Carolina Hurricanes vs. Calgary Flames recap
Pushing into game 4 of the 2016-17 season, the Carolina Hurricanes were still looking for their first win and even battling early adversity after playing well but then collapsing and blowing leads.
The game saw the every other game goalie rotation flip back to Eddie Lack behind a lineup that was pretty similar to Tuesday’s.
The first period was fairly even early before the game turned into a special teams skill competition for much of the first period and really the entirety of the game. The Hurricanes killed off a double minor high sticking taken by Lee Stempniak and then another penalty immediately thereafter taken by Klas Dahlbeck. The penalty kill allowed very little during the continuous 6 minutes shorthanded and gave the Hurricanes a boost. Shortly after the third penalty expired, the Hurricanes struck first on a pretty goal. Sebastian Aho pushed the puck across the offensive blue line and turned in to buy time. Aho then found Noah Hanifin who made a smart and well-timed rush into the offensive zone where he niftily received the puck in stride, handled it from forehand to backhand and made a pretty pass to Teuvo Teravainen at the side of the net. Teravainen finished to put the Hurricanes up 1-0. Victor Rask continued his scoring ways ripping a power play shot through a screen to put the Hurricanes up 2-0 which is how the first period ended.
When Klas Dahlbeck hit a streaking Viktor Stalberg for a long breakaway pass and a goal, the Hurricanes had mounted the dreaded 3-goal lead that proved to be a curse twice earlier in the season. From there it was a bit of a grind and struggle to hold on. Justin Faulk cracked the door open a bit when he made a bad turnover in the neutral zone that saw Troy Brouwer pick off a pass, enter the offensive zone with a head of steam and beat Eddie Lack less than 5 seconds after the bad turnover. When Johnny Gaudreau beat Faulk to the outside by a wide enough margin to come across the front of the net with a chance to shoot before or after he got to Lack, it was quickly 3-2 and officially a white-knuckler. Eddie Lack was sound down the stretch and despite having to hold on a bit, the Hurricanes avoided complete meltdown phase and finished the game late with a Jeff Skinner 5-on-3 goal on a pretty Elias Lindholm pass through the crease. The 4-2 win was an important one for a team that had wins on the tee twice and really needed to close 1 out.
In addition to the scoring plays noted above, the win very much came on the back of unsung heroes. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce could each make a case for being as good as anyone on the ice despite not getting on the score sheet. Both were key parts of the perfect penalty kill and were just great overall. Phil Di Giuseppe and Joakim Nordstrom played a rugged and gritty game. They played an incredibly good blue collar/lunch pail type of game competing for pucks and winning battles all night. The game was by far Nordstrom’s best after a lackluster start. Jeff Skinner notched a goal late, but maybe more significant were his play to draw a penalty early in the third period and even more so when he willed the puck out of the defensive zone late and drew a penalty in the process to mostly close out the win.
Check in on ‘what I’m watching’ points
1) Something to emerge at forward
Through 2 games, the Skinner/Rask/Stempniak line had put the team on its back and had very little help. Skinner and Rask accounted for 2 of the team’s 4 goals but both were on the power play. Other than Stempniak’s rough night penalty-wise, the line was not horrible but was quieter at even strength. It is only 1 game, but it was a good 1 in terms of finding more. Joakim Nordstrom looked like a completely different player and as noted above, I like him with Phil Di Giuseppe just making simple plays and being difficult to play against all night. The Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen notched its first even strength goal on a pretty passing play from Aho to Tervainen with Hanifin in the middle. Hopefully, Thursday is something that both lines can build from.
Eddie Lack was solid all night. It is important to note that this was the first time in 4 tries that skaters gave the goalie a manageable game not full of craziness which helped. But Lack was sound too and did not crack when there was pressure late and gave up 2 on a night when it would be reasonable to hope for a 2 and a win from the goalie. He also had 2 really good saves late, either of which could have been that 1 shot that pushed the game to overtime. I will be shocked if Lack does not get an opportunity to build upward from the team’s first win of the season on Saturday.
