In a 2021 NHL Playoffs so far that has seem a high percentage of one-goal games including a bunch of a regulation ties that had to be decided in overtime, the Hurricanes scored a rare two-goal (not counting the empty-netter) win in its series opener on Monday. The 5-2 final score somewhat overstated the ease. The Canes were down early and tied entering the third period before notching a couple goals to pull away. But the results were perfect and in total the level of play was good if not better. In today’s Daily Cup of Joe my list of items for ‘keep’ and ‘improve’ heading into game two leaned strongly toward keep.
Based on that, the basic focus for today’s game is mostly to stay on the same path with a few areas for potential improvement.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Nashville Predators
1) Extension of Monday with bit more pace
The Hurricanes generally played well on Monday, but the game had a cautious pace to start and the Hurricanes did not generate a ton in transition. Showing they can win a somewhat tamped down game is a positive, but the peak version of the Hurricanes turns over pucks and attacks quickly in transition. On Wednesday especially out of the gate, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can find a higher gear and make things even more difficult on the Predators.
2) The top guns
In my game recap, I called went back and forth and ultimately called Aho’s line a mixed bag. Teravainen/Aho/Svechnikov tallied a massive 18 shots. If one or two of those find the net off a defenseman’s skate or whatever, it would have been well-deserved production on a busy night. But with no true goals as a trio (Teravainen’s goal came with the fourth line on a partial change, and Svechnikov’s was an empty-netter) there is more to be had. Put me on record as saying there is not a version of this Hurricanes team that can push to the Stanley Cup Finals if Sebastian Aho is not a Conn-Smythe candidate. So half full is that his line did have a busy puck putting the puck on net. On Wednesday, I will be watching to see if they can get the other half by notching the scoreboard.
3) The power play
The power play was also a mixed bag that could have had better. In the results measure, it was 0 for 4 but did have some shifts where it was close. After a modest trailing off at the end of the regular season, the power play continues to be a watch point to see if it can return to its peak from earlier in the season.
4) Alex Nedeljkovic
He was maybe the opposite of Aho’s line. The results were perfectly fine. First and foremost, Alex Nedeljkovic collected his first NHL playoff win. And only two goals against on 24 shots checks the box fine for goals against average and save percentage. But lying underneath the headlines, Nedeljkovic seemed a bit shaky early before the team kind of took the game itself and ran with it. He allowed two goals on his first 13 shots faced including an odd floating deflection that butterflied up over him into the net. More telling was the volume of rebounds he left laying literally in the crease. If Predators find a couple of those before Canes defensemen, a couple-goal first period deficit might have changed the game. But from the point where the Predators tied the game at 2-2, the Hurricanes skaters took over. Nashville collected only four total shots in the next 19 minutes and the Canes built a 4-2 lead before the Predators really pushed again.
Even for an elite athlete who has mastered all previous levels including playoffs, the NHL playoffs are a different animal. A win and a good effort should be just what the doctor ordered for Nedeljkovic to settle in and just play his game like he did consistently throughout the regular season. Especially at the start, I will be watching Wednesday to see if Nedeljkovic can settle in a bit quicker and clean up the rebound control a bit.
The puck drops at 8:07pm at PNC Arena.