Saturday night’s game had the looks of another drinking night at PNC Arena early on. When Cam Ward gave up a soft wraparound goal early to Daniel Carr for his first NHL goal, things were all too familiar.
But much to the pleasant surprise of Canes fans, the anti-Canes arrived soon thereafter, put forward a pretty solid effort and pulled out a win against the #1 team in the Eastern Conference. The Canes played a physical game finishing checks and playing like they wanted to be there unlike Thursday. The power play scored once and sort of twice (Skinner’s first goal was seconds after the power play ended) and also just looked better. The Canes penalty kill stopped its bleeding and did not give up any goals. And the Canes got a big play from a big player when Skinner scored to put the Canes up for good in the third period.
The game had a feel somewhat like the feel-good Ottawa win that offered some relief when the Hurricanes faithful desperately needed it.
My ‘what I’m watching preview’ preview follow ups
1-Sign of a pulse and channeled frustration. To their credit, the Canes rebounded as one would hope with a much better effort.
2-Phil Di Giuseppe. He was not so much a deciding factor in the game, but he had a decent NHL debut. What I like most about him is that I think his speed/mobility make it possible for him to match the NHL pace.
3-The lines and D pairings with new puzzle pieces inserted. The line that quietly stood out to me was Jordan Staal’s line. This trio continues to be solid. They are good defensively and tend to play significant portions of their shifts i their own end with control of the puck. That is a tremendous ingredient for good checking lines – when possible, do not actually play defense. And to boot, they netted another goal when Nordstrom finished after Nestrasil got the puck to the front of the net.
A few other player and other notes
Jeff Skinner. He obviously had a huge game. His ability to handle the puck on the first goal was what makes him elite offensively when he is going well. He also had the game-winner late, but also a post and a shot that mostly beat the goalie only to have it go off the knob of his stick. Even when playing well, he obviously is not going to score twice every game, but the Canes need more regular games like this to score enough as a team. Here is hoping that both of his goals were of the ‘incredibly good hands’ variety is a sign that he could be ready to get hot.
Jaccob Slavin. If you have the game still on DVR, check out his shift with about 9:30 left in the second period. THAT is the future of the Hurricanes blue line. He received the puck in neutral zone at full speed, made a quick fake and nifty inside move to blow by the defenseman at the offensive blue line and then fed a beautiful pass across for a scoring chance. He ultimately stayed deep and started literally from the offensive zone crease when Montreal won the puck and headed the other way. He then flew back to be in pretty good position to force the Canadien player to the outside for a fairly low percentage chance.
I like Hanifin for his incredibly high ceiling long-term. I like Pesce for the fact that he is already a serviceable top 4 defenseman. But I think that Slavin is most likely to be great the soonest with great not being flashes or glimpses of the future but on a regular basis for full games. My reasoning is not so much an evaluation of which player is better right now or which ultimately has the highest upside. It is simply that he is playing a skating and attacking style of hockey with the puck on his stick, NOT trying to settle in and stay out of trouble.
Cam Ward. It is interesting to note how the team scoring changes the framing for the goalie. Ward’s first goal against was bad. But when the Canes score 3, he gets some margin for error and the fact that he was pretty good the rest of the game does not get lost.
Brock McGinn. He was noticeable in a good way just consistently finishing checks and hounding the puck.
A rebound by the kids. The young defensemen pretty unanimously had a rough night (like pretty much the whole team) on Thursday. Hanifin and Pesce rebounded well. Pesce was much better and also picked up an assist with his shot on net and rebound on the second Skinner goal. Hanifin also had a solid night defensively and is looking increasingly comfortable on the power play.
Turning point is when this is a style of play not an occasional thing. All in all, it was a good night to be a Hurricanes fan. But here is the thing – The turning point for this team comes when outhitting a team 2-to-1 or just flat out playing harder than the opponent on home ice is an every night style of play NOT a ‘good rebound effort,’ ‘what the team really needed,’ or anything else that suggests it is an occasional thing driven by something. It needs to become just how the team plays every game win or lose.
Next up is a quick turnaround with the third game in 4 nights at PNC Arena starting a few minutes after 5pm on Sunday against a good young Arizona Coyotes team.