The return of (attended) Canes hockey
It had been more than a year since the Hurricanes last played on home ice on February 28, 2020, so that was the headline of the game. The 2,924 fans in attendance certainly enjoyed the show, but more so I think the event is another is a step toward the normalcy that everyone craves and a sign that it is moving closer.
As far as headlines and hockey sugar, the game delivered. Andrei Svechnikov and older brother Evgeny Svechnikov facing each other in an NHL game for the first time made for a great game preview highlight with Jordan Staal versus Marc Staal continuing a more familiar run of sibling match ups. The Canes sprinting ahead with two early third period goals and adding an empty-netter to seal the win late made for an eventful third period and fun win. And a simple surge that pointed at the scoreboard showing the hero of the day was an apropos ending. Add in Brind’Amour’s 100th win as a coach, and the win was a fun one.
The game itself
The game itself was ‘meh’ or worse in my book. Playing against a Detroit team that is bottom of the division and missing a couple key players to boot, the Hurricanes mostly ran stride for stride with the Red Wings through two periods in an error prone effort. After mostly playing reasonably clean hockey against Tampa Bay and Florida, the Hurricanes struggled both with defensemen making errors pushing forward and also more generally with rotations/adjustments to help cover. The result was a bunch of odd man rushes or near odd man rushes. The team saved itself at least three times recovering late after ‘oopses’, but in general the defensive play was not a recipe for regular success.
Detroit scored first when Dougie Hamilton played the puck around the boards to Haydn Fleury who just forwarded along the boards to no one in particular. Detroit won the puck with the result a few seconds later being Filip Zadina sniping a shot by Alex Nedeljkovic far side. Fleury’s first period also saw him shoot right into the shin guards in front of him for a block and uncontested breakaway against.
Jaccob Slavin similarly had a rough front part of the game but managed to neutralize at least a couple ‘oopses’ with heroic recoveries. The half full version of his story was how he used his ability to close gap quickly to thwart breakaway shot attempts late. But in addition to the two chances he stopped there were at least two more and also the other odd play where he was back but without a stick and enlisted the help of Sebastian Aho to defend. As fun as late heroics were, letting forwards behind you 4-5 times in a single game is not something I would categorize as good defense.
But some amount of near misses and a bit of offense kept the Hurricanes in the game. The Hurricanes matched the first period Zadina goal when Andrei Svechnikov sniped a power play goal from a familiar spot at the top of the face-off circle.
Then in the second period, the Hurricanes matched another Zadina goal with a late top shelf snipe by Martin Necas late in the period. Through two periods, the Canes play was ‘meh’ or worse, but as has been the case in other sub-par efforts this season, the team has enough scoring ability to trump lacklaster play sometimes.
I go back and forth on whether the third period truly saw the Hurricanes find a higher gear or if it was just more finishing trumping ‘meh’ play. Only 45 seconds into the third period, Jordan Staal scored another goal on yet another play featuring Jesper Fast as the net front presence. A Dougie Hamilton shot went off Fast’s shin guard right to Staal who quickly finished with Fast still creating havoc in front. Then Fast scored himself on a nifty Svechnikov pass across the top of the crease barely over two minutes later, and the Hurricanes were off and running. The Hurricanes were somewhat better in the third period, but Nedeljkovic played goalie like he was made of rubber spitting out rebound after rebound regardless of shot quality. But none of the rebounds found Red Wing sticks, and Nino Niederreiter finished into an empty net when Detroit pulled its goalie early leading to a 5-2 final score.
Half empty would say that the Hurricanes very clearly played down to the level of competition and were a mess defensively in multiple ways. Half full would duly credit the Hurricanes for having enough fire power these days to ride a short burst to a win over a lesser opponent.
Player and other notes
1) Andrei Svechnikov
He had a strong night with a strong first and third period offensively netting a goal and an assist.
2) Jesper Fast
Fast just continues to do the same thing game in and game out to the point where it is boring. If you get a chance watch him for the volume of time he spends within 15 feet of the top of the crease when the Hurricanes have possession in the offensive zone. He netted two points on Thursday but even on pointless nights, he consistently does his part to make life tough on the opposing goalie.
3) Tough night for the blue line
As noted above, Slavin’s game was an odd one. He made a couple tremendous plays to save himself but was right in the middle of about half of the many messes on the night. Probably the biggest downside, even if subtle, to Fleury’s game is his propensity to play 1990s hockey that is content to clear the defensive zone. In a modern NHL that has evolved to see defensemen with more puck skills instead trying to move the puck and keep possession, the volume of times Fleury plays the puck to center ice or just up the boards out of immediate danger stands out. The Red Wings’ first goal was a good example. Fleury received the puck on the boards and just tried to shovel it forward versus receiving the puck and trying to make a play. The result was the fairly harmless variety of turnover, but that did cause the Canes to have to play defense again, and some percent of the time that results in a goal against like it did on that play.
4) Alex Nedljkovic
On an odd night in general, I would put Nedeljkovic’s night a bit in the same category as Slavin’s as maybe more fortunate than actually good. Two goals against on 35 shots and a win is obviously solid for top line numbers, but Nedeljkovic played like he was made of rubber in the third period especially spitting out rebounds on seemingly everything include a few pucks just casually flipped at the net. If a couple of those find Red Wings sticks, his stat line looks significantly different and possibly the game results too. In a results business, I credit Nedeljkovic with extending his run of solid starts based on the two goals against and the win. But if I dig a big deeper and evaluate based on quality of play, I rate it ‘meh’ or slightly worse based on his struggles controlling the puck.
5) Jet power
The Hurricanes regular ability to convert lesser efforts into wins with short bursts of scoring continues to be impressive. That is one of the most striking differences between the Hurricanes for most of a decade trying to scrape out 2-3 goals and convert that to a win. The current iteration of the Hurricanes can just find a higher gear for a short period of time or even just make a couple plays in the middle of not much and ride that to scoring and a win especially against lesser teams.
6) Pesce’s slew foot
Not sure if anyone else with a Canes bias will step up and say so, but Pesce’s slew foot should result in a suspension. Going by how the NHL polices these things, his $5,000 fine and no suspension is the norm for a player without a history or reputation for dirty plays. But for a play that is obviously 100 percent intentional and potentially very dangerous, the NHL needs to put its foot down. To someone making $4 million per year, a $5,000 is not even a penalty. No doubt that play was the culmination of something else that happened on the ice and/or some words that were said. And I am actually okay with some of the non-dangerous pokes and jabs that occur in the heat of battle. But I think the NHL should take a harder stance on dangerous plays that are obviously not possibly just poor judgement in a split second decision. Important to note is that Brett Pesce does not make a habit of plays like this, so I do not think it is fair to say this single play defines how he plays the game. Nonetheless, I think the league needs to do better policing itself.
Next up for the Hurricanes have a rare couple days off at home before hosting the Florida Panthers on Sunday.