On Friday afternoon on Twitter, I declared Friday’s game after the frequent flier mile travel week an ‘any kind of win’ night. The game was not the Canes worst by any means, but it was not great either. But in the end it was a 4-1 home ‘any kind of win’ which is good enough.
The Canes were not guilty of the egregious errors that plagued them on Wednesday in Vancouver, but they were sluggish and sloppy early. At the time, the game seemed destined for ugly and disappointing. But somewhere around the middle of the first period, the Canes found their legs and were better as the game wore on. When Jordan Staal scored on a nice deflection on a Jaccob Slavin shot/pass from the point late in the first period, the Canes were on their way. That ended abruptly in the second half of the second period when the Canes offered up consecutive 5-on-3 power plays both for nearly all of 2 minutes. The Canes survived the first 1 but not the second and seemed headed for the third period tied at 1-1. Elias Lindholm followed Jordan Staal’s skilled tip goal with another late in the second period. The goal was huge in that it erased a troublesome second period and saw the Canes exit it with the same 1-goal lead with which they started it. The third period was mostly a workmanlike effort to hold the lead until Chris Terry scored out of midair on his own rebound on a Jeff Skinner pass on a 2-on-1 rush. With the breathing room, the Canes slowly grinded out the last 10 minutes and potted an empty-netter to close with a 4-1 win.
When it was all said and done, it was not 1 of the Canes best games of the season, but it was enough. The team is very much at that time of the season where it is very much about the points and less about how pretty it is.
A few player and other notes:
1) The kids are alright again
After a long run of generally solid hockey, the kids on D (primarily Hanifin and Slavin) had a rough night on Wednesday. They rebounded on Friday. Each assisted on 1 of the tip goals, and the duo was reunited for 19+ minutes of generally solid ice time each. Especially at their age and stage of development, there are going to be those nights on occasion. The key is to quickly leave them in the past like a pro and have a solid next game which they did tonight.
2) Jordan Staal
He continues to be 1 of if not the Canes best forward. He just looks strong in spite of the schedule right now. He is strong in the defensive zone and providing short/safe passing outlets for defensemen when needed, he is lugging the puck through the middle of the rink when needed and he is getting to and playing behind the net in the offensive zone. His goal and assist on Wednesday were huge when they happened but were ultimately wasted. His goal to put the Canes up 1-2 on Friday was also huge. But bigger than that he is driving who has the puck and where the game is getting played right now. With Victor Rask out of the lineup (he did skate and was a game time decision so hopefully he is back soon), Jordan Staal logged a big 21:27 of ice time compared to an average of just more than 17 minutes.
3) Cam Ward
The biggest thing right now is that when a Canes goalie has a good game, it does not automatically have to be the top story because it is such an anomaly. Both Ward and Lack are giving the team a chance on a nightly basis right now. Ward was close to flawless on a night with a higher volume of shots than usual and also made key saves at key times.
4) Well-timed depth scoring
With the Canes struggling on offense of late and a ‘slog through the mud’ type affair in process, the goals by Elias Lindholm and Chris Terry were huge. In the long run, it is going to take more scoring from the top half of the roster, but on this ‘just find a way’ night, the contributions were obviously valuable.
5) Brad Malone as an honorable character despite the hit
After a few looks at the Malone hit on Foligno, it was a bad 1. The point of contact was shoulder and chin, and Malone basically came from a blind spot. I expect he will earn a modest suspension for it when the league has a look. This said, I have seen enough of Brad Malone’s play to call it a mistake. I just have not seen any evidence that Malone is an intentionally dirty player despite playing a physical brand of hockey. I think his fight with Brandon Dubinsky is telling. Dubinsky is a regular dance partner with Sidney Crosby and not in Malone’s weight class, but as a team leader Dubinsky stood up for his captain. Malone had no other honorable choice but to take the fight, but I think he intentionally held back. He really did not throw a real punch in the fight and basically just wrestled Dubinsky to the ice when he got off balance. It was not going to be the best of nights for Malone after the hit, but I think he handled the aftermath as well as he could.
6) Elias Lindholm
I did not think his game was anything lights out overall, but the goal he scored to put the Canes up 2-1 was a huge 1. Instead of blowing the second period and a 1-goal lead in the process, the Canes emerged from it with the same lead that started it and a bit of regained momentum heading into the third period. It was nice to see Eric Staal find him for the empty-netter. Here is hoping that Friday night relieves pressure a bit and helps Lindholm find another gear.
7) Near miss on implosion
With a 1-0 lead halfway through the game, the Canes came real close to imploding due to penalties for the second consecutive game giving up 2 extended 5-on-3s. I thought the McClement call was iffy at best, but the recent trend of taking more penalties partially due to physical fatigue is something to keep an eye on.
Next up is another flight and a quick turnaround in Columbus tomorrow night. Playing their fourth game of the week with 3 flights including across North America and back, tomorrow is another game where it is completely about finding a way and nothing about how.