After losing on Thursday night in Ottawa, the Canes looked to make it 2 weeks in a row with a big bounce back win in the second half of a back-to-back. The opponent was a good 1 in San Jose, but the Canes were up to the task on Star Wars night at PNC Arena.
Scoring from the fourth line again factored in a big way in a way. Riley Nash entered with a 3-game goal streak (4 points in those games) and chipped in another scoring play when he won a puck and fed Noah Hanifin for a point shot that was deftly deflected into the net by Chris Terry in what would qualify as the Yoda-level play of the night. The timely scoring that the Canes have been getting from the fourth line has been huge. And their strong play and slight boost in minutes also lightens the load for the top 9 forwards which could pay dividends down the stretch. San Jose drew even on a Brent Burns blast from between the circles resulting in a 1-1 finish to the first period that was played pretty evenly. The Canes found another gear in the second period and went up 2-1 on a Joakim Nordstrom blast off the rush that beat Sharks goalie Martin Jones who was pretty good in a second period that saw him under siege with the Canes putting 19 shots on net. Jeff Skinner scored on a power play goal early in the third to give the Canes a more comfortable lead, but a mishandle by Cam Ward behind the net found the puck in the crease for a tap in with him still behind the net where he could only watch. Another Jeff Skinner goal reestablished the 2-goal lead and an empty-netter by Jordan Staal made for a fun 5-2 win on home ice.
A few player and other notes:
1) Jordan Staal
How many players in the NHL are playing better than Jordan Staal right now. I doubt there are 10. His level of play right now is what was envisioned when he was obtained via trade, and his consistency level right now is perfect.
2) Chris Terry, Riley Nash and balanced minutes
He had a solid game overall and could easily have found the score sheet again. But his goal to get the Canes off to a good start was another great contribution from the fourth line which has played a huge role in the Canes recent success. As noted above, Riley Nash was on the score sheet for the fourth consecutive game. And because the fourth line was so good, the ice time at forward was very balanced. Only Jordan Staal was above 17 minutes of ice time, and even his 18:10 was reasonable.
3) Cam Ward
The gaffe behind the net that immediately led to a goal against was unfortunate. That is the danger with puck handling for goalies. Simple is almost always better, and the moment you too much fall in love with doing too much of it, it bites you. But Ward was good overall and fortunately the Canes offense had room for 1 ‘oops’ on Friday night.
4) Jeff Skinner/Eric Staal
I am a broken record saying that I think it takes at least 1 of the 2 other lines to get going offensively to balance the lineup and make it possible for 1 more step upward. Especially when the team hits the road for most of March, it will need sound play from all 3 lines (they are generally getting that now) but also more sources of goals. Here is hoping that Jeff Skinner’s 2-goal outburst tonight is the start of 1 another of his magical runs where he is on fire for a couple weeks. Eric Staal also picked up a scoring point on Skinner’s first goal when he went hard to the net with the puck and left a rebound for Skinner to bang in. Aside from just wanting ‘any kind of win’, this is what I am watching most closely right now. If the Canes can get at least 1 more line hot offensively, they are going to be real tough to handle with so much else going well right now.
5) The kids on D
The defense in general continues to play well minus its leader Justin Faulk. The latest report is that he might return Sunday, but I would not rush him if he just is not ready. The Canes are obviously better with Faulk in the lineup, but the current lineup is getting it done. Brett Pesce seemed to just parachute back into the lineup without any rust or time to get back up to speed. In another fit of ‘wow’, the top pairing really has not missed a beat with Jaccob Slavin in Faulk’s slot with Ron Hainsey. I would go so far as to say that it might be interesting to reinsert Faulk into Jordan’s slot temporarily when he returns. This move would keep his minutes down while he gets going again, and it would also offer a quick look at a more balanced set of 3 D pairs that might actually make some sense for March when the Canes hit the road.
6) Noah Hanifin
I wrote a post about his quite but steady development earlier this week. Without a bunch of bells, whistles and highlight reel plays, he continues to learn and develop. Over time, he has become much sounder defensively. Then awhile back he took what was probably a test run as the primary puck carrier to gain entry on the power play and instantly excelled at it. More recently, he is learning how to get shots/pucks to the right place from the point. He does not yet have a big slap shot but is making rapid progress at using or even making shooting lanes that can get the puck past the shin guards in front of him and to the front of the net which creates the less sexy but equally productive scoring chances from screens, rebounds, tips and random deflections. Hanifin had 5 shots on goal to go with 8 shots total in Friday’s win and now has 3 scoring points and 11 shots in the Canes last 4 games. It is not just about beating the goalie for Justin Faulk-type goals. It is also about getting pucks past the first defender and to the front of the net, and Hanifin is making significant strides in this regard.
If you adjust for games played, right now the team that the Canes are chasing is Tampa Bay. The Lightning has a tough match up in Pittsburgh tomorrow afternoon and then what will be another huge game at PNC Arena on Sunday night.