After losing at home to New Jersey in the first game of a 4-game week that had a tough back-to-back in St. Louis and Chicago in the middle, the Hurricanes bounced back with a big 4-2 win to pull even at 1-1 for the week, cut short a 2-game losing streak and put a positive week within reach.
Recap of Hurricanes 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues
At the most basic level, the Hurricanes returned to the fast, skating/attacking style that has been a hallmark of their best hockey this season and was missing in both of the 2 recent losses.
Only 1:09 into the first period, the Hurricanes struck first when the newly-minted line of McGinn/Staal/Ryan saw Staal and McGinn move the puck quickly stick to stick in the neutral zone springing Ryan. Staal’s hustle to join the rush gave Ryan a passing option which he smartly used to freeze goalie Jake Allen and then label a shot past him. I have to wonder if Ryan who was in the middle of a long scoreless run was sparked by the addition of a new right wing who has a similar skilled, scoring skill set and took Ryan’s old spot with the Skinner/Rask duo. The Hurricanes shot total of 7 in the first period did not scream offense, but the Hurricanes pace was much-improved on Thursday relative to Tuesday’s sluggish effort in a loss.
But the Blues counterattacked in the second period. First Joel Edmundson fired through a screen and beat Ward who never saw the puck. Then an unfortunate turn of events saw the Hurricanes penalty kill miss on a good scoring chance 2-on-1 only to have the puck go quickly the other way ending with sniper Vladimir Tarasenko beat Ward clean stepping into a shot off the rush from between the circles when McGinn was the last forward back and a little bit indecisive in terms of identifying the most dangerous player to defend off the rush. But for the second time in recent days, Jay McClement utilized his newfound sniping ability to get a shot off quickly and shoot through Allen who was still moving when the shot went off of him and in. The goal by McClement was a huge 1 at a time when the game was headed in the wrong direction.
Then in the third period, Jeff Skinner continued a theme of getting back on the score sheet when he beat Allen on the power play from nearly the same place on the ice as McClement’s prior goal. After a big penalty kill late, Ryan closed things out with an empty-netter.
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1) A higher gear
The Hurricanes did in fact re-find a higher gear which is the top line story that drove everything else. When the Hurricanes play fast and attack, they are difficult to defend, tend to play more offense and less defense and also have the ability to make up for an occasional misstep defensively.
Jeff Skinner did not have an over the top night, but his game was decent and the goal he did score was a huge game-winner. Hopefully breaking through on the score sheet sparks his next offensive run.
The Hurricanes forged deeper into the long run with Cam Ward in net. He was not lights out, but 2 goals against is generally the target for winning, and it was in fact good enough for a win on Thursday. As I said on Twitter after the game, the issue is not whether Ward is the best option or not for the next individual game but rather that this just is not sustainable for the 44 games remaining in the season. Ward has shown a few signs of coming off his peak play from December. The question is whether he will take the small step down that was reasonable to expect or if he will hit a wall physically playing game in and game out.
4) Ty Rattie
As noted in the recap, the biggest upshot of Ty Rattie’s arrival might actually have been a spark provided for Derek Ryan who maybe took notice of another player arriving who was a natural right wing which is the spot he has been trying to hold down. Rattie himself looked decent and was in the neighborhood for some scoring opportunities for both himself and his line mates.
Mixed bag on defense: Slavin/Pesce was incredibly good all night against some pretty good NHL fire power. Faulk looked good mobility-wise in his return and fired away as usual on the power play. The third pairing of Ryan Murphy and Noah Hanifin had a tough night. Hanifin had a couple miscues early including a sloppy play carrying inside the offensive blue line and turning the puck over for a race the other way and another miscue in his own end that Ward bailed out. Murphy was the defenseman who failed to retrieve/keep the puck on a face-off win on the first St. Louis goal and also had trouble moving the puck from his own end. I would be surprised to see it happen, but with the back-to-back it would be interesting to see a new third pairing of Dahlbeck/Tennyson dropped in for a game.
Jordan Staal: He played the quiet version of a good game. He was in the middle of a couple of good shorthanded scoring chances and part of both Derek Ryan goals. But more simple than that, he played good Jordan Staal hockey winning pucks in his own end and then navigating the neutral zone either carrying or passing such that his line tilted the game into the offensive zone regardless of where they started. His hustle to join the play after starting it was a key component in Ryan’s first goal giving Ryan and importantly the goalie something to consider other than just Ryan.
Brock McGinn: Awhile back, Ryan and McGinn came as a pair from the AHL to the NHL. In their first run of games playing together mostly with Lindholm on the right side, they were okay and got their feet under them at the NHL level but did not generate much offense. Ryan’s scoring started when they were separated and McGinn was still waiting to become a regular on the score sheet. Reunited with Ryan on Thursday, McGinn picked up a couple assists. I said recently that he was playing his way into consideration for a fourth line role long-term with his consistent energetic play but also that it would take more offense to stick on a higher line. Thursday’s 2 assists are obviously a step in that direction.
Jay McClement the sniper: McClement’s goal Thursday marks 2 in recent times that were of the skilled scorer variety. He got the puck on and off his stick with Jeff Skinner-like speed which had the puck arriving while Allen was still moving and off balance which caused him to get beaten.
The win pulls the Canes back to a respectable treading water 1-1 for the week. Tomorrow’s opponent, the Blackhawks, also play tonight, so it is a reasonably fair back-to-back (though the Hawks are at home and do not have to travel tonight). That game is at 8:30pm tomorrow by which point everyone should be safely hunkered down at home watching it snow or sleet or whatever in Raleigh.