After a ‘Who are these guys?’ event on Sunday that saw uncharacteristically saw the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets trading goals like it was a game of shinny, Monday’s rematch looked a bit more like the usual fare with the teams grinding to find a couple decent scoring chances. Even the modest 3-2 final felt like it was maybe a goal more than the scoring chances would net.
Brief recap of the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets
The Hurricanes gave up a couple decent chances early which maybe helped Alex Nedeljkovic get into the game after a layoff from game action dating back to last March. After that the Hurricanes buckled down and allowed very little for the rest of the first period. But despite giving up very little, the Blue Jackets scored first late in the first period on an odd deflection that went off Andrei Svechnikov and barely across the goal line before Nedeljkovic scooped it up. The first period was generally pretty even and mostly minus a ton of chances with only 12 total shots on goal (eight for the Hurricanes and only four for the Blue Jackets). But that was enough to stake Columbus to a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period.
In the second period, the Hurricanes recent depth scoring surge continued. Nino Niederreiter continues his run of opportunities and finishes from hanging around the top of the crease as much as possible. A Jordan Martinook keep in on the forecheck led quickly to a chance in front and the puck going off Niederreiter’s shin guard and in. Next Cam Atkinson was awarded an odd penalty shot when he was impeded at center ice. Atkinson worked over Nedeljkovic to put the Blue Jackets back on top. But Brock McGinn would continue his scoring ways with his fourth goal of the season to tie the game at 2-2 which is how the second period ended.
The game seemed to open up a bit in the second period which continued into the third period. Each team managed a few chances before a costly late breakdown offered the Blue Jackets a chance and a late goal on a partial breakaway. With Brett Pesce in good position on defense and Ryan Dzingel pursuing on the backcheck to take away a shift to the middle, the Canes defenders left an opening and it was exploited. Maybe thinking that Dzingel had it covered, Pesce was a bit too far to outside which gave Jack Roslovic room to go right between them and finish on Nedeljkovic. The Hurricanes would have a couple medium grade chances after that but not finish resulting in a 3-2 loss.
Player and other notes
1) Alex Nedeljkovic
Nedeljkovic was decent not great in his first start of the 2020-21 season. The first goal against was a fluky deflection. The other two were breakaways. In that sense, Nedeljkovic did not really make any errors which is a positive. But he did look overmatched a bit on both of the two breakaways, and the Hurricanes really needed him to hold the fort on the second one. But all in all I would consider Nedeljkovic’s first start of the season to be more positive than negative despite the three goals against on a modest shot total.
2) The depth scoring surge
Suddenly Nino Niederreiter has give goals which is a whopping 41-goal pace over 82 games. Brock McGinn has four. And both players are doing simple things to get scoring chances and are capitalizing. In addition to his goal, McGinn also had a post and another near miss from in close. A common denominator for the two players has been a propensity to spend as much time as possible within a step of the crease and getting pucks on net whenever possible.
3) Jake Gardiner
His game continues to grow. When he was struggling defensively last fall, the offensive part of his game that was a strength of his seemed to evaporate too. With his defensive play at a higher level and his comfort growing, the offensive part of Gardiner’s game seems to returning as well. He has shown a knack for finding when stretch passes are available, but more generally continues to make plays to generate offense. On Monday, he had a heady pass off the end wall to give Martinook a chance, and he also stepped into an opening on the back door for a near miss. I was hard on him last season when he was not playing well, so it is important to give credit where it is due with Gardiner playing well with and without the puck right now.
4) Another odd mismatch of scoreboard and level of play
Like Sunday, I thought the Hurricanes were better than the results. With the fluky goal and questionable penalty shot goal against, I felt like the goals against again did not match what the Canes gave up. Put another way, I thought the Hurericanes generally played better than the results.
Next up for the Hurricanes is Thursday and Saturday matchups against the Stars in Dallas.