Special Teams Woes Hurt Carolina Hurricanes in 6-4 Loss to Colorado

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 19: Jaccob Slavin #74 of the Carolina Hurricanes looks on during the third period against the Seattle Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena on October 19, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 19: Jaccob Slavin #74 of the Carolina Hurricanes looks on during the third period against the Seattle Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena on October 19, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

It doesn’t take a genius to diagnose the ongoing problems with the Carolina Hurricanes. After allowing a touchdown to the Seattle Kraken on Thursday night, the defensively absent Canes needed to reverse course against one of the most high-powered groups in the league. As we saw again on Saturday night, the Colorado Avalanche are very good, and the Hurricanes have some deep issues they need to work out.

With Sebastian Aho out for a third game and Frederik Andersen still not well enough to dress, the Carolina Hurricanes were dealt another harsh blow with the announcement that Brett Pesce wouldn’t be available in Denver with a lower-body injury. With only six defensemen able to dress for the game, the team inserted emergency call-up Callahan Burke into the lineup to make his Hurricanes debut against his former team. Pyotr Kochtkov was given his first start of the season after relieving Antti Raanta in Seattle.

Unlike recent games on this road trip, the Hurricanes found themselves on the right side of a start. They killed an early penalty. Pyotr Kochetkov was knocking down every shot in his general direction. They had some good looks in the offensive zone. Eventually, they found the first goal of the night. Right after Colorado killed a penalty, Stefan Noesen made a great pass through his legs to Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who promptly put it past Alexandar Georgiev to open the scoring.

The Hurricanes seemed poised to end the period with the lead, but a late penalty and some magic by Nathan MacKinnon got the Avalanche on the board with 5.4 seconds left. MacKinnon’s pass hit Ryan Johansen’s skate and trickled across the goalline, tying the game before the intermission.

Drawing a penalty early in the second period, the Carolina Hurricanes were looking to regain their lead. Instead, Logan O’Connor got free on a breakaway, scoring a short-handed goal in his third straight game 67 seconds into the period to give Colorado its first lead of the night. The Canes’ power play didn’t let it stick as Brent Burns, with the help of a great screen by Stefan Noesen, snapped a shot past Alexandar Georgiev to tie it. Just under 90 seconds later, Michael Bunting picked up a rebound and elevated it past the goalie, giving the Canes the lead more than halfway through the period.

Once again, the Canes found themselves in a great position. Up 3-2 on the road with more than half the game melted away, they had snatched the momentum back from the Avalanche. Unfortunately, the defense broke down again. Colorado finished the period with four unanswered goals in 7:39, including two on the power play, to take a 6-3 lead into the second intermission. To overly simplify the sequence, it was an uncharacteristic breakdown by the top defensive pair, a rebound at the top of the crease, an all-too-familiar breakdown by the third pair, and a perfectly placed shot through three layers of traffic that put Colorado ahead.

As hard as the Carolina Hurricanes fought to get back into the game, time wasn’t on their side. Jaccob Slavin clapped a shot from the right dot that hit something in front of the net and beat the goalie to pull the team within two goals, but they came up empty with Pyotr Kochetkov on the bench as the Canes dropped their second straight game, and Colorado remained perfect to begin the season.

“One Bad Period” is going to be the tagline for this road trip because it felt like one terrible 20-minute stretch killed the Hurricanes in almost every game out west. It was the third period in Los Angeles, the first period in Anaheim and Seattle, and the second period in this one in Colorado. They were fortunate to get the shootout win in Los Angeles, but they lost the other three games by multiple goals. The San Jose game was the lone anomaly of the trip because they played well the entire night but were only rewarded in the third period.

Allowing goals on special teams has become the top issue for this squad. If your power play is struggling, play the Carolina Hurricanes. They’ll be able to fix it for you. Colorado entered the game 2-for-13 on the power play. On Saturday, they went 3-for-5. They also got the short-handed goal in the second period. I know it’s cliche to say it, but take away those goals, and it’s a 4-2 game in the Canes’ favor.

For as much star power as Colorado possesses, they didn’t single-handedly beat the Hurricanes. Yes, Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon finished with two points, and Mikko Rantanen scored a goal, but everyone on the Avalanche took turns beating up the Canes. Logan O’Connor had two points, as did Ryah Johansen. Artturi Lehkonen factored on three of Colorado’s goals on the power play, finishing the night with four points. The Canes beat Alexandar Georgiev four times, doubling his goals allowed in one night, but they couldn’t capitalize on it. It’s a disappointing loss, regardless of the names not in the lineup.

The night wasn’t all bad for the Hurricanes. Stefan Noesen continued to be a one-man distribution system, adding two more assists. Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored again, recording a multi-point night. Jaccob Slavin added another goal and assist. Jack Drury scored his first point of the season. The Staal line was lethal in the offensive zone. If they’d connected on a few of their chances, we could be talking about a different game.

Mercifully, the Carolina Hurricanes are returning home after a 2-3-0 trip. They’ll have one more game on the road, facing the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night in Tampa, but they’ll fly home before hitting the road again. Hopefully, the prognosis for Sebastian Aho, Frederik Andersen, and Brett Pesce is good. We’ll also have to monitor whether Andrei Svechnikov is ready to return.