What a difference a day can make in the early season as a hockey fan. After a couple frustrating losses and a 3-game win-less streak to start the season, the Hurricanes righted the ship with a big early season win on Thursday in Calgary.
Eddie Lack put forward a solid effort in net, and the Carolina Hurricanes special teams continued their strong play. The power play scored 2 goals in 8 attempts, and the penalty kill was a perfect 6 for 6. The 2-goal special teams advantage obviously played a significant role in the 3-2 win.
The win pushes the Hurricanes to 1-1-2 and tied for the third and final playoff position in the Metropolitan Division. The timing is good as the game 5 starts a run of 5 games out of the next 8 playing division foes.
First up is the Philadelphia Flyers who were a somewhat surprising playoff entry for the 2015-16 season. The Flyers enter the game off the a slow start with a 1-2-1 record.
‘What I’m watching’ for Hurricanes versus Flyers on October 22, 2016
1) Continuation in net by Eddie Lack
I have not seen it confirmed by Coach Bill Peters, but I will be surprised if Lack’s strong performance and the team win on Thursday does not earn him another chance in goal. He was steady and solid on Thursday, only gave up 2 goals and made 2 of the timely saves needed down the stretch to win. The need for at least average goaltending permeated just about everything I have written in terms of keys to the 2016-17, so on Saturday I will be watching anxiously to see if Eddie Lack can start to string together a run of solid play in net.
2) Carry over of boosted play
Thursday’s win still featured scoring from the top line of Skinner, Rask and Stempniak, but the goals scored by Rask and Skinner were both on the power play. Though not all were rewarded on the score sheet, the Thursday’s win saw a number of players rise to a higher level.
I think you could make a strong case that all of Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin and Noah Hanifin on defense and at least Viktor Stalberg, Phil Di Giuseppe and Joakim Nordstrom had their best games for far in 2016-17 to go with Eddie Lack posting the best goalie performance so far. I think the who is important.
All of that is obviously a good trend, but a few players jump out at me. At least for now, the emergence of the Slavin/Pesce pairing is huge. Again, things are likely to shift over the course of a long 82-game NHL season, but I think for right now, they are the go-to defense pairing.
In a similar vein, I really like the hard skating and puck-engaged play of Joakim Nordstrom and Phil Di Giuseppe book ending Jordan Staal. After the disappointing loss in Edmonton on Tuesday, I tagged building a strong line around Jordan Staal as priority 1 for any forward shuffling. For Thursday’s game Peters shuffled very little and to his credit found success in it.
On Saturday, I will be watching closely to see if the upswings in play across a number of players on Thursday was a 1-game event or hopefully the start of a trend.
3) An answer to physical and maybe nasty
The Philadelphia Flyers bring an element of physical and to some degree nasty but in new NHL personnel who can also play hockey. The result is that the Hurricanes who lean small and skilled at forward will need to stand up and answer when the Flyers challenge. In today’s NHL, it is not about figuring out who is going to drop the gloves. Instead, there are 2 elements. First, with how well the Hurricanes special teams are playing right now, if the Flyers want to offer up some man advantage opportunities, the Canes should seize the opportunity. Second, there is an element of team toughness that comes into play such that an dirty stuff is policed and no one is allowed to take liberties with the Canes younger players to try to knock them off their game. Again, it is not usually about needing to drop the gloves, but I still think this game lines up well for veterans like Justin Faulk and Jordan Staal to push back enough in the right way.
4) Increased steadiness and efficiency if the Hurricanes mount a lead
Converting a 3-goal lead into a win was obviously a huge step forward for the team, but the third period still had an element of hanging on for dear life. A costly turnover by Justin Faulk opened the door for Calgary, and the Hurricanes were forced to survive a chunk of the the third period with only a 3-2 lead before driving the nail into the coffin with a power play goal in the last minute of the game. Any kind of win was a good one on Thursday, but it would also be nice to see the Hurricanes become more efficient and sound closing out games that are in hand.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolina with John and Tripp.