The numbers, yet again, weren’t good for Eddie Lack. They rarely have been during his time in a Carolina Hurricanes uniform. Sunday night against the New Jersey Devils, he gave up three Mike Cammallerigoals on the first 18 shots he faced, and only faced a relatively tepid total of 20 all night.
The Hurricanes lost 4-1 anyway thanks to an empty-net goal by the Devils. It’s easy to point the finger at Lack after that one, just as it’s often easy to point the finger at Cam Ward. There was more going on Sunday, though, and it was an example of how there’s more to the Hurricanes’ dismal goaltending stats than just dismal goaltending.
On Cammalleri’s first goal, Ryan Murphy jumped into a battle for the puck along the boards at his own blue line that he lost, then was slow to recover, leaving Noah Hanifin on an island against a two-on-one and Cammalleri an open shot on Lack.
The second goal saw Justin Faulk and Ron Hainsey lose Cammalleri on a simple rush, and Murphy was again victimized on Cammalleri’s third. (This is not an indictment of Murphy, playing only his third game of the season; these problems have been endemic.)
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As much as you’d like to see Lack make a save on one or more of those goals – the second and third in particular – they were about as good as scoring chances get in today’s structured, overcoached NHL. The Hurricanes have given up way too many of those.
That’s the overwhelming problem with the Hurricanes’ goaltending this season: The Hurricanes’ defense isn’t good enough to protect the goalies playing behind it, and the Hurricanes’ goalies aren’t good enough to clean up the mistakes of the defense in front of them.
Lack clearly isn’t. Ward can be at times, like the home opener against the New York Rangers or, to a lesser extent, last week’s overtime loss at the Ottawa Senators and shootout win at the Nashville Predators, but not always. He’ll be back in the net Tuesday for the rematch at the Devils.
Jaccob Slavin has been good, defensive partner Brett Pesce hasn’t been far behind and the rest of the blue line has been questionable. Faulk and Hainsey have been surprisingly erratic in their own zone, and the pairing of Hanifin and your-name-here has been a mess.
The Hurricanes auditioned prospect Roland McKeown for that spot but decided he was better served playing a full season in the AHL, which left them with late-signing Jakub Nakladal, waiver claim Klas Dahlbeck and Murphy, none of whom have been up to the task
The net result has been, once again, some of the worst goaltending in the NHL. The Hurricanes’ overall team save percentage is .874, 29th in the league going into Monday’s games, and their five-on-five save percentage is .915, also 29th. That’s just not good enough.
It wasn’t hard to see this coming when general manager Ron Francis decided to bring back Ward and Lack and go into the season without any upgrades on defense. Francis didn’t think there was a deal out there for a goalie that was worth the long-term cost in draft picks, players or salary; bringing back Ward on a pay cut and two-year contract preserved cap space and assets while gambling the goalie tandem would be good enough to get the team into the playoffs.
The same was true on defense, where Francis gambled that the group that finished the season would be able to pick up where it left off, along with the late, post-camp additions of Nakladal and Dahlbeck.
It’s clear now that both gambles failed.
Francis has always put the emphasis on the long run, and in the long run this may yet work out for the Hurricanes. In the short term, the combination of average-at-best goaltending and sloppy defense has been devastating, leaving the Hurricanes in last place in the Eastern Conference.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock