The opposing New York Islanders for whatever reason are a horrible match up for the Hurricanes in terms of generating offense and grade A scoring chances and for the most part did their thing on Tuesday night.
Sebastian Aho had one of his quietest games of the season.
The Hurricanes had a couple defensive break downs that led to goals against.
The team lost its focus late with a soft goal allowed in the final minute and a couple poor decisions icing the puck.
All of this is certainly a recipe for a tough road loss to the Islanders who had already beaten the Canes three times.
But the Hurricanes scratched and clawed a bit, made a few plays and benefited from reversing a goal against with a successful offside challenge. And just like the reverse of an abysmal December, the Hurricanes are suddenly rolling with all the mojo in January with five straight wins (four of those in January).
Ironically, most impressive about #Canes win was fact that they really never got going but found a way to grind out a win. Other than late softie, goaltending was again a positive and depth stepped up and led way. #TakeWarning
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) January 9, 2019
The first period was largely a slog through the mud somewhat similar to the three previous Islanders losses and also the grinding games against the Flyers and Devils just before the new year. The Canes were not bad early, but they really were not good either. Neither team had a ton of shots or chances early, but the Islanders seemed more dangerous with Jordan Eberle lurking and a couple times finding the puck in close and a couple other near misses. As has very often been the case of late, the Canes goalie, Curtis McElhinney on Tuesday, had the answers when asked. Brock Nelson would put the Islanders on the scoreboard first on a bad defensive zone turnover by Justin Faulk. But the Hurricanes would push back and answer twice. First, a strong forechecking play netted the fourth line a goal. Warren Foegele sent the puck deep and then forced a loose pass of the end wall. Victor Rask showed great hand-eye coordination batting the puck out of mid-air. And Saku Maenalanen scored his first NHL after skillfully batting the puck down right onto his stick and then quickly finishing. Then with only six seconds remaining in the first period, Greg McKegg continued his scoring surge with exactly the kind of ugly goal the Hurricanes needed against Canes goalie enigma Thomas Greiss. Micheal Ferland through the puck into a mess of Justin Williams, Greg McKegg and a couple defenders, and the result was a ‘how did that go in’ deflection into the net by McKegg. Just like that the Canes had converted a mediocre first period into a 2-1 lead.
The Hurricanes were modestly better in the second period but still seemed to yield their one-goal lead when the Islanders scored off the rush. But the Hurricanes caught a break when a challenge showed the Isles being offside by the narrowest of margins therefore wiping the score away. Courtesy of more strong goaltending by McElhinney, the Hurricanes pushed into the third period still clinging to a 2-1 lead.
The Isles were the better team out of the gate in the third period putting the Canes very early into survival mode. That lasted about five minutes. The Isles tied the game on a shot through an Anders Lee screen with 15 minutes still to go. At that point, I think it was fair to say that the Isles had the upper hand. But the Hurricanes managed to weather the storm for awhile. More than anything the Hurricanes survived until late until catching another break in converting the transition to even strength after a penalty kill into an immediate scoring chance. The result was Greg McKegg with the puck on his stick with Justin Williams out of the box and behind teh defense as the Isles scrambled to adjust to 5-on-5. McKegg wired a pretty pass to Williams who made no mistake finishing from in close. When Jaccob Slavin scored on the power play inside of two minutes, the Hurricanes seemed to have claimed a win. But the game still managed to turn into an unfortunate adventure. First, McElhinney had a rare lapse and was beaten through the wickets off the rush. Then young leaders Slavin and Aho made errors icing the puck inside the last minute to give the Isles more chances. The game ended with a late scramble but a 4-3 Canes win.
Details aside, the Canes picked up two more points in their current quest to play their way back into the playoff chase that they mostly played their way out of in December. The gap is still sizable but continues to shrink.
Player and other notes
1) Greg McKegg
As I said on Twitter shortly after the win:
Who had Greg McKegg leading the way offensively during early January crunch time push? #TakeWarning
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) January 9, 2019
McKegg has been the team’s best player since being recalled from the AHL and a leader offensively in two of his three games. He is playing like a player who has confidence in his ability to make plays at the NHL level. That attitude is worth watching/noting for the other players in Charlotte. The path to the NHL often comes from seizing opportunities and doing your thing and not so much from patience and working your way up gradually. Godspeed on sending him the fuel to ride the adrenaline rush as long as possible.
2) The bottom half of the forward group
As noted in my introduction, Aho was especially quiet, and Martinook/Wallmark/Svechnikov were mostly stymied as well. Other than Slavin’s power play goal, the scoring was all courtesy of what would probably be considered the bottom two lines entering the game. That is exactly the kind of depth scoring that I was clamoring for in December. With more people chipping in, the team has a chance to win on more nights.
3) Justin Faulk
It took only a couple plays to do it, but Faulk had a tough night. His wish pass led directly to the Isles first goal. He picked up an obstruction type penalty. And he had a couple other near misses with turnovers. Faulk has generally been solid in 2018-19, so best bet is to write this up as just an off night.
4) Curtis McElhinney
The soft goal right through him late slightly tarnished another good outing by McElhinney. It was not his best game (He has been so good in some of his wins), but in what was a messy game for the group in front of him he battled, outplayed Greiss and gave his team a chance to win despite not being at the top of its game.
5) Closing the gap a point at a time
The early January winning streak really makes December’s collapse hurt more, but step by step the Canes are trying to climb the ladder back into the playoff chase. Adjusted for games played, the Hurricanes pulled within six points of the final playoff spot which is currently a tie between the Sabres, Islanders and Blue Jackets. The Hurricanes have beaten the Blue Jackets and Islanders in January and will get a shot at the Sabres on Friday night at PNC Arena.
But first, next up for the Hurricanes is the ultimate challenge against probably the best team in the league right now. The Canes play the Lightning on Thursday in Tampa.