Recap of Hurricanes 3-2 shootout win over Predators
The Hurricanes entered game 10 of the 2016-17 NHL season in Nashville in dead last place in the Eastern Conference and trying simultaneously scratch and claw for points on tough nights and find some kind of rhythm that makes it easier.
After a 3-day layoff, the Hurricanes laid an egg in the first period. In a season with significant issues in terms of bad turnovers and breakdowns, the first period in Nashville rivaled all of it. The list of mishaps included a Jaccob Slavin inside his defensive zone for an immediate grade A scoring chance, Neal streaking behind Hainsey and Murphy uncontested to the net and McClement and Hanifin turnovers at the offensive blue line leading to 1-on-0 rushes the other way. The period was a defensive catastrophe and Ward’s 4 out of 5 on chances not that different than shootout tries was actually a good effort despite the below .900 save percentage and 3.00 goals against average.
When the second period started with another turnover and point blank chance for Nashville, best guess was that it just was not going to be the Canes night. But a strong puck possession shift by Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen at the midway point of the second period led to a run of hockey in the offensive zone and a burst of momentum. Coupled with another Jeff Skinner whirling dervish individual effort to knot the game at 1-1, things suddenly looked better despite the tough start. But Nashville scored again to push to the third period with a 2-1 lead.
The third period saw Cam Ward hold the fort making a couple good saves and 1 phenomenal save coming across on another breakdown that saw a forward get behind Hainsey with the puck and Faulk fail to stop the pass across. Then an improbable shorthanded goal by Ron Hainsey (first of his career) on a pretty drop pass by Elias Lindholm pulled the Hurricanes even at 2-2. The rest of regulation was dicey at times, but Ward stood tall and the Hurricanes pushed to their fourth overtime game in 10 games total this season. I was not thrilled with the Hurricanes play in overtime. The team just continues to give the puck away too much. But it was good enough to force a shootout. After failed attempts by Jeff Skinner and Teuvo Teravainen, emerging star Jaccob Slavin pulled a new trick out of the hat starting to carry toward his trademark backhand but then quickly pulling the puck to his forehand and beating Pekka Rinne to turn Ward’s 3 shootout saves into the Hurricanes first win in 4 tries in extra time.
The much-needed finishes a short 2-game road trip with a solid 1-0-1 mark and makes it possible for the team to get back to .500 with a win at home against New Jersey on Sunday night.
‘What I’m watching’ check in
1) Carry over from Cam Ward
Ward was the Hurricanes best player on the night. He made enough saves in the first period when the Hurricanes were terrible in front of him and also held the fort in the third period buying time for the team to pull even. And he even rose to the occasion in the shootout which has historically not been a strength for him. For me, that marks 3 good outings in the last 4. I would not call that success, but I would call it a step in the right direction.
2) Hanifin/Murphy, especially Murphy
On a night when the defensemen as a group had their struggles, the third pairing was part of the problem. It was Murphy and Hainsey who let Neal behind them for 1 of the first period breakaways and the Predators’ first goal. Murphy also had a blind backhand to the middle of the ice later in the game that could easily have been another goal against. Murphy did come up the wall to help keep the puck in on Skinner’s goal, so that was a positive to offset some of the ‘oops’ in his game. And Hanifin was pick pocketed at the offensive blue line for a 1-on-0 the other way. The night was mostly a write off for the blue line including Noah Hanifin and Ryan Murphy.
3) Jordan Staal
He was not horrible on Saturday, but the elite version of his puck possession game was elusive on Saturday with only intermittent appearances.
4) The group seeking a spark
From the list of forwards who are trying to find a spark, the big winner was Elias Lindholm. Lindholm had a heady and pretty pass to Ron Hainsey for the all-important tying goal in the third period. I fear that rookie Sebastian Aho may be reaching the point where he is pressing and starting to squeeze the stick too tightly. He had multiple good scoring chances with net to shoot at but missed on Saturday.
The Jeff Skinner show: Jeff Skinner continued his scoring ways netting another big goal that helped earn points in the standings.
Jaccob Slavin: Slavin, who has mostly been sound and solid this season, actually participated in the rough first period with a bad turnover in his own end, but otherwise played a pretty solid game. Earlier this week, in my post about next steps for the young defensemen, I pegged offense as the next leg up for Slavin. My call for Slavin was more offense in the form of being able to generate more offense off the rush. This week, he decided to go the route of goal scoring instead, first scoring the Hurricanes lone goal in Ottawa and then scoring a shootout winner in Nashville. Those 2 goals are good for a big 2 points in the standings, helping push the first game to overtime and converting overtime to a win on Saturday. The kid continues have that moxy and ability to make big plays when the team really needs them. This is not a skill that you develop. Rather, it is something that some players have.
Ron Hainsey: Good for him netting a huge goal late. I have been hard on him (fairly in my opinion) this season, but he deserves credit for helping net a big win on Saturday.
Brett Pesce: He is slowly becoming the incredibly positive variety of boring in that he just eats up minutes and seems to avoid big mistakes even when fires are raging around him. Unless I missed 1 because I could not write fast enough during the first period debacle, Brett Pesce was the only Canes defenseman who was not credited with at least 1 ‘oops’ on a night when most of the others had multiple.
Scratching and clawing: Nothing is coming easy, but with a big win in Nashville on Saturday, the Hurricanes clawed to within 1 win of .500 and at least treading water while they try to find rhythm and easier times.
Next up is what I call a fair back-to-back where both the home Hurricanes and road Devils played tonight and had to travel. This situation can often make for a sluggish grinding kind of game.