On steamy summer night…in October? the Carolina Hurricanes kicked off the 2019-20 season with an exciting 4-3 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens. The first period had a decent pace but was fairly controlled in terms of openings and grade A chances. The game opened up in the second period to the tune of four goals, and the third period had a similar hectic pace through much of it despite only offering up a single goal.
The story of the first period was a carry over of the solid defensive hockey from the 2018-19 season. I thought the Habs had the upper hand by a slight margin in the first period, but the Hurricanes were good defending off the rush and in their own end such that the shot totals rose but the number of high-quality chances were modest. In addition, the Hurricanes did a nice job of counter punching with occasional strikes despite not being able to mount a sustained attack. Ryan Dzingel fired off the top of the cross bar off the rush. Martin Necas was sprung for a path to the net before trying instead to cut back and losing the puck in the process. And Sebastian Aho worked over a Canadiens forward 1-on-1 off the rush while shorthanded. None of the rushes yielded a goal, the Hurricanes did strike first when Lucas Wallmark showed great hand-eye coordination first tipping a Brett Pesce point shot and then whacking in his own rebound. The first period would end with the Hurricanes staked to a 1-0 lead.
Via some combination of an attacking pace and a bit of early season sloppiness, the game opened up in the second period. Shortly after Jordan Staal clanged the post with a grade A power play chance, Martin Necas would score the Hurricanes second deflection goal of the night on a power play tally on a Dougie Hamilton point shot. But from there the Canadiens capitalized on some defensive breakdowns to reel off three straight goals to go up 3-2. First a series of small errors on the penalty kill compounded and led to a Tomas Tatar goal against. First, Warren Foegele to clear the puck. Erik Haula over-anticipated and skated right past the point man who intercepted the clear. And then admittedly caught in a bad spot, Haydn Fleury did not offer much to better the situation. The second Canadiens goal had the Canes running around a bit. Mrazek spit out a rebound and Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored a heady goal out-waiting Mrazek on the rebound. The third Habs goal saw Warren Foegele initially go to a secondary attacker off the rush but then incorrectly leave him thinking the defense had him covered. But with the puck on the far side, Slavin was on the puck and Hamilton had the forward in the middle lane leaving Jordan Weal wide open to score.
The third period saw the Hurricanes finally find high gear and run off some stretches of the aggressive, pressuring hockey that represents the team at its best. Dzingel/Haula/Necas were dangerous all period. And the Canes in general had the upper hand. The good guys were finally rewarded for their effort just seconds after a power play expired. Ryan Dzingel made a nifty through the legs pass to Hamilton out in front. Haula ultimately banged in the loose change to pull the Hurricanes even at 3-3.
The overtime saw each team have a stretch of puck possession but not quite be able to finish against a tired opposing trio. Dougie Hamilton was first on the shootout and scored only goal in it, to push the Hurricanes to a fun 4-3 shootout victory.
1) Martin Necas
Necas actually struggled early. He was hit with a break out pass and instead of trying to exploit the small head start he had, he instead turned back into the defender and was stripped. He also backed away from shoulder to shoulder contact on the power play resulting in Montreal seizing the puck and salting away power play time. And he had a few minor issues receiving or handling the puck. But the power play goal and maybe Brind’Amour’s line shuffling seemed to jump start his game. In addition to the power play goal, Necas had at least two pretty passes to set up line mates for shots, and he looked every bit the playmaker that he has been at lower levels.
2) Joel Edmundson
I liked his first regular season game in a Hurricanes uniform. Edmundson is correctly labeled as a stay-home defenseman, but what stands out about his game is that he is not a passive stay-home type who sits back. Rather, he has the same puck-challenging instincts that are integral to Pesce and Slavin’s games.
3) Bodies to the net
An underlying but significant theme to this game was the Hurricanes’ consistent effort to get players to the top of the crease. The first two goals were on rebounds. And in general the Canes did a great job getting players to the top of the crease and then getting the puck to there.
I had this as my third line from before training camp started. Once put together around the midway point of the game (Necas started on Wallmark’s line), this line reminded me of Whitney/Cullen/LaRose from the 2005-06 season. Both trios have enough speed and skill to exert significant pressure on the opposing defense and exploit match ups against lesser defenders. Dzingel and Necas both have the same effortless skating ability that is fast in straight lines but maybe more importantly gives them a ‘swooping’ ability that constantly moves to find open ice space with or without the puck.
5) Warren Foegele
He continues to try to fight his way out of a funk. He had the bad, intercepted clearing attempt on the Canadiens first goal, and he also made the incorrect sorting out decision that left Weal alone for the third Canadiens goal. Later Foegele was in alone on Carey Price and did not even manage to get a shot off as the puck rolled off his stick. He continues to fight it just as he did in preseason.
6) The power play
The power play was odd. On the one hand, it was quite disjointed at times in terms of cohesively moving the puck up into the offensive zone. But the positive is that even with a modest amount of offensive zone time, the team capitalized to the tune of a goal, another goal shortly after a penalty expired and two posts. That is pretty productive and at least potentially a positive sign.
7) Points count
With the aim of not requiring a 40-game push to climb the standings ladder into the playoffs like in 2018-19, getting off to a better start is critical. Especially with games against expected Eastern Conference leaders Tampa Bay and Washington looming over the weekend, netting a first win is an underrated positive.
Next up is a Saturday match up in Washington, D.C. against the Capitals.