3) Heroes under adversity
I really liked Jeff Skinner’s third period and not even so much the goal which was just dessert. After giving up a goal late in the second, the Hurricanes had to be hearing whispers in their heads during the second intermission after what transpired in recent games. Jeff Skinner started the third period by drawing a penalty with his skating. And he finished the third period by physically willing the puck out of the defensive zone under pressure and drawing a penalty in the process. He also saved everyone the stress of a furious last 20 seconds trying to hold on when he finished 5-on-3 to end it. Justin Faulk had a tough night defensively figuring in two-thirds of another 3-goal collapse that luckily did not happen. First, he made exactly the kind of horrible and untimely mistake that has plagued the Canes thus far when he turned the puck over in the the neutral zone for a very quick goal against. Then he had Johnny Gaudreau fly right around him to the front of the net for the second goal. To Faulk’s credit he seemed to right the ship down the stretch making plays, staying out of trouble and drawing a high-sticking penalty to boot. Jordan Staal would not be on any kind of star list for the game but was steady and solid. Playing their way into the mix were Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce who were the Canes 2 best defensemen defensively complementing Noah Hanifin who had a big night offensively assisting on all 3 goals.
4) A cleaner game
The effort was marginally better than the 2 horrible losses obviously and the third period was better, but I still would not put Thursday’s win in the category of closing out a game confidently and efficiently. The Hurricanes let the Flames back into it with the starting point being another big miscue and did some holding on in the third period. Despite the win, I am still calling this a work in process.
Other notes from Hurricanes first win
Noah Hanifin: He had a big game offensively with 3 assists including the incredibly skilled first one. His improved shot and comfort level playing with the puck on his stick are encouraging signs for finding another source of offense from the back end.
Jaccob Slavin: He logged 22:58 of ice time including a whopping 6:35 shorthanded without being on the ice for a goal against without being on the ice for a goal against. If I had to pick 1 Hurricanes defenseman to put on the ice for a key defensive situation right now, he would be my choice.
Justin Faulk: In advanced stats parlance, Faulk is a high event player right now. He is making plays offensively to generate offense but is much too often offsetting with mistakes that generate just as much or more offense against. The positive for me is that Faulk has historically been a slow starter dating all the way back to his rookie season. My hope is that once he finds his skating legs he will climb into the 2016-17 season defensively. One bad turnover in many games and then other plays like Gaudreau beating him is just too much for a player who needs to be among the team’s best.
Klas Dahlbeck: After playing mostly the quiet version of good in his first 2 games, he had a tough night on Thursday. He took too penalties and in trying to get across to cover up Faulk’s turnover, he left a big gap for Brouwer to skate into and build steam to blast an uncontested shot. At a less specific play level, his gaps were too big tonight giving players time/space to try to make plays in front of him. On the positive side, his pass that sprung Stalberg for a breakaway goal was obviously a big play given that the Hurricanes needed all 3 of the goals to win.
Lee Stempniak: He has easily been among the Hurricanes best players thus far but had a tough night picking up 6 minutes of minor penalties to go with the 1 he had coming into the game. For a player who has 5 points in 4 games and is helping drive the team’s best line, it is easy to look the other way, but obviously taking a minor penalty per game is not a good thing and 3 is unacceptable. Had the combination of Calgary’s sputtering power play and the Hurricanes’ penalty kill not held Calgary to 0 with the man advantage, the Canes sloppiness taking penalties could easily have been the story of the game.
Jeff Skinner: Worth reiterating was the soundness of Jeff Skinner’s game tonight. He looked much more like the balanced risk/reward player of 2015-16 and less like the gambler of years past that has crept back into his game early in 2016-17.
Victor Rask: He just continues to make big and small good plays on a nightly basis.
Joakim Nordstrom and Phil Di Giuseppe: This would be a great game to tally small good plays – winning pucks, blocking shots, clearing the defensive zone, getting pucks deep, etc. for these 2 players. Neither registered a point, but they brought a soundness and gritty and determined style of play back to the Jordan Staal line.
Bryan Bickell: He did not get a point on the score sheet either, but Bryan Bickell has played a significant as a screener on 2 power play goals already in only 4 games. That is a great contribution in a small role.
Special teams: How many times in recent years have the Carolina Hurricanes been on the losing side of a fairly even game because of special teams? On a very busy night for special teams, the Hurricanes were plus 2 goals which decided the game.
Next up is a game 5 out of 6 on the road in Philadelphia on Saturday.