In my daily post for this morning, I said that the Canes would need a string of mini miracles to push even farther up the standings. They got about half of 1 on Tuesday night in Washington. With the last of the veteran defensemen, Ron Hainsey, out of the lineup with the flu and yet another rookie, Trevor Carrick, making his NHL debut, the Canes took to the ice against the NHL’s best team.
The first period played out about how 1 might expect on paper. The Canes were under siege and hemmed in their own end for much of the first period. But the Canes survived by competing hard, defending reasonably well in their own end (even if for too long) and leaning heavily on goalie Eddie Lack.
The Caps cracked open the scoring on a goal that featured another play when a Canes player had the puck on his stick but the Caps got it back quickly. Michal Jordan whacked a puck away from the front of the net where it was quickly retrieved and sent right past Jordan to Justin Williams who had won a battle for position with Nathan Gerbe and was parked right in front of the net. At that point, it was fair to wonder if that would be the goal that got the Caps going and sent them off to the races. But the 2015-16 Carolina Hurricanes are nothing if not resilient and like clock work, they bounced back. Jordan Staal made an incredible individual move dragging Capitals players with him from the offensive blue line to between the face-off circles where he beat Braden Holtby to draw the Canes even at 1-1 at the midway point of the game.
Even more impressive was that from that point forward, I thought the young and seemingly undermanned Canes were as good as or possibly even better than the mighty Capitals. After outshooting the Caps by an 11-8 margin in the third period, the game pushed to overtime with both teams securing a point. The game ended shortly into overtime on what became a controversial play when Evgeni Kuznetsov set up shop behind the net with a 2-on-1 with Alexander Ovechkin in shooting position. When Noah Hanifin pushed at Kuznetsov without closing the passing lane, the puck quickly found Ovechkin’s stick and soon after the net behind Eddie Lack. The controversy surrounded the entry into the offensive zone that clearly showed the Capitals players’ skates across the blue line before the puck, but he (I guess) was deemed to have “control” of the puck despite not having it on his stick.
A few player and other notes:
This team is impressive right now and continues to harken back to my memories of Bayda/Aucoin/Walker from Canes lore of the past. In recent years, teams have been accused of icing AHL rosters to tank. The Canes are doing it and winning games. If in September you had told me about a March lineup on defense of Slavin/Pesce, Hanifin/Murphy and Carrick/Jordan, I would have obviously known that you meant in Charlotte NOT in the NHL.
2) The new kids
Tuesday’s game featured 1 NHL debut and another 2015-16 NHL debut. Both stepped into the lineup and performed admirably.
Brody Sutter: Of the options available at least for the 2015-16 season, I like him best. He is sounder positionally than McGinn or Woods and also had a better knack for getting to/finishing checks that actually created pressure on the forecheck. His shot that clanged off the cross bar was the biggest example of reading where to be and stepping into a hole for a great shot.
Trevor Carrick: He had some issues moving the puck early in the game, but that was a team-wide problem across all of the defense pairs and partly a system issue with forwards not helping by providing outlets for short passes when Washington pushed forward aggressively. He logged 16:34 of ice time in a really tough environment, was more poised with the puck than I remembered from training camp and avoided significant breakdowns. All in all, it was a strong debut.
3) Eddie Lack
He was really good especially early when the Canes were under siege and struggling to get their skates under them in the first period. He was beaten only once in regulation on a shot from point blank where he had little chance and once in overtime on a similarly tough shot. He deserves a significant share of the credit for the point earned on Tuesday night.
4) Jordan Staal
His goal was both huge and impressive. If you DVRed the game and will not watch all of it, at least find Staal’s goal. He was impeded at the offensive blue line and literally dragged a Caps player with him on a path to the net, came upon another Caps player and then ultimately retrieved the puck and fired in the same motion to beat Holtby. The goal was the definition of a power forward goal.
In their preseason predictions, who had this duo as the Canes top defense pairing in a game that mattered in March against the NHL’s best team and holding their own? How far the young defense has come this season continues to be the best story going for the Carolina Hurricanes and the team’s future. Today was a showcase game for this duo playing as a first pairing and holding their own against tough competition. I wrote recently that I think Jaccob Slavin could have the highest upside of any of the young Canes defensemen, and he supports that possibility every time he takes the ice.
6) A tiny bit of help
The Canes are clearly at a point where they need to collect every point that they can, but on a tough night schedule-wise, the Canes did take a small step upward. With the OTL point and the Flyers win over the Red Wings, the Canes are now 4 points out of the #8 spot behind Detroit. My adjust math has the Flyers at +5 above .500 and ahead of the Red Wings if you adjust for their 2 games in hand. Next up on the schedule-watching is hoping that the surging Flyers come out flat and tired tomorrow night in Chicago in a quick turnaround against a rested Blackhawks team.
Next up for the Canes is the fourth of 5 games on the road in Pittsburgh on Thursday.