Good news arrived in the afternoon that the Carolina Hurricanes were officially under the new ownership of Tom Dundon. Friday’s Daily Cup of Joe will share my thoughts on this transition. Then the day became even better with a big road win!
The Hurricanes entered Thursday’s game against the Washington Capitals with two straight losses, back on the wrong side of the playoff cut line and needing to scratch and claw for a few points in the last three games to close out a tough eight-game stretch and head into their bye week without giving up everything that was gained during a strong December.
The schedule was not particularly friendly with a back-to-back set against an elite team in the Washington Capitals, but we are at the point in the season when results trump excuses by a factor of ten.
Early in Thursday’s game, the Capitals had the edge early, but when combined with generally solid defensive play, I think that was actually a positive. The combination resulted in Darling seeing a good volume of shots early but mostly of the variety where he had a fair chance to make a save. Darling started well and seemed to find a rhythm, and the team in front of him gained momentum as the first period wore on. The Hurricanes had a couple good chances from the McGinn/Ryan/Williams line that was the team’s best early in the game and a couple more good chances on a power play that did everything except score, but the period ended in a scoreless tie.
From the opening face-off, the Hurricanes fared better in two regards noted in the game preview. As noted above, Darling was solid in net, and the defense was MUCH tidier than the loose play it offered against the Lightning on Tuesday.
The shot totals grew in the second but probably overstated the volume of offense in a game that was reasonably well played defensively by both teams. The Hurricanes broke through first when Jordan Staal poked away a puck just inside the blue line on the penalty kill. Staal’s three or four big strides were enough to run far away enough from a chasing Ovechkin and then make a nifty move to open up Braden Holtby and score a shorthanded goal through the five hole off the rush. But the Capitals would respond with a shot through a screen that deflected and found a hole through Scott Darling to tie the game at 1-1 which is how the second period ended.
That set the stage for the Hurricanes to play hockey in the third period against an elite team tied and with a chance to earn quality points on the road. The front part of the third period saw both teams still playing a cautious, defense-first style of hockey. Playing 6-on-5 with a delayed penalty on the way, Victor Rask staked the Hurricanes to a 2-1 lead when fired a pinpoint shot from a difficult angle on a Justin Faulk rebound. Scott Darling and the Hurricanes defense continued to hold its own when Washington pushed late until a Sebastian Aho empty-netter sealed the win at 3-1.
Notes from the Hurricanes 3-1 win over the Washington Capitals
1) Defense steps up and gives its goalie a chance
I have regularly noted the up and down play of the Hurricanes defense and attention to detail lately. Too regularly of, the Canes defense has lacked intensity and attention to detail. With Brett Pesce injured at practice earlier in the day and out of the lineup, the defensive core rose to the occasion. Dahlbeck made an appearance on his off side where he has looked uncomfortable in the past, and Slavin, Faulk and van Riemsdyk logged extra minutes and were solid in doing so. The effort featured players stepping in front of shots late in the game and a better effort all-around.
Slavin played a huge 27:26 in regulation which is just under his season high 27:34 against the Oilers in October. Van Riemsdyk had a season high 22:37 of ice time gobbling up Pesce minutes on the right side. And Justin Faulk had a similarly heavy work load at 24:13 of ice time.
2) Scott Darling puts forward his best effort in awhile and is team’s best player on the night
The defense was good, but Scott Darling was even better. The defense helped by limiting break down kind of chances, but when the team scored only twice (not counting the empty-netter), it also left no margin for error. Darling did have another goal get through his five hole before he close up the holes while setting to defend a deflection, but otherwise he was sharp, played nearly flawless hockey and had a few big answers when needed. Here is hoping that Darling can build off of this game that was his best in awhile.
3) Victor Rask
His stats are interesting. Rask now has 11 goals which makes for a respectable 20ish-goal pace, but his scoring total is tamped down significantly by his lack of assists. His meager three assists might be overdone, but at a basic level the split does reasonably match the fact that Rask has decent finishing ability but is not really a playmaker from the center position. Per my comments earlier in the year, I think he has the potential to be reasonably productive offensively on a line that has playmaking on the wing.
4) The penalty kill
On a night with no margin for error, the penalty kill was a perfect 3-for-3 despite missing a regular in Brett Pesce. Per my article on the penalty kill last week, Peters has continued to primarily use Nordstrom/Staal and McGinn/Lindholm with positive results even though Marcus Kruger is back in the lineup.
5) Playoff math
As I said on Twitter immediately following the win, the win was a HUGE one in that it cut a two-game losing streak short and simultaneously assured that the Hurricanes will at a minimum earn a ‘treading water’ 1-1 result for a tough two-game set against the Capitals. The win also pushes the Hurricanes back into the final playoff spot which is also where they remain if one adjusts for games played. A win or even an overtime loss at home on Friday would make the set against the Capitals a positive and also push the team closer to hitting a difficult target for the challenging eight-game stretch that started in St. Louis. Right now, the team is 2-3-1 through six games which makes my target of eight points in eight games possibly with a win and an overtime loss to close out the schedule before the bye week.
The puck drops at 7:37pm at PNC Arena tomorrow following the official announcement of a new owner at lunchtime. Bigger picture, Friday is already a good day with the potential to be even better with a big win.