Another home game at PNC Arena – another big Hurricanes win. It never gets old. The Hurricanes are now 13-1-1 in their past 15 games on home ice. With Chase Bass from Make-A-Wish in attendance, the Hurricanes were down early but ultimately surged to a win.
Most significantly, the win collected the 2 points necessary to match the Flyers win last night and keep pace with the Maple Leafs who also won on Friday night.
Recap of the Hurricanes 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres
With the Sabres playing and traveling last night while the Hurricanes rested at home, the preferred script for a win was to capitalize on a physical advantage right out of the gate, attack early and often and run off to an easy win. The game actually started okay in that regard. Jordan Staal’s line had a strong cycling shift early and that seemed to tilt the ice into the offensive zone for the Hurricanes. But the plan was derailed almost as quickly as it started. A bad turnover by Jaccob Slavin led to a quick passing play and the puck deposited behind Cam Ward and into the net before anyone could recover and cover up. The play was 1 of multiple momentum swings on the night and seemed to help the Sabres get their feet under them and get going. The period was strange in that the Hurricanes had their fair share of puck possession partly by virtue of winning 16 of 17 face-offs in the period, but they did not generate enough offense from it and maybe over-passed the puck at times. The period finished with a 1-0 Sabres lead and also a 13 to 8 shots on goal advantage despite giving up 2 power plays and only receiving 1. The Hurricanes power play continued to sputter.
But the Hurricanes received the break they needed early in the second period when a pretty harmless unscreened shot from a ways out and wide of the face-off dot by Jeff Skinner went off Anders Nilsson’s glove and in right at the beginning of his shift. Skinner would beat Nilsson from the other side of the ice on the same shift after a slow line change saw Justin Faulk hit Skinner with a long pass at the offensive blue line to give him a path to the net. The second shot was a well-placed beauty, but nonetheless there was an element of thanking the hockey gods for a shot at a backup goalie for the second time this week. About 4 minutes later, Brock McGinn finished after a great individual play by Elias Lindholm making a pretty spin move off the boards, past a Sabres’ defender and to the front of the net. McGinn was hanging out where goals happen and finished when the puck showed up on his stick. The Hurricanes were off to the races with a 3-1 lead and had all of the momentum. But the burst of energy was lost when the power play went from bad to worse. At the midway point in the period, the Hurricanes were struggling to get the puck into the offensive zone with control when Ward decided to try to play a bouncing dump in that was already behind the end line. He lost his stick in the process and strayed much too far from the front of the net such that Brian Gionta quickly retrieved the puck, took it around the net and tucked it behind Ward. Just like that the power play that seemed like a good thing swung the momentum back to the Sabres who seemed lifeless only 2 minutes earlier.
But luckily the Hurricanes offense was not to be denied. Early in the third period, Victor Rask finished a rebound off the end boards when Noah Hanifin stepped into the right spot to create a passing lane and quickly fire at the net. The shot missed but was quick enough that Rask was able to quickly fire after retrieving the rebound and score. The Canes finished it off with goal number 5 when Jordan Staal made a power move to circle the net and again find Brock McGinn waiting where goals happen to finish and put the game out of reach.
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1) Jump and physical advantage
The Hurricanes actually started strong but seemed to get derailed pretty easily by 1 bad play early. The negative was the inability to power through the setback early, but the positive was that the team did rebound strongly in the second period after receiving a gift from the opposing goalie to light the spark.
2) Cam Ward
He had bad ‘oops’ midway through the second period that seemed to resuscitate the nearly dead Sabres but otherwise he had a good night. The Sabres threw a ton of rubber at the net (38 shots), and he had the answer on all but 2 shots which most importantly was good enough for a win.
It will be interesting to see what Peters does in net on Saturday. The second half of a back-to-back is commonly a game for the backup but then so were 3-5 other games that Ward has started in his run 18 straight starts dating back to early December.
The players wearing letters all had big games. Skinner deservedly won the first star with 2 big goals to get the Hurricanes going and also an assist. Staal also factored in 2 scoring plays. Victor Rask scored the goal that put things away. And Justin Faulk had the stretch pass that sprung Skinner on the second goal in addition to blasting away from the point with some near misses and logging 22:27 of ice time.
Sebastian Aho: He was at it again fighting for ice in front of the net and being right in the middle of 2 second period skirmishes in the process. One has to like the kid’s fearlessness and moxy.
Another night with 2 lines really going: The game again featured both the Skinner/Rask/Ryan and McGinn/Staal/Lindholm lines firing on all cylinders once they got going. When this happens, the Hurricanes are a difficult team to contain scoring-wise.
More work for Noah Hanifin: Earlier this week, Coach Bill Peters said something to the effect of getting Noah Hanifin more ice time in the second half of the season. With Brett Pesce entering the game “wonky” this morning and playing only 16:22, Hanifin was indeed the beneficiary logging 18:05 of ice time and factoring in the Rask goal that added a needed cushion in the third period.
Elias Lindholm: He logged only the 1 assist (on a tremendous individual play) but just like last game, his scoring total understated his play. He had another strong game in all 3 zones in Friday’s win.
Brock McGinn: After being serviceable and sound defensively but without much in terms of scoring production, McGinn is in the midst of a mini-scoring outburst. With his 2 goals on Friday, he has a 2-game goal streak and also 5 points in 6 games in January. If he continues to score at even a reasonable rate, it is a big boost to the offense.
The power play: Ugh! On a night of many positives, the power play seemed to take a step down from the previous “sputtering” level. The team is increasingly looking disjointed trying to even get the puck into the offensive zone and also seems capable of doing little more than moving the puck around the perimeter even when it does. I have to imagine it will be a point of emphasis at practice on Monday.
The Hurricanes are 2-0 for the week and looking at another beatable team at home on Saturday. 2-1 is not good enough for a team that already won the toughest game of the week on Tuesday and still needs to make up ground on the teams above them. Here is hoping that the force is with the Canes on Star Wars night and that the team can finish the week strong.
As noted above, it will also be interesting to see what Peters does in net. I wrote in detail about Cam Ward and the Hurricanes’ goalie situation in Friday’s Daily Cup of Joe.