After a strong effort but disappointing result on Thursday night in Raleigh in the home opener, the Hurricanes were right back at it on Friday in Columbus.
The Canes started with a similarly strong push on Friday night, but unlike Thursday, the opponent pushed back. The Hurricanes were the better team out of the gate, but the Columbus Blue Jackets had their share of driving play as the period wore on. Jordan Martinook scored first on a nice centering pass from Andrei Svechnikov, but Columbus answered back to pull even at 1-1 which is how the first period ended.
The Hurricanes claimed a 2-1 lead when Aho whacked a backhand from a Ferland centering pass up over Bobrovsky for a 2-1 lead. The Blue Jackets pushed back through most of the rest of the second period, but Curtis McElhinney was whatever combination of steady and spectacular was needed to hold the fort. The team bought some breathing room in the third period shortly after a penalty kill ended when Aho revisited his days as a wing pulling up just inside the blue line to feed Ferland for a blast and a goal. The 3-1 lead held up, and Rod Brind’Amour his first win as a head coach.
Player and other notes
Newly-acquired Curtis McElhinney got the start in the second half of the back-to-back. Having spent more than three seasons in Columbus, the game was a bit of a homecoming for him. Going head to head against perennial Vezina candidate Sergei Bobrovsky, McElhinney matched or even beat him. With a nice combination of just being in the right place and scrambling a bit when necessary, McElhinney was stellar and offered reason for optimism in the goalie slot he currently occupies. The consensus would probably give the first star to Aho for his goal, assist and strong game, but I would actually give it to McElhinney. He was especially strong early and even better when Columbus pushed strongly in the second half of the second period after the Hurricanes took the lead.
Calvin de Haan
De Haan had an odd night. He had his share of steady even if maybe unspectacular defensive plays, but mixed in he managed to get caught too far up either in the neutral zone or at the defensive blue line. Faulk defended a 2-on-1 well to break up one play. McElhinney held the for on a breakaway. And the third break down was defused when back pressure caught up to the play quickly. Though the team survived on Friday, three break downs of that magnitude is about three too many.
On a good hard-working play by his line mates, Sebastian Aho scored his first October goal in three seasons in the NHL. He went well past ten games before his first goal in each of his first two seasons, so getting him into the goal column in game #2 is significant. Report on the television broadcast was the Brind’Amour challenged Aho’s line to do more.
I tend to lean critical on Justin Faulk which makes it even more important to be objective and fair. I continue to like the higher level of physical play from Faulk both in preseason and now through two games of the regular season. And though I did not think he played well on Thursday, I thought he was solid on Friday on a night where his partner de Haan left him to do defensive zone triage a couple times. Maybe most encouraging is the fact that he had two plays where a forward with speed off the rush tried to beat him to the outside, but Faulk had enough wheels to get a shoulder into the rushing player before he could turn the corner. I am on record as thinking a key factor in Faulk’s struggles the past couple years has been a decrease in his mobility as measured by ability to accelerate for short three-stride races but also dealing with speed coming at him.
Ferland had a big game and looked to be a good fit for Aho/Teravainen. What stands out is his ability to match pace in the form of a power forward who does not really need to play with the puck on his stick much to be effective. Inevitably, lines will change some as the season progresses, but one can see where the combination of a big body who can match pace and has enough puck skills to complement skill players complements what Aho and Teravainen already bring.
Blue line strength realized
When Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin matured ahead of schedule at the same time that Noah Hanifin was drafted, people declared the blue line as the strength that would lead the team back to the playoffs. But the problem was that the potential was yet to be realized. Hanifin was still a #5/#6 defenseman when he left, and the team had struggled the past two seasons to have a reliable second pairing.
But after a bit of a reset that saw the team go outside to add veteran top 4 defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan, the blue line strength seems to be within reach. Inevitably, there will be a few bad plays and even a tough night like de Haan had in some respects on Friday, but the quality and depth of the group is just significantly more talented than what most teams can put on the ice. That depth and talent level puts the floor even on ‘meh’ nights really, really high with the current roster.
Because the group is so balanced with Pesce on the third pairing, the team can mostly just roll them in succession.
The compounding effect of pace is worth watching
What stood out in preseason and has carried over to the regular season is the aggressiveness of the forecheck and the forwards hounding the puck in all three zones. The pace is faster. And what is asked of the players is greater. And I think it even carries through to the defenseman. On Friday, the heart and effort was there, but a number of players looked gassed throughout the third period. That might simply be the first back-to-back with travel in early October, but I think it is worth watching. No doubt, Brind’Amour will dial up the conditioning level of the group. But also no doubt that very few players are capable (even if they train hard) of playing at the level he did. I would put this not under the category of being a problem or even a concern but rather something to watch as the season progresses.
Next up is the finale of the first three games in four nights of the season with the finale against the New York Rangers at 5pm at PNC Arena.