Tuesday night in Toronto, the Carolina Hurricanes ran their win streak to 5 games. The Canes 5 consecutive wins make them the hottest team in the NHL ahead of the St. Louis Blues who have 4 straight wins.
The win also pushes the Hurricanes 2 games above .500 and within 1 point of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
And that is an absolutely phenomenal way to enter the holiday weekend.
Recap of the Hurricanes 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs had the upper hand in the early going, but true to recent Hurricanes form, even when the team was stuck in its own end a bit, it remained sound defensively and leaned on Ward when needed. Toronto got onto the scoreboard first with a Jake Gardiner shot through a ton of traffic from 2 Maple Leafs players and the attention that they attracted in front of the net. But the Hurricanes seemed to find their skating legs at the midway point of the first period and played better from there on out. On a strong special teams night for the Hurricanes, the good guys drew even at 1-1 on a Jeff Skinner power play goal on a Derek Ryan shot through traffic provided by Lee Stempniak.
The second period offered another special teams advantage for the Hurricanes league-leading penalty. First, the special team unit killed off a minor penalty taken by Viktor Stalberg. Then it topped that by notching a shorthanded kill while killing a penalty taken by Jay McClement. Elias Lindholm stepped up at the defensive blue line, blocked an entry pass and then made a perfect short pass to hit Viktor Stalberg in stride for the shorthanded tally.
The third period was a back and forth affair with both teams collecting some good chances. As has been the case during the winning streak, the Hurricanes were pretty sound defensively even when under duress, and Cam Ward had the answer when the defense in front of him did not.
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1) Playing by road rules
Peters chose to decouple his elite checking unit of 5 not so much pairing Staal’s line with Slavin/Pesce. The separation balances the lineup and adds defensive support in the form of Slavin/Pesce for the lesser lines. Peters also chose to maneuver a bit using McGinn/Ryan/Stempniak and Nordstrom/McClement/Stalberg more situationally instead of just rolling them out in sequence.
2) Jordan Staal rising
He played well in an understated way but was not as physically dominant as he has been in other recent games. The fact that a good but not spectacular night from Staal is enough says a lot about how well the team in total is playing right now.
3) The bottom half of the roster against challenges
The third and fourth line averaged about 12 minutes of ice time per player and held their own. Stempniak and Ryan figured in Skinner’s power play goal, and Viktor Stalberg scored the shorthander for the other Canes goal. All in all, the group passed its first test against occasionally tough road match ups.
Cam Ward continued his strong play that has now become a foundation of the team’s strong play and winning ways.
Elias Lindholm: He was arguably the Hurricanes best forward in Tuesday’s win. He has carved out a key role on the Hurricanes #1-ranked penalty kill and is thriving in it. On Tuesday, he also generated 3-4 good scoring chances for himself and others. He sprung Stalberg on the play already noted above and also just missed the net on 2 chances off the rush of his own.
Brock McGinn: Despite not scoring yet, he continues to find himself with the puck on his stick in places where goals happen. On Tuesday, he missed the net on a good opportunity from the slot. I am torn on whether to consider it a positive that McGinn keeps finding his way into offensive opportunities or negative that he has been unable to finish despite a reasonable volume of good chances. I lean toward the former thinking that if a player can figure out how to find scoring chances, they will eventually go in.
A mixed bag from the fourth line: The fourth line of Nordstrom/McClement/Stalberg continues to hold its own most shifts. The clutch goal scoring that now includes Nordstrom’s late game-winner against San Jose and Stalberg’s shorthanded game-winner against Toronto is a huge bonus. But against Toronto, the trio also took 3 minor penalties (2 by McClement and 1 by Stalberg), 2 of which were in the offensive zone. That is too many.
Lee Stempniak: In a lineup now minus Bryan Bickell, Stempniak might rank first currently in terms of going to the crease area, especially on the power play, and creating chaos. He played a key role as the crease area mess maker on the Jeff Skinner power play goal.
Matt Tennyson: He has settled in nicely and now seems to be getting better by the game. He was very good in his own end and earned a boost in terms of ice time. His role finding chemistry with Noah Hanifin, defending well and stabilizing the third defense pairing is an understated part of the Hurricanes recent success.
Incredible balance: Especially at forward, ice time was distributed very evenly. The bottom six saw 4 players with 11 minutes of ice time and 2 players with 13 minutes of ice time, and none of the forwards above 19 minutes (Lindholm was the high with 18:33). Bill Peters seems to have taken to using the Derek Ryan line a bit more in offensive situations and the McClement line in more defensive situations.
Next up is a Thanksgiving night tilt in Montreal.