Sure, it is only the midway point in the season, and the trophies that matter get handed out for the post-season, but through half of the 2016-17 season, the Blue Jackets are the best team in hockey as measured by winning and losing real games. The Hurricanes just might have timed a quick set of 3 games in 10 games against the Blue Jackets who were only 1-2 since finally losing after 16 consecutive wins. But regardless, the Hurricanes beat a good hockey team and collected all of the 2 points available on Tuesday night. To make things even better, the Flyers lost pulling the Hurricanes to within 3 points of a playoff spot with a big 2 games in hand.
It is a great day to be a Hurricanes fan as the team pushes deeper and deeper into the 2016-17 still playing games that matter!
Recap of Hurricanes 5-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets
In total, the game was a back and forth affair somewhat like the Bruins win on Sunday with both teams getting a reasonable number of scoring chances and the score bouncing back and forth. The Hurricanes started slow. Only 1:08 into the game, Boone Jenner fired at point blank off of a 2-on-1 rush with only Ron Hainsey back. Then Cam Atkinson retrieved the puck and tucked it around and in the net coming from behind it and beating both Cam Ward and Justin Faulk to the post. After that, the first period was pretty lackluster for both teams really. It was as if both teams were trying to feel each other out without attacking too aggressively or taking any chances.
Things then opened up in a wild second period. First, the combination of Derek Ryan and Victor Rask freed up a puck on the forecheck/retrieval. The fortuitous bounce found Jeff Skinner between the face-off circles where he fired through goalie Anton Forsberg and into the net. The Canes would score again less than 3 minutes later when Skinner again fired through a leaky Forsberg off the rush. This time it took Derek Ryan smartly driving the far post for a tap in to net the Canes’ second goal. Columbus struck next when Josh Anderson took the puck from Noah Hanifin in the Canes’ defensive zone, forged his way between Tennyson and Hanifin and got a nice bounce off of Tennyson’s stick and up and over Ward into the net. Next up to fire through a goalie and into the net was Brock McGinn who finished from right in front on a nice pass from behind the net by Matt Tennyson with a delayed penalty coming. The second period scoring culminated when Brandon Saad fired between Ward’s glove arm and body on a 2-on-1 rush to tie the game at 3-3.
When the dust settled on the second period, there was all of loose play defensively, exciting back and forth hockey, 5 goals and some ‘iffy’ goaltending to make sure shooting was rewarded regularly. The Hurricanes started from a deficit and gave up 2 1-goals leads to finish the period tied. It was not textbook hockey but it was exciting in a “just give me scoring” kind of way.
In the third period, the Hurricanes finally claimed a lead that would hold up when Jordan Staal forechecked hard to free up a puck that went to Lindholm who fired at the net for a Staal tip past Forsberg and in. The rest of the period had some willy nilly in it like the second period, but the Hurricanes held on until a n empty-netter by Victor Rasked assured the win.
The game was not so much a model for how to win regularly, but who cares. The Carolina Hurricanes are very much at that time of the year when results matter, and on Tuesday they netted winning results while the Flyers did not. That means +2 points in the standings which is a great night.
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1) Pace plus willingness to go to the net
I grade the Canes reasonably well on both accounts. The start was a little bit slow, but after that the pace was good even if the play was sloppy. The Hurricanes were especially good on the forecheck on Tuesday, and it paid dividends with scoring chances and goals. The consistency getting to the crease was maybe not quite on the same level as the Bruins games but it was not nonexistent either. Staal’s goal was a tip in, and Ryan’s goal was him going hard to the net on the opposite side of a shot.
2) Matching up against the Blue Jackets
I thought the results were decent in this regard once the Hurricanes got going about midway through the first period. The scoring both ways was inflated by the ‘meh’ at best goalie play, but I think what was most noticeable was that the Hurricanes drove offense from the forecheck against a good team whose bread and butter is exactly that. Ideal will be to tighten up a bit defensively for round 2 against Columbus next week, but the Canes clearly showed the ability to skate and compete.
3) Continuation for Sebastian Aho
He did have a shift in the second period where he got tangled up with Jack Johnson battling for ice in front of the net, so that part of his game from Sunday carried over. But while not so much being bad in terms of making errors, the Aho/Teravainen/Stempniak line was much quieter on Tuesday.
4) Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski
Noah Hanifin won the all-important battle on the scoreboard obviously and also on the score sheet notching an assist which was the only point between the 2. Hanifin was in the middle of the Anderson goal with his defensive zone turnover and also his and Tennyson’s inability to seal off Anderson before he forged to the net. Werenski also had his moment looking like an 18-year who is still learning when he waited a little bit too long to turn on a flying Jordan Staal at which point Staal lowered his shoulder and blew around him on the rush and all the way to the net. As noted in my daily post for today, I think Werenski and Hanifin (along with Provorov) are destined to be benchmarks for each other all as top 10 selections in the 2015 NHL draft.
Strength at right wing: With Elias Lindholm’s return from injury, Coach Bill Peters’ shuffled the lineup just a little moving Ryan back to the Skinner/Rask line and reinserting Lindholm with McGinn/Staal. The results were great across the board. On a night with a bunch of scoring, Lindholm’s lone assist was not enough to get him into the 3 stars that are scoring focused, but he played very well in his return. The assist came when he stepped to the right place and quickly got a shot to the net. He also drew the penalty that was coming on the McGinn goal, and just generally played a solid game in all 3 zones. Derek Ryan similarly played well on what was in my opinion the Hurricanes best line by a small margn. He had a goal and an assist for his strong effort with the most notable play being his diligence to drive the far side post BEFORE the rebound such that he could finish quickly when the puck trickled loose.
Empty the tank night: With 2 days off before the next game, Peters leaned heavily on the top of his lineup. The third pairing of Hanifin (13:24) and Tennyson (10:58) was used more lightly than usual as was the third line of McClenent (8:43), Nordstrom (7:52) and Stalberg (7:33) as Peters rode the top of the lineup with the top 3 defensemen at or very close to 24 minutes each and the forward minutes tilted a little more toward the top 3 lines than usual too.
Tough night for Ward: Tuesday was a tough night for Ward. With as many games as he has held the fort when needed and been a key contributor in wins, it was great to see the team return the favor and turn 3 goals against and a lesser night into a win. Now with 17 straight starts to his credit, I feel like Ward has been oscillating between very good and less than good like tonight.
2 lines going: Both the Skinner/Rask/Ryan and McGinn/Staal/Lindholm line were dangerous pretty much all night from when they started up sometime into the first period.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a home back-to-back set theoretically against 2 beatable teams in the Sabres and the Islanders. The Hurricanes need to look no farther than last Tuesday’s sluggish home loss to the Devils as a reminder of how much “supposed to win” counts for in the NHL and what can happen quickly if you do not show up to do the work.
That said, Tuesday’s win pushes the Canes to 3-2 on aiming for 5-2 in the last of 3 legs toward pushing into the playoff chase by mid-January. There is work to be done obviously, but 5-2 looks possible again and with the Flyers sputtering a bit, that number is likely what is needed to push into the eighth and final playoff spot by mid-January.
It is the Sabres on Friday and the Islanders on Saturday both at PNC Arena.