What a way to start the weekend! I had kettle corn and NC State ice cream for dinner and then got to watch our hockey team win its first game!
With 3 losses to start the NHL season and frustration gradually growing both in the locker room and with the fan base, any kind of first win was going to be a good one. Beating a pretty good Detroit team on the road with a rookie having a huge game just made it all the better.
As the game wore on, Friday’s game in Detroit started to look more and more like the 4-3 loss in the home opener. The Canes were dominant in terms of controlling play and getting the better of the chances. The patience required to notch the first goal was not as great as last weekend in Raleigh, but the game still had an air of the Hurricanes being a significantly better team but never really pulling away through about half of the game. Playing in his first NHL game, Brock McGinn did stake the good guys to a lead early, but more than 20 minutes later that is all the Canes had to show for a good effort. Then the dam broke and the Canes quickly collected 2 more goals surging to a 3-0 lead. And then the ugliest part of last weekend’s disappointing 4-3 loss almost immediately reared its head. Detroit pushed and the combination of the Canes and Cam Ward seemed to have no answer. The lead was quickly cut to 3-2 and nearly 3-3 when the Wings missed the net on a real good scoring chance late in the third period. Like a fighter who had been stymied but a rapid set of punches, the Canes were saved by the bell at the end of the second period and given time to regroup.
Entering the third period, one had to figure that Cam Ward was going to have to stand tall in the third period to earn a win after failing to do so last weekend. But the skaters were having none of that. Seemingly not willing to chance that after the way the second period ended, the Canes played a perfectly balanced third period. They gave up almost nothing defensively. In total, they gave up only 4 shots on goal, and if my memory is correct only 1 of those shots (might have been 2) came before Kris Versteeg’s goal extended the lead to 4-2 and that included a masterful penalty kill just before the fourth goal. And to make sure things did not get too tense in the end, Chris Terry chipped in a weird goal from behind the net to get the fourth line on the score sheet. The third period Friday truly was a model for how to play with a 1-goal lead. The Canes were sound defensively but also aggressive. They were careful not to create man advantages the other way but attacked when given the chance. And they did at all play like a team just hoping to hold on.
At some point, the Canes will need to turn to Cam Ward or Eddie Lack to help seal a game like this, but that night was not tonight. Ward mostly had the third period off, and even when he did give up a goal on 1 of the measly 4 shots he faced in the period, the Canes had already built a cushion to withstand it.
What I’m watching checklist
1) What kind of desperation?
Led out of the gate by the early Brock McGinn goal, the Canes played harder and put together their best 60-minute effort of the 2015-16 season.
2) The new kid #1 – Brock McGinn.
3) The new kid #2 – Brett Pesce.
N/A. Per my update, we learned by early afternoon that he would not play Friday.
4) Stars rising up.
Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg were two-thirds of by far the best line on the ice.
This was the only miss (and they were not horrible), but the Eric Staal line was so dominant that it did not matter.
Player and other notes
Brock McGinn — He was obviously the story of the game scoring 55 seconds into his NHL debut on his first shift, adding an assist and just generally being a great hockey player. The scoring is obviously the highlight of the night, but what also impressed me was just how he plays the game. He took a piece of people when he could. He blocked shots. He did not defer to the veterans on his line. And when he found the puck on his stick with the chance to make a game-changing play, he did.
Eric Staal — He was the best player on the ice Friday night. I have been saying for a few games now that I generally like his game so far this season despite minimal scoring. Friday he brought the same play and was more justly rewarded on the score sheet.
Kris Versteeg –I put him very much in the same category as Eric Staal as a player who was light on the score sheet but playing pretty good hockey coming in. He too burst out with 2 assists and then an important late goal.
His second assist on the Justin Faulk goal had the brilliant sublety of a heady playmaker. If you get a chance, watch it again HERE. He received the pass from Hainsey at the half wall at the top of the face-off circle and rather than zipping the puck quickly to Eric Staal he held it while moving toward the net just long enough to force the goalie and defenders in front of the net to play shot. By doing so, he forced the entire set of them to react rapidly when the puck instead went to Eric Staal to make up for being a bit out of position to defend him at which point the back door becomes wide open. If Versteeg makes that pass more quickly, the defenders actually do not have enough time to get mesmerized by option 1 (his shot) such that they have to react quickly to adjust to option 2 (Staal) in which case option 3 (Faulk on the back door) would not be so wide open.
Need for more balance going forward — As I said at the outset, any kind of win was going to be a good kind of win tonight, but the downside was that the secondary scoring did not really come through. The fourth line chipped in a big goal to keep things from getting tense down the stretch, but the other 4 goals came from the McGinn/EStaal/Versteeg line with 1 scored by Justin Faulk (with them) and another assisted by Jeff Skinner in a rare shift for him in McGinn’s slot. Skinner/Rask/Lindholm were quiet, and though they played a decent game defensively, the Gerbe/JStaal/Nestrasil line was light on grade A scoring chances.
After 3 losses to start the season, I am going to go ‘half full’ and say it is a positive that the Canes were able to win without a stellar night in net and with really only 1 line going offensively. So that means that despite the positive results on Friday that there is still room to improve on Saturday.