When Frans Nielsen scored about 5 minutes into the third period to stake the Islanders to a 2-1 lead against the Hurricanes on Thursday night, it seemed to be the end. Seemingly the Canes would have to settle for an okay 3-4 road trip and a final loss that had at least a few redeeming qualities. Instead it set the stage for an incredible feel good win and even the destruction at least temporarily of a few curses.
Monkeys could be seen flying off of Canes players’ backs and up into the Brooklyn night.
Peters’ plan and Eddie Lack
Though it was not pretty and seemed precarious late, the formula for this game was very well orchestrated by Coach Bill Peters and his staff and reasonably well executed by the team. With the decision to get Eddie Lack back in net also came the need to try to give him a game in which he could get his feet under him especially early. The Canes spent the first 10 minutes of the game getting to center ice and chucking the puck deep. Part of it was a continuation of the Canes struggles offensively, but another obvious component was how tight the Canes full set of 5 were playing to the crease area. Even if there were rebounds to be had, there was going to be at least 2 Canes there to battle for them. The upside was a pretty tight game both ways. The downside was that the Canes generated virtually nothing offensively. If you think about how the game went, at a minimum the Canes were bound and determined to get Eddie Lack back up on the horse, and they did. With some help getting his feet under him, Lack gave up only 2 goals. Neither of those was a bad goal. He also got better as the game went on. And in the end, Eddie Lack put forward a solid effort, won his first game and released 1 of 2 huge monkeys into the night.
I am not hesitant to question Coach Bill Peters (does not mean I do not like him or make me any less passionate of a fan), but he deserves credit for navigating a tricky patch of personnel management today. Getting Eddie Lack back in net, building his confidence and picking up a win to boot is a trifecta of success.
Jordan Staal rising
The other big story line was Jordan Staal. Tripp Tracy was right in calling Jordan Staal the best player on the ice. Through 2 periods, the Canes puck movement was a bit of Gerbe, a bunch of dumping the puck and a pretty consistent dose of Jordan Staal navigating from blue line to blue line. Nothing could be more fair than him picking up 2 well-deserved assists and releasing the other huge monkey into the Brooklyn night. As I said on Twitter, he was big, physical and difficult to play against all night.
Successful road trip conclusion
The final headline was the completion of a successful road trip. The team’s 4-6 record obviously does not guarantee a successful ending the 2015-16 season, but it does get the team past the point where the season more or less died last season. And as far as the road trip goes, 4-3 is actually a playoff type pace. The deficit remaining is still from the 0-3 start NOT the road trip.
Many positive notes
Noah Hanifin. He looked solid in his return and did not miss a beat after resting on Tuesday in Detroit.
Brett Pesce. I was optimistic early on his potential to step into James Wisniewski’s spot, but his play thus far has been beyond my wildest hopes. Tonight he logged 20:41 of ice time on the road, in the top 4, against a good offensive team and basically played about how you would expect for a seasoned NHL top 4 in a good rhythm.
John-Michael Liles. He has been good all season, but his subtle but important role in Pesce’s strong start could easily go unnoticed. He has been incredibly good at providing a safe passing outlet and has adjusted positionally the few times Pesce has been a bit too far forward. Though he did it a bit less tonight, he continues to make smart decisions with a slight preference to push forward rather than moving the puck across in situations where it could lead to problems.
Ron Hainsey. I am not sure how many game-winning goals we can count on for the full season, but 2 straight sure is fun.
Ryan Murphy. He is gradually starting to skate, carry the puck and try to create offense. In other words, he is starting to play to his strengths. That MUST be a part of the formula for him to be successful in the NHL. He will not thrive or make it at all trying to morph into a safe, sound stay-home defenseman. Sure he needs to continue to improve defensively, but he also need to play with the giddy-up that makes him dangerous.
The fourth line. The line of Nestrasil/McClement/McGinn (separated some later) was good in general, and the goal that McGinn scored to tie the game at 1 was obviously huge.
Eric Staal. He was not at the same level as Jordan (which is not a slight tonight), but as the game wore on he played a strong power forward game. He stepped into people and was strong with and without the puck. If you get a chance, watch the game-tying goal again. He basically gained the blue line 1-on-4 with no space and protected the puck through contact with 3 Isles players buying time for Jordan to fill the wing on the fly and then feed Chris Terry for a beautiful goal. Chris Terry and Jordan Staal got the pretty part of it, but Eric Staal’s play on that goal was actually the most impressive.
Chris Terry. If I asked the question, “Which Hurricanes player played a huge role offensively in each of the 2 wins this week?”, the obvious answer is Ron Hainsey, but the other answer is Chris Terry. He had the perfect screen on Hainsey’s game-winner on Tuesday and made no mistake with a chance to tie the game on Thursday.
Nathan Gerbe. He was the other forward (with Jordan Staal) who was skating well early. On the fourth line goal, he actually rushed the puck up the ice by himself twice on that shift.
Couple negatives – 1 surprising, 1 not
The power play. Ugh…just ugh. On the second try, the team had clearly reached the point where tentativeness and lack of confidence made it all but impossible to succeed.
Justin Faulk. He had a really rough night. He very simply had no skating legs, especially laterally. He got caught standing still and blown around to the inside on the first Isles goal and actually had the same happen earlier already and lost the puck on an unsuccessful pinch for a 3-on-2 against again later. He also logged a couple uncharacteristically bad turnovers including 1 right in front of Lack late in the game.
It was clearly a physical thing. He just seemed to be stuck in cement all night. The back-to-back tomorrow proves challenging, but if he can grind through 2 more games, the Canes do get a long break next week. This will also be something to monitor as the season wears on as he tries to tack on an additional 3-4 minutes of ice time per night.
In some ways Thursday’s win makes Friday’s game even more important. In terms of points in the standings, you really only gain something in the standings if you do not immediately give it back with a home loss.