I am obviously late to the party writing a recap 6 hours after the game ended. In my Daily Cup of Joe earlier today, I wrote a few personal thoughts about my Hurricanes fandom. I also joked about receiving recent payment from the hockey gods yesterday in the form of a free trial subscription to a coffee-related magazine and joked about expecting more payment soon from the hockey gods. You can read that HERE. In a tremendous fit of hockey god rewards, the Canes posted their best win of the year so far in the only 1pm Sunday start. For most that is not a big deal, but with other weekly commitments that keep my family and me from attending the 5pm starts, being there today was wonderful.
Sunday afternoon set up as a test of loyalty, faith and courage for die-hard Canes fans. With a 4-game losing streak (3 were OTLs at least) against a tough opponent, the 1pm home game set up as a potentially aggravating way to spend a Sunday afternoon. When you consider that the start time lined up exactly with the alternate choice of nearly certainly watching the Carolina Panthers push to 10-0, passing on PNC Arena made some sense. (And to be clear, I do not belittle Canes fans who did choose football or whatever else over hockey today. Everyone has a right to make their own choices.)
But the Canes fans who stuck with it were rewarded with the most fun thus far this season. The Hurricanes stormed out to a 3-0 lead on the back of Brett Pesce’s first career NHL goal and 2 goals from Justin Faulk in the process pushing him further up the league leader list for power play goals and defenseman goals and scoring. Brad Malone offered some old school fighting when Kyle Clifford hobbled his line mate Nathan Gerbe with a hit. There was a penalty shot. It was not so much a positive since it was for the Kings and went in, but it was still moderately interesting. And despite climbing to a 3-0 lead, the game offered suspense when the Kings fought back to 4-3 and spent much of the third period mounting a solid attack to try to force overtime.
One can always find imperfections in a hockey game, but the game offered:
- Entertainment value with 5 goals in a wild second period.
- Some good hockey plays with Faulk ripping 2 power play goals at the top of the list.
- Heroics and leadership. My favorite moment was the look in Faulk’s eyes and the fist pump when he scored on his first goal to stretch the Canes lead to 2-0.
- A great story in witnessing upstart young defenseman Brett Pesce’s first career NHL goal.
- Suspense and drama when the Kings clawed back and made the last 10 minutes of the third period tense.
A few player and other notes:
The kids (on D) are alright
The feel good story of the game was the future of the Canes blue line stepping up and winning a game in the here and now. We tend to put Justin Faulk in a different category as a proven and experienced NHLer, but at 23 years old he could very fairly be considered a kid in terms of the normal progression for NHL defensemen. He obviously played a huge role with 2 goals. Brett Pesce’s first NHL goal to go with an assist and another game of solid defensive play obviously helped too. And Noah Hanifin and Jaccob Slavin mostly played together on a third pairing and held their own.
The Hurricanes 2015-16 season overall has been a roller coaster, but I think it is fair and accurate to say that the path of the future of the Carolina Hurricanes blue line of the future has been nothing but up. It started with Hanifin falling to #5 in the draft and continued with the Fleury and other defensemen looking good in prospect camp and the Traverse City tourney. The preseason suggested that some of these players might also be closer to NHL ready than initially thought, and the best part is that they are exceeding even that by stepping straight into the NHL and looking pretty good.
And for the sake of thoroughness, I will now follow up with individual notes that focus mostly on the same set of players because today is a day to enjoy and celebrate the young blue line.
In my preview, in #3 which was “Who stands out”, I said, “I think the time is now for players to rise up and play desperate, hungry and maybe even a little bit angry.” With 2 big goals, Justin Faulk had 2 huge goals and logged 25+ minutes of ice time with a Dustin Brown elbow to the face in the middle of it. He did have the untimely turnover that led directly to Anze Kopitar’s first goal, but when you desperately need a win, you look for people to step up and find a way. Justin Faulk was a huge part of that.
Who would have guessed that Justin Faulk could blast 2 more power play goals on the way to a 4-3 Canes win and still be upstaged and get only the second star. But that is exactly what happened when Brett Pesce scored his first career goal to stake the Canes to a 1-0 lead and added an assist later. How cool is it to be there for Brett Pesce’s first NHL goal in a winning cause?
This might seem like an odd 1. He has been in many a person’s dog house so far this season including mine. I hate that anytime we see a glimmer of hope in his game it is newsworthy enough to point out. But I liked his game on Sunday. In a run of too many games where he was not physically engaged enough, a matinee against a big and physical Los Angeles Kings team was a high probability for a quiet game from Lindholm. I actually thought he did the opposite. He had a couple decent scoring chances from in close as part of his 4 shots on goal (second only to Faulk’s 6), and he led the team with 5 hits. He had a puck roll off his stick from right in front of Quick in the first period and more significantly was more physically engaged. We have seen a couple other spurts of better play from Lindholm, so 1 game is not reason to declare a turnaround, but you cannot get to 2 good games without 1 first, so it is a small start.
I think most of his ice time went away when Nathan Gerbe was injured and dropped the Hurricanes to 11 forwards. He played only 4:39, but for the second game in a row was noticeable in limited ice time and did his job. After Jay McClement was kicked out of the face-off circle, Malone won his only face-off and picked up an assist on Pesce’s goal in the process. He also stepped up quickly when and fought Clifford when he did not like his hit on line mate Nathan Gerbe. Malone’s job is not the biggest one on the team, but he is doing it right now and deserves high marks for that.
What I continue to like most about his NHL indoctrination is how he plays his game. He has a little bit of Joni Pitkanen in him as a puck carrier who uses open ice sometimes without regard to where defensemen usually go with the puck. Just like with Joni, there is a bit of risk to this style of play but with good risk/reward decision-making and situational adjustments, it can be the path to generating some of the offense that the Hurricanes desperately need.
Did we ever get a definitive camera angle on his covering of the puck in the crease? Ward ultimately covered it obviously, and the angle that they kept showing in the arena showed Hanifin’s hand in there but seemed to suggest that it was indeed only Ward who actually covered it. Regardless, in Hanifin and Slavin, the Hurricanes iced a duo with an average age of 19 1/2, and they did not look to be in over their head which is exciting.
If I wanted to nitpick
My only significant complaint was that after running to a 3-0 lead, I did not get any sense of killer instinct or know-how on closing out a win. A save by Ward on the penalty shot might have helped, but you cannot really fault him on a skills competition goal against. And then after the Faulk turnover, it felt like a bunch of trying to hold on. Faulk did score an important goal late in the second period, but the third period felt more like surviving than finishing. It is something to note and work on, but at the end of the day the Hurricanes did get the job done on Sunday.
Next up is a quick turnaround with a game in Philadelphia on Monday with the retirement of Rod Brind’Amour’s jersey beforehand. It is an interesting set-up. Usually when there is a pre-game ceremony, the home team gets some kind of boost trying to win for whoever or whatever cause, but with Rod Brind’Amour on the Hurricanes bench just maybe the Canes get the bigger boost.