With the 5-1 result, those who did not see the game might assume it was a dominant performance and easy win. Even for the those who did see it, the joyous ending could easily paint a different picture than the reality for much of the game.
The Hurricanes started slow and were outplayed by the Dallas Stars in the first period. Scott Darling was good on first saves as he usually is but seemed to be having a really tough time tracking the puck which showed up in most pucks hitting him but then either randomly caroming out in front of or trickling around the crease. And the Hurricanes power play which underwent changes seemed to go from bad to worse when a couple early chances ended with the Hurricanes taking offensive zone penalties that cut their own power play short and gifted a shortened power play to the league’s best. But Darling maybe caught some luck not having a rebound banged in and despite being under duress at times, the Hurricanes defense generally avoided catastrophic breakdowns. And along the way, a luck bounce and a couple quick passes found Sebastian Aho streaking in alone to finish for his first goal of the season. Despite deserving worse, the Hurricanes battled and grinded and emerged from the first period with a 1-0 lead.
Things really did not look different as the second period unfolded. Dallas still looked a step faster. Carolina looked a bit sluggish playing their third game in four days. And Darling continued to fight off pucks but also endure some bobbles. When Alexander Radulov scored at the end of one of the power plays gifted by the Hurricanes during their own power play to make it 1-1. The scoreboard was even, but the game seemed destined for a bad ending.
Then Teuvo Teravainen happened. With the precision of a training assassin, he buried crisp shots into the back of the net on three occasions into the third to boost the Hurricanes to a 4-1 win that actually became 5-1 when Jeff Skinner added an ‘excuse me’ goal in the waning seconds.
The game was not a good one in terms of level of play across 60 minutes. But I think the game was a great one in terms of taking a mediocre night, being sound defensively and more than anything just hanging around, battling and finding a way. Had you told me midway through the first period (or second period for that matter) that this game would end with the Hurricanes running away, I would never have believed you. But by grinding forward without digging too big of a hole, the Hurricanes left the door open for a short stretch of good hockey and/or a couple good plays to win a hockey game. And that is exactly what happened.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 5-1 win over the Dallas Stars
1) The fourth line of Nordstrom/Kruger/Jooris
On a night when the Hurricanes did not look dynamic skating-wise or in terms of compete level, I thought the fourth line was outstanding. They played with a noticeable edge and intensity level in the second period. Peters noticed and gave them regular shifts when they were arguably the only players who were able to find the higher gear through the first half of the game. I thought Josh Jooris in particular played with a physical edge and determination that was noticeable every shift.
2) Scott Darling
I think Monday’s win could prove to be a big one for him in his ongoing transition to the starter role. I am on record as saying that he did not play well in Saturday’s loss getting beat five hole late when defending what could have been a win and then again in overtime.
A key difference between being a backup and a starter is the pressure that comes with needing to put bad games in the past and rebound quickly. There is also an element of being able to play through the lesser stretches that inevitably will happen over the course of a long 82-game season. As a backup, the challenges are different. After a tough outing, a backup will often be given a number of days to reset mentally before his next start. And as a goalie who starts only occasionally, the pressure to get back in the win column to boost the team is less. Oftentimes, the starter will have played 2-3 games and hopefully won a couple before they even get back to you. But as a starter, when things go poorly, the NHL schedule flies at you fast. There is another start coming quickly and another one after that such that negative momentum can increase the pressure and cause small lapses to snowball quickly.
So for Darling, I think Monday had a nearly full set of those challenges. He was coming off a lesser start on Saturday that certainly could have been a win. On top of that, I do not think he had his A game or an easy win with his team dominating (at least early). Instead, he had to grind through a game, fight for every save and even maybe rely a little bit of luck and help from his defensemen keeping juicy rebounds out of his net. In Monday’s win, Darling showed a good ability to just keep looking forward to playing the next puck and fought for a one goal against win that looks much prettier on the score sheet than it did in terms of creation.
