The Canes actually started slowly again on Sunday versus the New Jersey Devils, but the lull was short-lived. After a lackluster first 5 minutes from both teams, the Canes seemed to find a higher gear shortly after a Brad Malone/Bobby Farnham fight. From that point forward, the Canes dominated the remainder of the first period to the tune of a 14 to 3 advantage in terms of shots on goal in the first period. The Canes capitalized on the shooting advantage. First, Ron Hainsey scored on a heady back door pass from Jordan Staal. Soon thereafter the Victor Rask scored from in close to make it 2-0 which is how the first period ended.
Early in the second period, Jeff Skinner sprang Victor Rask on a breakaway that he finished, and the Canes were seemingly off to the races. But then the Devils found a higher gear, and a couple Canes miscues let them right back in the game. First, Brad Malone had a puck roll of his stick (important to note: while he was being hooked) right to Bobby Farnham who finished to make it 3-1. Less than a minute later, Cam Ward got caught overhandling the puck as has happened too frequently of late. When the puck squirted out to the front of the net while he was still scrambling late to get there, Travis Zajac finished to pull the Devils back into the game at 3-2.
New Jersey pushed repeatedly after that and was the better team in the second half of the game, but the Hurricanes ultimately held on for a 3-2 win.
Player and other notes:
1) Cam Ward and his ‘over-love’ for his puck handling
How quickly have we gone from Ward being much better at handling the puck to him giving up a goal almost every game with overdoing it? With the Canes winning 3-1 but ceding momentum to New Jersey on a goal only 50 seconds earlier, Ward went to handle a puck behind the net that just was not making it around the boards fast enough. “Better safe than sorry” is quickly becoming an apt description for Ward’s puck handling. In this case, he could have just left it for a defenseman to deal with. Other than my growing annoyance with the volume of puck handling ‘oopses’ by Ward, his 2 goals against was good enough for a win.
2) 20! for Victor
I recently detailed the various Hurricanes players who were chasing stats-related milestones down the stretch. With his 2 goals on Sunday, Victor Rask hit a nice milestone reaching 20 goals. He needs an attainable 5 points in the final 8 games to reach 50 points which would be a nice boost in his second NHL season from the 33 points that he had last season.
3) Jeff Skinner
He was a whirling dervish again on Sunday. Skinner picked up a point for his efforts assisting on Victor Rask’s second goal when he sprung him with a pass up the middle of the ice for a breakaway. He could easily have had another point or 2.
The duo had another strong game. Hainsey had a nice finish on Jordan Staal’s pretty cross ice pass to the back door. Hainsey made it look easy, but finishing on a 1-timer versus receiving and shooting the puck and also getting it up into the middle of the net was the difference. If he handles it first or does not get it up off the ice, the goalie coming across quickly likely gets a piece of it. Slavin collected a secondary assist on the same goal, and neither was on the ice for a goal against in leading the team with about 23 minutes of ice time each.
5) My favorite trend right now
My favorite trend right now is the increasing volume of offense that is being generated by the blue line. Hanifin is regularly carrying the the length of the rink when the opportunity presents itself. Pesce has a really good sense for when to quickly join a 2-on-2 rush to provide numbers and force defensemen to make quick decisions under pressure. And the volume of second level passes that skips the obvious first pass for something better has been very high of late.
As I have said since the beginning of the season, the much higher level for the Canes comes not just from the young defensemen settling in to become serviceable top 4 defensive defensemen. It comes from the skating blue line starting to drive more offense off the rush. I would not say that the group is all the way there, but the trends and early signs are incredibly positive.
Next up for the Canes is a road tilt in Brooklyn against the Islanders on Tuesday night.