On Friday night in Columbus, the Hurricanes opened up a back-to-back set with a solid road win. As noted in the game preview, Columbus has been a tough match up for the Hurricanes of late. The Blue Jackets have generally been able to dictate style of play and make the game a battle for space and pucks that is not the strength of the Hurricanes who have generally fared better once they get their legs moving. Throw in an elite goalie who is best attacked with traffic and chaos that also has not been a strength of the Hurricanes, and the game looked like a tough challenge.
But despite the challenging match up and compounded by the fact that nothing really came easy, the Hurricanes prevailed to officially start a winning streak at two games.
The Hurricanes have had more impressive wins including on the road, but Friday’s win could arguably be the most significant. Being able to win at a reasonable clip when things do not click is critical to pushing above .500 which the Hurricanes did on Friday.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets
1) Cam Ward
After what I thought was his first setback in his previous start, Cam Ward took his half of the back-to-back first looking to get back on the right track. He did exactly that. On yet another night with literally no margin for error for the goalie, Ward made no errors. On top of that, he had the answer on a few breakdowns in the second half of the game to hold the game at 1-1 long enough for the Hurricanes to break through first. In total, Ward now has four starts in a backup role and has been very good in three of the four. For a tough job that requires staying sharp despite limited work, that is a rate that the team will gladly accept over the course of the 2017-18 season.
2) Jordan Staal finishes in the clutch
I am on record as tagging Staal as an average at best player in terms of receive/finish skills. I am not changing my assessment based on one game, but I am giving credit where it is due. The first goal on the pretty Noah Hanifin feed looked simple enough because he did have open net to shoot at. But when one looks at the replay, the play was indeed a great opportunity but not without some complexity. Staal had to receive the puck facing one way and sort of one-time shovel another way before Bobrovsky could react. On top of that, the angle was such that there was not really that much of an opening to shoot at.
Then after Aho tried somewhat successfully to forge through the teeth of the defense, Staal again found the puck on his stick and made no mistake with the finish. For a team that is struggling to score right now, it was a clutch effort that played a huge role in claiming two points.
3) Justin Faulk
He continues to too often have coverage issues defensively. I wrote about this in more detail in a player-by-player look at the blue line on Thursday, but the story was much the same. First, he put himself in a bad place defensively. Second, he just lacks the hop and quickness to quickly recover such that his margin for error on being out of position is tiny right now. I think the second is what most significantly separates Faulk from Slavin and Pesce. Slavin and Pesce are not perfect either, but they seem to have so much more three-stride quickness such that small mistakes more often than not stay small or are even wiped away.
4) Teuvo Teravainen
He takes second billing to Staal, but he also factored in both scoring plays and not just from random luck. Here is hoping that next up for that line is getting Sebastian Aho off of zero, so he can exhale and loosen the grip on his stick.
5) Noah Hanifin
I have been chirping about Hanifin trending upward offensively. He did less galloping with the puck on his stick on Friday, but he still managed one huge play making a heady pass in which he stepped into the right hole at the right time, froze the goalie and in the process opened up the net as he passed it to Staal for the finish. Also worth noting was that the game was mostly uneventful for Hanifin defensively – in a good way.
Next up for the Carolina Hurricanes is a short flight and a quick turnaround for a home game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night.