As noted above, good NHL goalies have their down stretches too. Good goalies seem to have a short memory that gives them a knack for rebounding quickly. They also have an ability to be ‘good enough to win’ on a decent number of nights when they do not have their A game. I think Darling rated high in both regards on Monday.
3) Sebastian Aho
Easily the happiest moment of the night was Sebastian Aho FINALLY notching his first goal and the short but intense celebration that followed. Here is hoping that getting the monkey off his back unleashes a goal scoring burst that helps lift the Hurricanes to their next wins.
4) Teuvo Teravainen
If he could just find the every game trigger or really just the ability to grind out more offensively on the lesser nights, he would be an elite scorer. With his massive four-point night and hat trick on Monday, Teravainen has six goals and five assists in his best four games (so 25 percent of the season). In the other 12 games, he has no goals and two assists. Being streaky is a trademark of many high-end scorers. Teravainen who finished with lasers that were off his stick and into the net instantly from three different places on the ice continues to show what his ceiling is.
The key for the next step in Teravainen’s development is ironically not playing better when things are good. It is actually playing better when things are bad with bad just meaning finding a way to produce something on the nights when things do not click or come easy.
5) Brett Pesce
He had a really good game being sound defensively and front and center multiple times in terms of cleaning up the plentiful rebounds or boxing out to keep a Stars player from getting to them.
6) The revamped power play – “It’s always darkest before the the dawn.”
The power play emerged from its extended slump by scoring a goal to hopefully get the monkey off its back just like Sebastian Aho. But the path to get there actually hit new lows first. With the Hurricanes struggling to generate much offensively, the power play received a couple chances. Consecutive power plays ended about one minute in with first Elias Lindholm and then Justin Williams taking horrible offensive zone penalties with the man advantage. When Dallas converted the second shortened power play to a tying goal midway through the second period, the power play had somehow reached yet another low. But then Teuvo Teravainen delivered power play goal to give the Hurricanes a lead early in the third period and relieve pressure both on the power play and in the game in general. For those of you who voted for ‘bodies in the crease’ for the solution to the power play woes in the Thursday Coffee Shop poll, please give yourself a high five. 🙂
After seeing many of the same struggles on the first few tries, I would count Monday as progress in terms of production but still consider special teams to be a work in progress.
Jaccob Slavin looked no better than the rest in his first couple tries and had some troubling handling the puck, but he did have a tremendous power play shift in the third period. In a single shift, he got three pucks past the defender in front of him and to the net with a chance for a tip, rebound or ugly screen or deflection goal. And on the same shift, he put passes in the wheel house of Jeff Skinner and Justin Williams. After starting with a small rumble and becoming louder by the day over the week and half, I am counting that shift as an early sign that Slavin will in fact help boost one of the two units.
7) Help for Teuvo
In crediting Teravainen for his huge night, I would be remiss if I did not also mention Jordan Staal and Sebastian Aho who factored in all three goals. The line in total clicked once it got going, and it was not just Teravainen doing it himself.
8) Blue line ice time
The defense was solid on Monday. Even when hemmed in a bit and under duress, they avoided break downs. On top of that ice time was spread as evenly as I can remember this season. Jaccob Slavin was high man but only with 21:18 which is almost three minutes below his average. Rookie Haydn Fleury was actually second with 19:47, no one else was above 20 minutes and Noah Hanifin’s low of 17:34 was only a shift or so less than everyone else.
I have been slow (and justified in my opinion) to just anoint the Hurricanes’ blue line as a strength before the results merit it. And I am not ready to award an official stamp of approval just yet, but I like the current trajectory.
9) Results matter!
Continuing a theme from my recaps, Monday’s win was a bit of a struggle until the offensive outburst, but who cares. Especially coming off the disappointing kind of overtime loss, Monday’s win surged upward again. The point streak is now a solid five games, and the team is now two games above .500 and more of less tied for the final playoff spot by that measure which adjusts for games played.
After two days off at home, the Hurricanes have another set of three games in four days playing at the Islanders on Thursday and then at Buffalo on Saturday before finishing up at home on Sunday.