Recap of Hurricanes 3-2 win over the Canadiens
The Carolina Hurricanes received good news that they would not see early Vezina front-runner Carey Price, but they still had to contend with a Canadiens team that entered with a 13-2-2 record based on more than a single player.
The Hurricanes received a complete lesson on the other strengths of the Montreal Canadiens’ game right now which is sound, solid and often stifling play in all 3 zones. The Hurricanes endured the death of a thousand hockey attacks at times being hemmed in their own end and other times unable to navigate a crowded and well-defended neutral zone. Even if the Canes traversed the first 2 obstacles, the Habs did a solid job of finding assignments and taking away space and passing lanes such that even offensive zone time generated very little offensively.
But the Hurricanes were much sounder even when losing than early in the season and were ultimately rewarded for their perseverance.
The game was what I would call the good version of bad and importantly not something that I think the team was capable of in October. The first period saw the Canadiens outdo the Hurricanes in terms of shots on goal by a 9-4 margin. The Hurricanes mustered only 2 shots on goal at even strength over 20 minutes, but the top level statistics were somewhat misleading, and the Hurricanes could have exited the first period in much better shape with a break or 2. The period saw Jeff Skinner hit the post twice in succession (note that former Cane Chris Terry also hit the pipe at the other end to even it up). The first period also saw Brock McGinn and Derek Ryan twice tip point shots just wide of the net, and Jeff Skinner tip a puck down off the ice and up into Canadiens’ goalie Al Montoya. That theme of getting traffic to the front of the net and tipping point shots eventually paid dividends.
Whereas I thought the top line shot totals were misleading for the first period, the story shifted and the lopsided margin was pretty accurate or the second period. The second stanza saw Montreal gain momentum, tilt the ice by dominating on the forecheck and in the neutral zone, extending its shot total in the second period to the tune of a 12-4 advantage in terms of shots on goal. Montreal finally lit the scoreboard when Jeff Petry deposited a rebound chance into the net at the same time that Ward was toppled over by a player checked into him by Noah Hanifin.
At that point, the game was clearly heading in the wrong direction with Montreal getting better by the shift and now sporting a 1-0 lead entering the third period. But the Hurricanes found a higher gear and just reward for tipping pucks all night. Coach Bill Peters changed up lines a bit playing Jeff Skinner with Jordan Staal and Sebastian Aho and switching Teuvo Teravainen to play in Skinner’s usual spot with Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm. The moves paid huge dividends. First Jeff Skinner tipped a Ron Hainsey shot. Then a few minutes later Teuvo Teravainen converted another Ron Hainsey shot into a goal with a tip out front. After the second goal, the Hurricanes were energized and poured it on. Shortly after the second goal, Elias Lindholm found Victor Rask on the rush for another goal and suddenly the Hurricanes were up 3-1. The Canadiens pushed back late. One of very few Canes issues with defensive zone coverage saw Ron Hainsey leave a loose gap and clean passing lane and Justin Faulk slow to find Shaw streaking down the lane to the near side post. The result was a goal and a tight 3-2 Canes lead. The Hurricanes held on late, benefited from a shot going off the post and held on under some duress.
When I net it out, the Hurricanes played a good hockey team, did not have their best night and certainly did not catch any breaks but still stayed in the game. The Canes ability to stay in the game on an off night against a good team is stark contrast to the team’s inability to play sound hockey and withstand pressure early in the season even on nights when they did score early and catch some breaks.
The game concludes a long journey to climb back to .500 at 6-6-4.
‘What I’m watching’ recap
In case you missed it and want to catch up, the game preview is HERE.
1) More of the same…Aho/Staal/Teravainen and Hainsey/Faulk
None of the Hurricanes combinations were dominant on a fairly tough night against a defensively sound Canadiens’ defense, but the veterans played clean games, and Ron Hainsey assisted on Skinner’s third period goal with Jordan Staal also on the ice and part of the equation.
2) Sound play
I think this is actually the story of the game. Even when being outplayed, the Hurricanes were sound and largely mistake free such that even when the ice was tilted it did not lead to an avalanche of goals against. The combination of sounder play and solid netminding by Ward seems to suddenly have the Hurricanes back in a groove similar to last winter when the team managed to stay in almost all games and therefore collected their fair share of points in the standings.
As I said in the game preview, I have taken to continuing to list goaltending in the ‘what to watch’ as much out of superstition as necessity. Ward had another strong outing, was the better of the 2 goalies in the game and played a significant role in the big win.
Jeff Skinner: He had a decent night generating sporadic offense including 2 posts in the first, a tip of a point shot on goal also in the first and a few other plays in/around the slot area with the puck. It was no surprise that he scored the big goal to get the Hurricanes off and running.
A tale of 2 zones or McGinn/Ryan/Stempniak: The trio had some decent shifts in the offensive zone including a couple good tip attempts early. But the trio also had multiple shifts when they struggled mightily to get and keep the puck out of their own end. This is worth noting as the Hurricanes ready to hit the road after Sunday. Right now, this line is a potentially weak link and something that could be exploited.
The good kind of bad: At the risk of being redundant, I think the overarching story of this game was how much sounder the Hurricanes were defensively even when things were not going particularly well for stretches. That ability to lose the possession and zone time battle but not automatically have it converted to goals against is the key ingredient for being able to pick up points on good nights and bad.
Ron Hainsey: Good for him who is obviously not known for his offense chipping in 2 big assists when he was able to get shots through traffic and to a place where Canes forwards had a chance to make a play.
Next up for the Hurricanes is another of the Sunday early evening home games that have not treated the team well thus far. The Canes will make a fourth attempt to win on Sunday (did pick up OTL point in Vancouver) at 5pm Sunday at PNC Arena against the Winnipeg Jets.