When you have lost four straight, have fallen a game below .500 and are trying to avoid following a familiar pattern of creating an insurmountable deficit early in the season, any kind of win is a good one. In that regard, Tuesday was a huge success. The Hurricanes picked up a 3-1 and in the process ended their losing streak and clawed back up to .500.
In terms of level of play, the game was a mixed bag. On the positive side, the Hurricanes were the better team. They started on time. And they carried play throughout much of the game. So there were definitely elements worth keeping.
On the negative side, I am not sure that the Hurricanes actually solved any of their ongoing problems in the win. Despite having a happy ending, the story was familiar. The Hurricanes won the shot battle but were mostly unable to convert it to goals. The power play looked somewhat better early and in terms of at least playing in the offensive zone but did not score with five tries. So I think despite the win, the game did not really see the team turn the corner offensively.
But again, results matter, especially when a team is mired in a four-game losing streak. And the results were good.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers
He followed up a strong outing in an shootout loss on Saturday with another strong outing in Tuesday’s win. For the second consecutive game, he allowed only one goal. Darling seemed to have trouble finding pucks around his crease at times during the game, but he was solid on first shot saves and survived otherwise. In my game preview I talked about how well-time it would be for Darling to get hot and carry the team while it tries to sort out some other challenges. Here is hoping that his two-game run proves to be the beginning of just that.
He had a solid game, picked up two assists and was named one of the stars of the game. He had two secondary assists which are increasingly deemed to be meaningless statistics, but in both cases McKeown made nice passes to put the puck right in the wheel house of a shooter who put the puck on net to be followed by a rebound goal. His ice time was still limited at 9:28, but he made the most of his opportunity and seems to settling into his NHL role.
McKeown is an interesting case for me. I have never been as high on him as most simply because I do not see his physical skill set (primarily skating) as being in the same category as the Canes other young defensemen. But McKeown has shown a knack to perform when given any kind of chance. Despite probably starting the preseason at somewhere around #11 or #12 on the defense depth chart last season, McKeown more or less won the #6 slot and an NHL roster slot with strong play in preseason. Francis ultimately decided to go a different direction in adding two depth defensemen from outside the organization, but McKeown leapfrogging a couple other players to win a tryout was still impressive and notable. And sure enough, when given a crack at regular season NHL ice time now, he is off to a good start.
For the second consecutive game, Skinner did the work to spend time playing where goals happen and had a decent number of almosts despite not scoring. He was robbed from point blank range by Roberto Luongo, shoveled a rebound attempt off the outside of the post and had at least one more good chance from in close. He is doing what he needs to do to score and will be rewarded in due time if he stays the course.
He had his best game of the season. The great hand-eye coordination goal batting the puck out of mid-air and importantly waiting until it was below the cross bar to do so was obviously huge. He also had what looked to be a sure assist on the his feed across the front of the crease to Skinner, but Luongo stole an almost certain goal with his glove. As the player sitting firmly in the slot that would ideally have a high-end playmaking center, Ryan needs to produce some offensively. Here is hoping that Tuesday’s strong game serves as a springboard.
I continue to really like Hanifin’s increasingly assertive play with the puck on his stick. Whereas the 1.0 version of Hanifin broke into the NHL at 18 years old with a ‘don’t make a mistake,’ conservative mentality, the 2.0 version of Hanifin that suddenly seems to be emerging rapidly is comfortable keeping and carrying the puck. He had multiple plays where he assessed what was in front of him and carried the puck assertively through the neutral zone and even had one Joni Pitkanen special during which he carried the puck into the offensive zone and all the way around the net.
Critical for Hanifin is to minimize the downside in the defensive part of his game next time it strikes. He does not need to be perfect defensively. And it is even possible for him to be successful simply playing at a serviceable level defensively. But he must avoid the intermittent implosion type games where he seems to just not have it, be able to find it or fight through a tougher night.
The positive with his game is his ‘shoot whenever possible mentality on offense. He is not being rewarded for that approach a bunch right now, but it is still a positive. The negative is that he still just is ‘meh’ at best defensively. On Tuesday, he let a Panther player get behind him right in the slot early, but luckily the pass did not connect. His ill-advised attempt to step up at the defensive blue line led directly to Florida’s goal. With Marcus Kruger already there, when Faulk stepped up and whiffed, Trocheck was behind him with an uncontested path to the net for the goal. He also made another decision-making ‘oops’ for a grade A chance against when he tried unsuccessfully to hold the offensive blue line on the power play sending a Panther player off to the races for a shorthanded breakaway attempt.
The power play and special teams in total
Special teams nearly tilted a decent game into the loss column again. The Hurricanes started on time and built momentum only to see two unsuccessful power play attempts in the first half of the first period seem to slow momentum. With the game still hanging in the balance three more power play chances went by the wayside later. Then along the way, Florida scored on one of only two power play chances. Luckily, the Hurricanes mustered enough at even strength and ultimately prevailed despite the special teams scoring deficit, but the special teams continue to be an issue.
In terms of level of play, I do think the power play was a full notch higher than on Saturday. The first two power plays had a good amount of offensive zone time and generated a couple pretty good chances. I did not think that the power plays after the first period were as good, but the Hurricanes did at least manage to gain the offensive zone more regularly than Saturday when they barely even played offense on the power play.
The cycling game late
Defending a 2-1 lead and with no margin for error, I was encouraged by the run of strong cycling shifts late in the third period. The fourth line of Nordstrom/Kruger/Jooris had a strong 50-second shift playing on the walls in the offensive zone. Aho/Staal/Teravainen did similar only a couple minutes later to help salt away the last five minutes without rolling the dice and surviving under duress in the defensive zone.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a tough back-to-back set with a match up in Columbus against a Blue Jackets team that has recently been able to dictate style of play against the Hurricanes and convert it to wins. Then on Saturday, the Hurricanes meet a Chicago Blackhawks that will be resting and waiting in Raleigh while the Hurricanes are playing on Friday.