Extra hockey goodness continues
As I said on Twitter shortly after the game ended:
What is this thing where overtime and shootouts end well seemingly all the time? #Canes
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) March 2, 2021
With Monday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers, the Hurricanes pushed their 2020-21 overtime record to 2-1 on the season. Combined with a perfect 4-0 mark in the shootout, the Hurricanes are an impressive 6-1 in extra hockey so far this season.
The game started cautiously with neither team giving up much defensively early and only a handful of shots on net early in the game. But somewhere around the midway point of the first period, the pace picked up. Despite the modest 3-2 final score, there was plenty of action after that. The Hurricanes maybe had the upper hand by a small margin in the first period and were rewarded when Brett Pesce buried a Jake Bean pass on the power play through yet another Jesper Fast screen. The period would end with the Hurricanes holding a 1-0 lead and a slim 12-11 shots on goal advantage.
The pace was even better in the second period, and both teams seemed dangerous at times without scoring. What stood out in both of the games versus the Panthers was how both teams could generate decent chances even in the face of decent defense and very few odd man rushes or ‘oops’-generated chances where the goalie had no chance. The result is mostly quality hockey but not a ton of scoring because both teams must earn them. Despite the potential for more, the second period ended with the Hurricanes still clinging to a 1-0 lead.
And ‘clinging’ was even more apropos in the third period. The Hurricanes seemed to run out of gas at the same time that the Panthers launched an all out assault for what seemed like the entire 20 minutes of the third period. The Hurricanes did some combination of surviving, holding on for dear life and asking Alex Nedeljkovic to stop pucks as if he was a superhuman being. The fact that Nedeljkovic allowed two goals in the third period but was still a hero tells you how lopsided the period was. In what might have been his only mistake on the night, he drifted out of the crease in a scramble. When a Panthers player found the puck the net was open for a quick tying goal. Florida scored again when Jake Bean and Haydn Fleury got caught fishing for a loose puck in front of the net instead of moving bodies and/or tying up sticks. When a Panther found the puck first, it was very quickly 2-1 Panthers. But as has been the case many times with the current iteration of the Hurricanes, they bounced back. Vincent Trocheck finished from right in front of the net on a nifty Nino Niederreiter pass to tie the game at 2-2.
Overtime saw the Panthers possess the puck early but never really generate a grade A chance. The Hurricanes capitalized quickly when they were given a chance. I nifty drop pass and interchange by Sebastian Aho and Martin Necas found Aho with space on the right side and Necas with a step on the defender on the far side. Aho made no mistake getting the pass across, and Necas made no mistake burying his second overtime game-winner.
Player and other notes
1) Alex Nedeljkovic
Nedeljkovic was perfect through a reasonably busy first two periods and then did all he could to hold the fort in the third period when the team in front of him ran out of gas. His 44 saves on 46 shots against made him the best player on the ice. While I actually think he needs to adjust slightly to consider when there is a gain to be had from handling the puck versus leaving it for a defenseman, Nedeljkovic’s comfort handling the puck does provide an edge at times. What stands out most is how well he knows what he is doing before he receives the puck and therefore acts decisively in almost all plays without the pauses and refiguring things out that lead to many problems. Simply because that is how Brind’Amour does it, always, I would expect Reimer in net for the second half of the back-to-back, but Nedeljkovic is definitely earning a regular spot in the rotation which could be interesting when Mrazek returns.
2) Martin Necas
Counting the shootout game-winner, Martin Necas now has three game-winners out of six for the Hurricanes in extra hockey. Even more so than the Canes top players, Necas’ swerving skating ability is made for the extra space of overtime hockey. It is much more difficult to do in more crowded 5-on-5 play, but in watching him in overtime one can see the potential ceiling for Necas as a playmaking center down the road. With a game-winning goal and three points total, Necas obviously had a big night.
3) Brett Pesce
With other top defensemen still oscillating up and down a bit trying to find a consistent top gear, Brett Pesce continues to be the team’s best defenseman. He had another strong night defensively and has even jumped into the scoring mix replacing Jake Gardiner on the second power play unit.
4) Jesper Fast
He continues to play a subtle but significant role offensively. On a team that generally does a good job of creating traffic in front of the net, he is arguably the most consistent at going there to set good net front screens without taking the easy way out and hopping to the side looking for a deflection. He was again a significant factor on a power play goal, this time Brett Pesce’s.
5) Vincent Trocheck
Trocheck just keeps rolling offensively scoring another big goal late to get the Hurricanes to overtime. What stands out about his game right now is the diversity of his offense. He has his share of pretty finishes beating goalies, but he is also a regular entry at the top of the crease screening goalies and scoring on deflections.
6) The significance of winning extra hockey
If one flipped the Hurricanes 6-1 mark in overtime and the shootout upside down to 1-6, the team would have only 24 points and be battling to keep the fourth playoff spot instead of having a nice gap above the cut line and battling for first place in the division.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a rare back-to-back with travel when the team takes on Nashville on Tuesday night in Music City.