left wing, a perfect crossing pass to an open Zac Rinaldo at the far post seemed sure to be a third goal. But Ward scooped the net-mouth one-timer with the webbing of his glove. The fan energy from the jaw-dropping save transferred into the home team.
Rinaldo and Bryan Allen picked up coincidental roughing minors halfway through the period, opening the ice to allow rushes in both directions. It gave the Canes their first chance to get their legs going. McBain pushed the puck and threw back to Staal for a hard slapper that Bobrovsky lunged to parry to the corner. Chad LaRose and James Harrison came in two-on-one but the defenseman’s shot was softened by a defender and went wide.
Meanwhile the chemistry between Giroux and Jagr was impressive. All the other players on the ice must just seem like shadows to them. Whichever one of them has the puck—and on their shifts, one of the two of them almost always has the puck—the other clacks his stick blade on the ice. They always know first, where the other is on the ice; second, where he is going; and third, how best to get the puck to him. But they’re not systematic about it.
The Canes closed the first period strong, as Staal was robbed on a nice chance with two minutes left. Again playing on Brandon Sutter’s wing, Staal trailed his center and shot off a pass from behind the net. Bobrovsky, who had initially anticipated a wraparound and moved toward the far side of the net, slid across to meet Staal’s shot with his chest. It was a quick play, and hard to know if there was room between the goalie and the post or not. One wonders if Staal got off the shot that he wanted there.
Fans groaned when Ruutu took a terrible retaliatory slash behind the play with a minute left in the first to go shorthanded, but it turned out to be Carolina’s best strategic move of the night. After Ward calmly held the post to stifle three Simmonds chops at that puck against his pad, Dwyer and Staal made things happen at the top of the zone.
Dwyer saw that van Riemsdyk was struggling to settle the puck at the point, so he pressured him and chipped the puck into the air. They tracked it as it fluttered out of the zone, and Dwyer seemed about to bat the puck further along with his glove. But he pulled his arm back, let the puck land, and kicked it to Staal, who was skating parallel as Chris Pronger retreated. Dwyer darted wide in order to be available for a pass. Staal took a decisive stride to force Pronger to go deep enough to open a passing lane across to Dwyer. And Dwyer slung the puck to the far side of the net, by Bobrovsky’s glove. The goal came with 0.9 seconds left in the period.
The Flyers countered quickly in the second period. Almost three minutes in, Bryan Allen’s inaccurate D-to-D pass flummoxed Tim Gleason. Jagr charged up ice with it and found Giroux (surprise!) on the other wing. The scorer sniped a laser shot over Ward’s glove and inside the far post for a 3-1 lead.
After Bobrovsky robbed LaRose on a Canes power play, a Flyers man advantage extended their lead. Simmonds camped out in front of Ward and, with his back to the goalie, tipped a Giroux shot between both of their legs to make it 4-1. Brian Boucher came on at that point.
Goalie changes inexplicably steady teams. Shifts rolled and Carolina’s forecheck coalesced. When Skinner carried the puck in out of a session of vague neutral zone play with eight minutes left, his linemates materialized on either side. Skinner moved the puck to Jussi Jokinen on the left, who crossed to Ruutu on the right, who fired a shot hard enough to wriggle beneath Bobrovsky and in.
Bobrovsky appeared to be hurt with under a minute left in the second period as McBain shoved van Riemsdyk into his face. The goalie tapped his forehead while talking to the trainer but remained in the game after taking a skate to clear the cobwebs. And when LaRose tested him with a terrific wrist shot with ten seconds left, he smothered it.
Carolina didn’t begin the third period particularly well, taking a couple penalties early on, but Dwyer cashed in again shorthanded to pull the Canes to within a goal not five minutes in. With Tim Brent in the box for tripping, the winger closed on Bobrovsky and was hauled down from behind.
The official immediately signaled penalty shot, and Dwyer put his second shot of the night past Bobrovsky’s glove to make it 4-3.
Did Dwyer see some weakness in Bobrovsky’s glove hand on the night? “As a rightie, coming down, it’s a little easier. You’ve got a better angle on that side,” he said. “The first one, to be honest, I just tried to get on net. And the second one, I wanted to come in and shoot maybe before he thought I was going to.”
“I thought maybe I would fake on that one and pull a deke. But I was just trying to catch him off-guard. He was pretty stationary and, from what I saw, he was kind of far back in the net, giving me a little extra room on that side. When they’re playing deep in the net like that it’s hard to deke, so I just wanted to get a good shot off.”
The Canes tried to use their new offensive strategy down the stretch, as Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky took penalties. But the Flyers kept things even, waiting for opportunities to open up. With just under four minutes left, one did, and Philadelphia took advantage to ice the game.
All three Canes forwards forechecked so aggressively that their defensemen left a huge gap up ice. When the puck came loose at the top of the zone, Gleason stepped toward it but, realizing he wouldn’t get to the puck before Voracek, he stopped. Flatfooted, Gleason could only watch Voracek streak past him. He found Matt Read for a tip-in goal.
Skinner drew yet another penalty with 68 seconds left to give the Canes a 6-on-4 with the empty net behind them, but they could not get the puck to the net. Kaberle had the best opportunity—open at the point, the puck on his stick, traffic in front, no one in front of him—and he… passed to no teammate in the circle.
The Canes hit a stretch now in the schedule in which they play every other night, interrupted only by some back-to-back games. They head to Montreal for a Wednesday night tilt before coming home for the Sabres on Friday and the Maple Leafs on Sunday afternoon. Then they’ll try these Flyers again on Monday night in Philadelphia.