For the second time in a week, the Hurricanes capitalized on a match up against the struggling Philadelphia Flyers who are the bottom team in the Eastern Conference. Level of competition aside, the Hurricanes need wins if they are going to magically turn around the 2018-19 season. And even if not that, the fan base could use some fun here and there with more than three months remaining in the 2018-19 campaign.
One might not guess so based on the final score, but the Hurricanes actually started slowly and were outplayed for the first half of the first period. But once the Canes found the start button, they surged in the second period and road that to a win.
Following a regular theme of late, a key component of the win was stellar goaltending, this time courtesy of Petr Mrazek. He held the fort early when the Hurricanes were slow starting and kept the Flyers off the score board until the Hurricanes broke through early in the second period. And once the Hurricanes broke the seal, they jumped out to a lead. First, Dougie Hamilton stepped in from the point and beat the Flyers goalie cleanly. Then the much-maligned power play delivered twice courtesy of two pretty Sebastian Aho passes. First, Aho fed Justin Williams who scored through a Micheal Ferland screen. Then Aho smartly froze the goalie and the defense before threading a pass through the box to Teuvo Teravainen who finished into half of an empty net. With Mrazek staying perfect, the Hurricanes exited the second period with the game in hand with a 3-0 lead.
The Hurricanes would seemingly ice things when both Saku Maenalanen and Warren Foegele tipped a Justin Faulk point shot to go up 4-0. But the Flyers would ultimately push back. First, Wayne Simmonds banged home a back door goal on a power play. Then Sean Couturier scored just over a minute later to pull the Flyers within two goals and give them life. They surged after that, but the Hurricanes and climbed to within 4-3 to make the game a white knuckler. When a Teravainen shot off the rush leaked through Michael Neuvirth to give the Hurricanes a 5-3 lead, they were on their way to a win. With the win, the Hurricanes claimed their second consecutive win for the first time since Thanksgiving week.
Players and other notes
1) Petr Mrazek
After years of struggles in net, I refuse to take the good goaltending for granted even though it has become a bit routine. Thursday was Mrazek’s turn to post a solid outing in a win. His numbers were tarnished a bit in the third period, but he was in the middle of building the lead and also claiming a win.
2) Dougie Hamilton
He has been on my watch list as a player on the verge of breaking out. His game was a mixed bag on Thursday. He did have a pretty goal for the all-important first goal. But he also picked up two minor penalties, had a lackadaisical turnover at the point on the power play. So perhaps the positive is that the goal will get him going offensively, but in total I am still watching for a breakout game or two.
3) Sebastian Aho’s night as an illustration of why the Canes shooting percentage actually might make sense
I thought Aho’s night was a perfect illustration of why the Hurricanes anemic shooting percentage might not just be bad luck. The Hurricanes scored twice on the power play courtesy of heady Aho passes. In both cases, he put pucks in shooters’ wheel houses such that they had a good chunk of empty net to shoot at without the usual garden variety ‘try to beat’ the goalie type of shot. With Aho as the only true playmaker/puck distributor on the team, the Hurricanes just do not get enough of these chances where the goalie has to play one angle only to quickly scramble to try to stop a shot from a different angle.
Illustration aside, both of those passes were the kind that have on the cusp of joining the NHL’s elite players. And as I said in my game preview, a common ingredient in Canes wins is when Aho leads the way offensively.
4) Calvin de Haan and Justin Faulk
Also from the file of not taking good things for granted, de Haan and Faulk also had another strong game. They continue to be the team’s best pairing defensively and at this point look like they have been playing together for years. The situation reminds me of Faulk’s initial rise playing alongside Andrej Sekera in that they just seem to always be on the same page and one always seems to have the other’s back even when there are errors.
5) A change in level of competition awaits
After three consecutive games against other teams struggling like the Hurricanes, the Canes schedule toughens up over the coming weeks. Five of the Canes next six games are against teams currently in playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Will the Hurricanes use the two wins over the Flyers to build momentum and take another step up? Or were they just a bit of fool’s gold before the season dies in January against tougher competition? If nothing else, the next couple weeks offer some drama.
Up next for the Hurricanes is a significant increase in level of competition and a quick turnaround with a home match up against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night at PNC Arena.