Wednesday’s Oilers/Hurricanes match up featured 2 teams trying to build a better future with youth. At least on Wednesday, the Hurricanes got the upper hand when their defense with help from Cam Ward mostly held the Oilers in check and the offense chipped in enough for the win.
The game was a bit sloppy early. The Canes had multiple defensive zone turnovers early but mostly survived via a combination of near misses and some Cam Ward saves. Edmonton did get onto the board first when another defensive zone turnover led directly to a Canes penalty on Justin Faulk and ultimately an Oilers’ power play goal. But the Canes got it back on a soft goal that saw Jordan Staal fire from behind the end line, off an Oilers’ skate and through goalie Andres Nilsson with 15 seconds remaining in the first period.
That was the break the Canes needed. After a mediocre first period, the Canes caught a break, emerged even on the scoreboard and never looked back. The theme of Anders Nilsson struggling with rebound control and in general continued throughout the game, and at the other end Cam Ward was steady and sound. He had an especially good game finding pucks through traffic which can be an Achilles’ heel for him at times. Along the way the Canes added a nice snipe by Elias Lindholm who kept the puck and finished on a 2-on-1, a nifty Jeff Skinner intentional skate deflection goal on a heady pass from Justin Faulk and an empty-netter by Andrej Nestrasil to close it out at 4-1.
Perhaps most promising was the way the Canes played in the third period to close out a win. Recently the team has had leads only to fade and let them get away. Even Sunday’s feel good win against Los Angeles featured too much holding on and not enough finishing. But the third period Wednesday was pretty good. The team did give up shots when Edmonton pushed but also counter-attacked.
A few player and other notes:
1) Cam Ward
He was solid, error free and easily the better of the 2 goalies on the ice on Wednesday night. Edmonton did a decent job of get pucks and traffic to the net at the same time, and Ward had 1 of his better nights staying focused and tracking the puck. And 1 goal against with 31 shots is obviously a good number statistically.
2) Justin Faulk
He continues to climb the ladder offensively. He leads the NHL in power play goals and is quickly establishing himself as an elite blue line sniper on the power play with 8 power play goals. More recently, he has started to rack up assists with most of them being at even strength. He has now collected 6 assists in his last six games with only 1 coming on the power play.
The pass that he made on the Skinner goal was a heady 1. He could have tried to blast a shot around a screen there, but it likely would have been blocked. And I think the most likely play there would have been to try to get a pass quickly to Skinner. Odds are the result is a low-probability tip attempt trying to handle a hot pass from a short distance. Instead, Faulk managed to finesse the puck to Skinner at a pace where he had time to react and make something of it – a goal.
Faulk’s defensive game continues to go through a bit of an erratic stretch defensively. He had a couple more turnovers today and was in the box during a goal against for the second straight game. He has always been a better player defensively in the second half of the season, so hopefully the other half of his game is just getting ready to round into form.
3) Elias Lindholm
He had a couple good scoring chances on Wednesday night. He finished 1 with a nice shot on a 2-on-1, and I like the fact that he assertively looked to shoot instead of pass on another odd man rush. Hopefully it is a sign of growing confidence and starting to play with the mindset to push for goals. His game has still been up and down, but at least there has been an ‘up’ to it recently. He now has points in 3 straight games and had another goal 3 games prior to that. Just maybe the thaw from a cold October is starting to come off Lindholm’s game.
4) Bill Peters
Goalie: I disagreed with Bill Peters’ goalie decision tonight, but it obviously worked. In general, he has been pretty good in this regard. His finest time was when he decided to start Lack in the first half of a back-to-back against a good Islanders offense coming off a rough previous start for Lack. Lack won. Ward won the next night. And it helped get Lack back on track.
Line continuity: After a preseason and early regular season that saw Bill Peters reshuffle lines nearly every time the Hurricanes took the ice, he seems to be settling in on the current line combinations that have been together for a seemingly long time now. I continue to clamor for a Phil DiGiuseppe trial, but another part of me is very happy to see something/anything get some run time. I also continue to like the Skinner/Nash/Versteeg line. There does not seem to be a consistent formula for the how, but relatively speaking Skinner is scoring more with that line than without.
Pushing pace from the back end: Starting about 10-14 days back, a ton of language along the lines of the blue line contributing more offensively started to enter everything coming through a microphone in front of a Canes coach or defensemen. Peters talked about it. Noah Hanifin mentioned in an interview. Ron Hainsey mentioned. It is gradually starting to creep into the team’s play. Most noticeable tonight was how aggressive Ron Hainsey was carrying the puck and pushing past the offensive blue line with the puck. I think this is significant in 2 regards. First, he is arguably the most ‘stay home-ish’ of the group, so when he starts pushing the puck forward more, it says a lot about the direction of the team. Second, if he can do that even just picking spots here and there, it will better balance the ice in terms of teams’ forechecking which will make even more room for Justin Faulk.
5) Staal X2.
I liked both of their games. Eric Staal continues to play well in a quiet way that is collecting points but not at a pace that makes headline readers say ‘Wow!’ Jordan Staal’s game seemed to be jump started when the hockey gods bestowed a lucky goal on him to end the first period. From there on, both of the 2 played a power forward puck winning and keeping game. I like Nestrasil with Jordan Staal. It gives Jordan a decent partner for cycling the puck and keeping things on the boards in the offensive zone. That is a good place to play if matched up against other teams’ scoring lines. The best way to defend elite scorers is not to have to defend them. In an ideal world, the Canes would have more of a playmaker with enough size and board skills to fit that game, but the Canes do not really have that luxury right now.
Next up is a Friday game in Buffalo against the Sabres and Jack Eichel.