At the productivity level, Tuesday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers was a huge success with a big two points on the road against a good hockey team.
At the headline level, Tuesday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers was also a success in that the Hurricanes scored in bunches with five tallies on the night.
And especially with the Hurricanes early in the season, riding a two-game losing streak and trying not to dig a their usual hole on the North Carolina State Fair road trip, the results trump all else that follows.
But Tuesday’s win was anything but textbook and a repeatable formula. When I condense down the Hurricanes win, two things jump out. The Hurricanes benefited from a tough night for the Oilers in terms of breakdowns and also a backup goalie but do deserve credit for opportunistically finishing at a crazy high rate. But between the intermittent grade A scoring chances gifted to them by the Oilers, the Hurricanes really did not play well at all. Puck possession, shots and most statistics other than the all-important goals leaned heavily toward the Oilers. The Hurricanes lost 61 percent their face-offs and were outshot 51 to 21.
But I think there is a huge silver lining even in painting a bit of a tarnished image of the 5-3 win. That silver lining is the fact that the Carolina Hurricanes have twice now won games on far less than perfect nights via finding a way and opportunistic scoring. That story beats the good (or often not so good) old days when the Hurricanes dominated possession statistics but just could not finish to save their lives.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 5-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers
First, addressing the ‘What I’m watching’ points from the game preview…
1) A noticeable desire to play hockey in front of the net in the offensive zone
This item seemed to push to the next game when the Hurricanes found their inner sniper and scored by beating a goalie who had a tough night.
2) Martin Necas’ debut and his line
Not surprisingly, Necas showed flashes of the skill and vision he has with the puck on his stick. I like Peters getting Necas into the lineup in his familiar center position with capable help on his wings. Necas had his moments offensively, but his play without the puck also stood out. He looked a bit lost multiple times defending in his own end often just resorting to hockey 101 and caving in toward the front of the net to help there. He also had an inopportune turnover in the neutral zone when the Hurricanes were clinging to a lead.
It is important to recognize that this was Necas’ first NHL game and also that he is learning at a rapid pace right now. At this stage of his development, players can make strides in a matter of a few weeks or even games.
That said, if I was assessing Necas based only on Tuesday’s game, I would say that he is not ready to play the center position at the NHL level right now in terms of the defensive, positional and decision-making requirements of the position playing defense without the puck. Peters noticed too and limited Necas ice time from the second period on while trying to protect a lead. Necas played only 6:54 total and only 3:40 in the second and third periods combined. The burning questions are if and how much time Peters will give Necas to learn on the job and how quickly he can learn and make adjustments. My wild guess is that he might get another chance to impress but that ultimately Tuesday was the beginning of the end of Necas’ time in the NHL in 2017-18. Unless he gets another game or two and he either lights it up offensively or learns really quickly defensively, I think Necas’ 2017-18 NHL season will end sometime before his tenth game that burns a full year of his entry-level contract.
3) The third defense pairing
Stepping into van Riemsdyk’s slot on the right side of the third pairing and playing his off side in the process, Carrick did not noticeably stand out in a bad way which is a positive for his season debut at the NHL level though he was limited to a meager 7:31 of ice time. Haydn Fleury, who was also limited at 11:52 of ice time, had a bit of a tough night picking up a delay of game penalty, creating an Edmonton breakaway when he got too far forward in the neutral zone and also having a couple other smaller issues sorting things out defensively. I still like where Fleury’s game is right now and also thought his moxy was up to NHL snuff when Lucic finished him way late, and Fleury was chuckling about it.
A different kind of test might come when the Hurricanes have to grind out a win via a couple ugly goals to end a losing streak, but in terms of converting the game given them into a win, the results were there. The team definitely started on time capitalizing on Edmonton miscues early to build a lead, and the Hurricanes collected an all-important win.
5) Cam Ward’s debut as a backup
Because he did allow an ‘iffy’ goal late and had another get behind him that he could maybe have frozen, there is a half full or half empty assessment that could be done on Ward’s game. I think that actually misses the point of his role, what he accomplished on Tuesday and the challenging game presented to him. In some respects, the game seemed a bit easy because of the early lead, but in terms of giving their backup a manageable game, the Hurricanes scored a 3 out of 10 at best and the 3 is only because they did stake him to a lead early. The Hurricanes lost the puck possession and territorial battle all night, and Ward faced more than 50 shots. I veiw a backup’s job as giving his team a chance to win while the starter rests. Ward easily accomplished that and netted a win to boot. In total, I would call Ward’s first start in a long time in the backup role a huge success.
For those who watched the game, I really do not need to say anything. For those who did not watch the game, I would be remiss if I did not mention Jaccob Slavin’s play. He made a quick pass to spring the rush on the first goal and later joined to rush for a goal on a nifty backhand to forehand to finish. More significant was how incredibly good he was defensively making a number of plays to thwart Oilers’ scoring chances including a few dandies against none other than Connor McDavid. On a night when the Hurricanes really were not great other than finishing Jaccob Slavin stood as one player who truly was great on the night.
His clutch finishing lead the way on a night that could have easily been flip-flopped on the score board. True to 2016-17 form, Teravainen road a good start to a highly productive night. The burning question with Teravainen is not whether he is capable of intermittent bursts of scoring in a game or two but rather whether he can do some combination of finding that higher gear more regularly and also chipping in more when the higher gear just is not there such that the gaps are not so extreme.
Justin Faulk had one of those nights were he was some combination of flat-footed and/or just too lenient with the time and space he was giving up. Hanifin was better through two periods, but the third period for the duo was what I termed “an adventure.” In the span of a couple shifts, they had a Faulk penalty, a goal against when Faulk left a huge gap on a forward stepping up into the play and another gaffe where an Oiler got behind both of them with the puck. Faulk’s game was a mixed bag with two assists, but also two minor penalties and the couple ‘oopses’ noted above.
I have been high on Hanifin’s play since his tough opener and have also rated Faulk as at least okay defensively, so hopefully it was just a tough game.
Also from the file of non-repeatable formulas, Peters rode his top blue liners hard. Slavin played a massive 27:34 which is unheard of in a non-overtime game, and Brett Pesce was right behind him at 26:15. A Trevor van Riemsdyk return could help better spread blue line ice time going forward.
He had a huge game offensively. His pretty pass on the power play created an easy goal for Lindholm, and he did a nice job getting the puck to Slavin on the rush with enough room for Slavin to make a move and finish versus only having time to whack the puck toward the net.
For a team that has been on the outside looking in on the playoffs for many years running and found themselves there largely due to slow starts, collecting two points in any way in October and November is critical. While recognizing that the team’s play is still a work in progress, I will gladly take two points over any kind of loss.