The Canes entered Ottawa at the end of a busy stretch with a four-game week and the final three games in less than four days with the 1pm start. Fortunately, Ottawa also had to play the day before and it showed early.
After a run of ‘meh’ starts even in a couple of the wins, the Hurricanes have now put together a run of solid starts both in terms of energy and early results. On Sunday afternoon, the Hurricanes had the upper hand early taking it to the Senators. Other than regular flurries of attack’s by Ottawa’s top line led by Matt Duchene the Hurricanes were better. Justin Faulk would kick off the scoring only 1:12 into the game on a power play goal with a blue line scoring theme that would permeate the win. Then just over three minutes later Brock McGinn finished his own rebound on a breakaway shorthanded to get the other power play unit on the scoreboard. Courtesy mostly of Ottawa’s top line, the Senators would awake and push back a bit, but Petr Mrazek held the fort, and the Hurricanes exited the first period with a 2-0 lead. The story of the game at that point was a fast start for the Canes, and Mrazek having the answer for Duchene’s line that most ran rampant throughout the game.
The second period saw the Senators push early and have the upper hand. The Sens pulled within 2-1 when Duchene finished on a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play. But the Hurricanes rebuilt their two-goal lead when Jaccob Slavin beat goalie Marcus Hogberg from a bad angle and chased him from the game. The Canes did well to match Ottawa’s intensity when they dialed it up early in the second period. Next the team would again trade goals with Ottawa pulling within 3-2 only to have Dougie Hamilton stretch the lead back to two goals. The Hurricanes seemed on their way to entering the third period with a two-goal lead when things took a sudden turn for the worse. First, Rudolf Balczers squeaked a goal through Mrazek’s pads off the rush. Then on the ensuing face-off Jean-Gabriel Pageau maybe caught Mrazek still thinking about the previous goal and beat him short side only eight seconds later. With that, the Hurricanes limped into the second intermission with a 4-4 tie.
But the third period was an impressive one. Maybe sensing that Mrazek suddenly did not have it, they tightened up defensively and played a smothering third period defensively. When Justin Williams scored on the power play after Teuvo Teravainen shot off him and in, that would be all the Hurricanes would need to claim a 5-4 win and push the week’s record to 4-0.
Player and other notes
1) Blue line scoring
When the team was struggling, I harped regularly about the need for the Hurricanes to find sources of offense past Sebastian Aho’s line. On Sunday, the blue line was that source. Goals from Faulk, Hamilton and Slavin would lead the way offensively and make for plenty of offense even in a quieter game for Aho. (He still had two assists.)
2) The power play
Hockey can be a strange game in terms of streaks. Only days ago, the Hurricanes power play was completely inept. It was a rarity even to get possession in the offensive zone let alone get shots, scoring chances or goals. Now suddenly, the power play is on fire. The two or two on Sunday played a huge role on the win and continues a run of doing a complete 180 and being productive.
3) Dougie Hamilton
My timing was a tiny bit early, but I started sensing a Hamilton breakout about a week ago when he seemed to dial up his physical engagement and broke out a ‘shoot whenever possible’ mentality. One could sense that he was going the route of trying to fight his way out of his slump versus meekly accepting it. With Sunday’s goal, he has now tallied a goal in three straight games and seems to finally be settling in with his new team.
4) Petr Mrazek
His game was an odd one. He was solid early and held Duchene’s line in check when the skaters in front of him did not seem to have an answer. He was good through more than half of the game and then seemed to lose focus every so briefly and pay for it dearly to close out the second period. The defense in front of him gave up virtually nothing in the third period, so we will never know if Mrazek was going to rebound in the third period. The trend is worth watching, as this is the second such game where Mrazek started well but then seemed to come off his focus in the latter part of the game.
5) Big goal for Williams
Despite winning three times already this week, it would have ended on a sour note with a loss or even overtime loss especially after twice having a two-goal lead. Justin Williams’ ugly goal was just what the team needed an huge one to get the two points.
6) A different path ahead
No doubt the win over Columbus was a quality win, but the Hurricanes also benefited from a friendly schedule and a couple weak rookie goalie outings. Neither the Flyers nor the Senators are beating many teams right now as demonstrated by their positions at the bottom of their respective divisions. But all a team can do is beat the team in front of it for a given game. The Hurricanes did that admirably. That said, the next stretch of schedule that features four straight opponents currently in playoff spots will present a greater challenge. The burning question right now is if the Hurricanes can ride the current momentum and gain similar (not necessarily perfect) results from a tougher stretch of games.
Next up is a Tuesday road match up against a Barry Trotz-led New York Islanders team that is surprisingly in playoff position at the midway point of the season.