I stand by my initial comment before digging into the details:
Short version: HOLY CRAP! This thing where we have a high-powered offense and great goaltending is so incredibly fun! Makes so many small details mostly irrelevant. Hope it continues!
Before I jump to the usual bits and bites on the game itself, allow me to touch base on two other things.
First is that Sunday was the Hurricanes turn at “Hockey Fights Cancer” night. I have an every week Sunday early evening commitment that makes the batch of 5pm Sunday starts a no go for me and my family, so I was not in attendance Sunday. But seeing the purple, the signs and the theme brings back memories of attending this game in the past. The game is moving in that it represents a visual impression of just how many lives of are impacted by cancer. Good on the NHL for doing a small part to raise awareness.
On a happier note, not to be underappreciated in Sunday’s win is the fact that the game represented a fun win for local fans in attendance. The core fan base gets rewarded for long-term dedication, and equally significantly casual fans have a good time, return and hopefully gradually join the core. The team has actually started slow at home, especially when you consider that overtime losses that count as a half of a win in the standings, still feel like losses leaving PNC Arena. The upcoming week is a a big one in this regard. The holidays make for bigger crowds and tying Canes hockey to fun holiday times (by winning) an have a powerful effect.
On the ice…
After Friday’s win against the Buffalo Sabres, I said that “there really was not a lot that I would keep from Saturday’s win.” Sunday had a few of the important negative elements as Saturday actually but was a step forward in that Sunday’s win kept the huge positive from Saturday (goaltending and competing for 60 minutes) and added another (generating offense and finishing at a high rate).
Thus far in 2017-18, the Carolina Hurricanes have had a knack for pouncing early in some games especially against backup goalies. And that was a key story line tonight. My preview talked about the fact that both teams played and traveled last night and also the uncertainty that comes with that. The Hurricanes faded massively in the second period, but by that time, they had already staked themselves to a sizable lead and had seen Cam Ward develop a rhythm.
The game was a story of three separate periods. The Hurricanes raced out of the gate and unlike in Buffalo the night before were able to instantly convert the start to goals. No doubt they benefited from a sleepy start by Islanders’ backup Jaroslav Halak, but they were also good. The second period was the exact opposite. Whether it was because they hit a wall physically or just let off the gas pedal, the Hurricanes were a different team in the second period and were outplayed by a wide margin. The third period was slightly better with the Islanders still having the upper hand but not in as dominant of a fashion.
Just like the night before, the goaltending, this time courtesy of Cam Ward, was a leading story, and with finishing proficiency to boot, the game was a fairly easy one at least scoreboard-wise.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 win over the New York Islanders
1) Results matter
As I said in the preview, very often the last game of the week decides whether the entire week is a positive or negative. With a loss, the Hurricanes would have finished 2-2 and also been 0-2 against the Islanders who are a team likely to be in the playoff chase with the Canes come late March. But by winning instead, the Hurricanes finished the week with a solid 3-1 record. Combined with last week’s 2-0-1 record, the Hurricanes are now 5-1-1 over the past two weeks which is playoff pace plus some. That is obviously a good thing.
2) Cam Ward
Though they are justifiably rivaled by the TSA line, I think the #1 story of the pair of weekend wins is the goaltending. Darling was incredibly good on Saturday while the defense was breaking down left and right in front of him. Ward was equally good on Sunday. He had the benefit of being staked to an early lead, but the play in front of him was just as ‘iffy’as it was the night before. The sequence of pad saves in the middle part of the game should prove to be end of season highlight-worthy, but I think just as important was the calm and composure that Ward displayed even when under duress such that it always felt like the Hurricanes had the game in hand even though I am not sure that was really the case in the second period.
3) TSA on fire
The scoring came largely courtesy of the TSA line again. Every thing they touch right now turns to goals. Their current pace is not sustainable, but here is hoping they can surge for three more home wins this week and then slow down only modestly. The biggest thing is finishing, the Aho/Staal/Teravainen is doing a number of things well right now, but first and foremost, they are finishing scoring chances at an incredibly high rate.
I am on record awhile back as preferring to separate Staal and Aho because I think Aho’s playmaking could be better utilized playing more with the puck on his stick. But I think the current iteration of Aho/Staal/Teravainen shows the potential benefit of pairing Staal with scorers on both wings. Staal probably more than any other Hurricanes player drives possession and tilts the ice into the offensive zone which is obviously where goals happen. Right now, the mix seems to be almost perfect with Staal helping drive possession but Aho and Teravainen handling the puck a bunch and finding each other for scoring chances once the puck is in the offensive zone. The fact that Aho and Teravainen are both finishing at some crazy proficiency level obviously does not hurt either.
4) The penalty kill
Whereas I thought the positive results overstated the quality of play for the power play on Saturday night in Buffalo, I thought the penalty kill looked significantly better on Saturday. They brought the same desperation, shot blocking and tremendous goaltending as Saturday, but they were also much more aggressive defending the puck such that they did a much better job limiting time and space. The Hurricanes did give up a power play late in the third period, but six kills out of seven tries is still decent, and I thought the aggressiveness looked much more like the 2016-17 penalty kill which is a step in the right direction.
5) Still way to sloppy
5A-Penalties. The Hurricanes took a whopping seven penalties which is too many with a high concentration of bad penalties including a couple offensive zone penalties by Derek Ryan and Justin Williams and a few from not moving their feet. I will chalk it up to the schedule and hope that the team immediately reverts back to it low penalty rate for most of the season.
5B-Defensive miscues by the blue line-Just like on Saturday, the volume of potentially costly miscues was far too high. Just like Darling did on Saturday, Ward bailed the team out on many occasions. This easily could have been one of those games where goalie gave up five which started a legitimate debate about whether/how much better he could have been given the play of the team in front of him. But Ward was stellar.
Jaccob Slavin had another play (after two on Saturday) where an opposing player blew by him to the inside on the way to the net and he/Pesce had another play when they managed to leave a Isles forward wide open in front of the net. Justin Faulk had a stretch in the second half of the game during which he was a turnover machine every time he had the puck on his stick in the defensive zone. It was a minor miracle that none of the at least three bad turnovers found the net behind Ward. And so on…
As much as I stand by my ‘results matter’ mantra, the team needs to chart a new course in terms of soundness and overall level of play mostly on the defensive side of the puck. Wins driven by ‘stand on your head’ goaltending are appreciated but also not something that a team wants to rely on too heavily every night.
6) Brett Pesce
With the blue line struggling a bit right now, even usually stalwart partner Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce continues to be steady and sound. His game is so quiet in a good way.
7) Phil Di Giuseppe
He has made a strong case for continuing to receive NHL ice time. On Saturday, Phil Di Giuseppe was steady and sound and had a pretty pass to Marcus Kruger go by the wayside when Kruger had trouble handling the puck. On Sunday, Di Giuseppe had two pretty feeds and was rewarded when Elias Lindholm finished a tic-tac-toe passing play.
Next up is an extended stretch of home cooking with all three games at home in the upcoming week and also two days off to recharge before the next burst of games.