For all the criticisms of being an “undersized defenseman”, Ryan Murphy has rarely shown his size to be a burden. While his play has not been flawless, and can even be termed reckless at times, Murphy has been improving every game. And Tuesday night may have been his best yet.
Again the Carolina Hurricanes had to rally from a two-goal deficit, but, unlike last week in Pittsburgh, made it out with a point in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. The ‘Canes looked lifeless after being outshot 15 to 5 in period one and seemed destined for another blowout. But things changed in the second.
“We stuck with it, rallied behind the crowd in the second and third period,” said Cam Ward. “We had that adrenaline rush, had that buzz.”
Much of the turnaround can be attributed to an improved defense in the final two frames.
“Second, third, our ‘D’ made good choices about jumping in and getting opportunities and creating things,” Kirk Muller said. “I thought that’s where we started to really put some pressure on them and spend more time in their zone.”
Though he never mentioned Murphy by name, the 20-year-old rookie was undoubtedly whom Muller was referring to.
Despite not figuring in on the scoresheet, Murphy had an outstanding night. He led the way with over 25:00 — almost half a minute more than Justin Faulk — and created zone entry after zone entry, perhaps none bigger than Alex Semin’s shutout-breaking goal that swung momentum to the home team.
Murphy’s skill with the puck is obvious, but his play without has been almost as good. He’s been positionally sound and has rarely let his size become an issue. While he had a few sloppy plays in his own zone, he was able to recover and get his stick in the way, blocking three shots on the night.
There will of course still be growing pains in Murphy’s game, especially defensively. After all, he’s only played 13 as a pro. But when unleashed in the offensive zone, he’s got all the confidence in the world.
Powerplay Problems Persist
How low can the Hurricanes’ powerplay fall? They’re 23rd in the league and dropping with every game. Against the Blackhawks, they were 0 for 4 with the man-advantage, including a costly 4-on-2.5 (when accounting for the lost stick) in overtime where they only managed to get one shot on Corey Crawford.
Tweaks were made — Jay Harrison didn’t log a single second while Drayson Bowman got over three minutes — but not much had changed. Blocked shots were a common theme with Chicago logging 26 on the night, seemingly all while down a man.
“Well we had that opportunity on the powerplay, but they had a gusty effort too and sometimes you’ve just got to tip your hat,” said Ward. “They worked hard on that penalty kill and didn’t give us a whole lot.”
Like it or not, the shootout is here to stay. And it’s long past time the Hurricanes realized that.
Since going 8-2 and scoring 14 goals in its inaugural year, they’ve gone 16-32 while scoring just 38 — fewer than a goal per contest. When combined with Cam Ward’s .670 shootout save percentage, that’s not a recipe for a success.
Going even .500 would have likely resulted in more playoff berths. Simply put: the ‘Canes can’t keep leaving points on the board.
Cam Ward’s Strong Game
Somewhat lost in the comeback was the play of Ward, who has been the object of a divisive debate on the young season. He stopped 34 of 36 including several point-blank shots to keep the deficit at two. In the shootout, he gave his team a chance, turning aside Chicago’s first two shooters, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
Many have been frustrated with Ward’s inconsistency, watching him make highlight reel saves only to see him give up a soft goal. Some have even been calling for Anton Khudobin to take over the starting job. While that’s extremely premature — and impossible at the moment, given Khudobin’s injury — Ward will need to have more nights like he did against the Blackhawks than not. The defense in front of him has improved, but they will only go as far as he takes them.