I entered the first of three games on a tough road trip with some reservations about the quality of the Hurricanes past few wins, gaps in their game and the repeatability of the early success.
Recap for the Hurricanes 5-4 overtime win over the Wild
More than anything, Saturday’s crazy 5-4 over the Minnesota Wild reinforced the fact that there are any number of formulas for wins in the NHL and that simple can do attitude and determination count significantly too.
And though in some ways the win was as imperfect as the previous wins that I questioned, the team still earned a sizable plus in addressing my pre-road trip questions.
Through two plus periods, the game was very simply a tale of two different stories. At even strength, the Hurricanes were utterly dominant. The three icings that Minnesota took in first five or six minutes of the game were a harbinger of things to come. The speed and tenacity of the Hurricanes young legs were too much for the Wild pretty much constantly and in all three zones. My count was a 13 to 3 shot advantage at even strength in the first period and a three 3 to 1 advantage in terms of drawing penalties which racked up even more shots. But the flip side was that the Hurricanes continued to struggle mightily through two plus periods in terms of special teams.
Jordan Staal who seems to be being rewarded for his strong play with a fluky goal per game lately kicked off scoring by kneeing a puck into the net on a rebound on a Trevor van Riemsdyk shot. But then the special teams struggles reared its head. The Canes failed to score in 1:18 of 5-on-3 play with a 1-0 lead and then yielded a power play goal against to be back at even to close out the first period despite holding a 20 to 5 shot advantage.
The second period was more of the same. Brett Pesce finished a pretty play with a targeted tip of a Sebastian Aho pass playing 4-on-4 hockey. The Hurricanes again dominated possession, shots and everything else to the tune of a 16 to 4 shot advantage yielding a two-period total of 35 to 9. But along the way the Hurricanes failed to score on four more power plays thereby leaving the Wild within striking distance despite playing another period mostly under siege.
And strike they did. First, the wild scored what was more or less a power play goal shortly after a penalty kill ended, and then they tacked on another. Suddenly, with 14 minutes remaining, the Hurricanes found themselves unfairly down a goal. But that only set the stage for a chaotic third period that is starting to become this team’s comfort zone. Sebastian Aho mercifully ended the team’s power play dry spell, when he rifled home a rebound from Justin Faulk blast from the face-off circle. But the Hurricanes resolve would be tested again, when the Wild again claimed the lead with 4:13 remaining. But the never say die Hurricanes scored their second goal of the season with the goalie pulled. Justin Williams scored his first of the season from a tough angle with 1:09 remaining to push the game to overtime. That set the stage for Aho to cap off a good night beating Devyn Dubnyk from between the face-off circles off the rush to run the Hurricanes point streak to six games and 100 percent of the 2018-19 season thus far.
More than anything, this win was another indicator of a difference in terms of attitude, resolve, resiliency and whatever other intangible words you want to tag to last season. And not to be lost is the fact that the team picked up two more points in the standings and pushed farther into the season still in incredibly good shape in that regard.
Player and other notes
First and foremost
Analyzing the game results always includes a number of details especially on the player front, but it is important not to jump too quickly to that and miss the all-important bigger picture. The team exited the 2017-18 season needing a change in attitude, character, leadership or whatever else you wanted to call it. Right now, this team is learning to win and more importantly what it feels like to expect to win but at the same time do the necessary. Under Brind’Amour this group has yet to leave the arena without a point now in 11 games. And the two third period comebacks suggest a never say die attitude. This transformation trumps any and all details that follow.
Even with Eric Staal trying to taking liberties by banging him around a bit when the puck was not there, Sebastian Aho rose up and was the best player on the ice on Saturday night. Ironically, he somehow fired over the cross bar from within a foot or two of the crease, getting nothing for his best chance. But he scored the all-important power play goal to break that bad run and pull the Hurricanes even when the game seemed to be slipping away. He had the pretty pass on Pesce’s goal. And of course he closed things out in overtime.
After a run of generally strong games, Andrei Svechnikov had a tough one on Saturday. He took three minor penalties of which at least two were the unnecessary variety. Sometime within the next couple days, Brind’Amour will find the right way to discuss the sloppiness and help the 18-year old gradually make adjustments as part of his ongoing development.
Riding the horses
Jordan Staal’s 23:25 of ice time is an amount he surpassed only once in 2017-18. Justin Williams’ 20:41 is the most he has played since rejoining the Hurricanes. Teuvo Teravainen logged 21:50 which he bettered only once in 2017-18. Sebastian Aho played 20:45. As the game wore on, Brind’Amour shortened the bench and played the two anchors to his top two lines as much as he possibly could. That group had all of the four goals and six assists collected by the 12 Canes forwards. Had the team lost and had to carry what could be a tired crew into the second half of a back-to-back with travel, this could have backfired. But with a big win in hand, Sunday’s game is for bonus points, and there is also a good chance that the feel-good attitude coming out of Saturday could provide more fuel.
In his return to the lineup, he logged only 4:43 of ice time. He seemed to get caught with his head down a couple times in what was a physical game.
He had a strong game in total and collected his second goal of the season. If my math is right, he now has both of the only two goals scored by the blue line which is odd considering the group and also the fact that he does not play on the power play. Regardless, his goal on Saturday was a big one, and his game in general was a key contributor to the win.
He just continues to play well and look even faster than last year. He continues to be the team’s best defenseman or close on an every game basis.
The game was a nerve tester for the goalie. The team was completely dominating but not scoring which left McElhinney waiting with nothing to do for minutes at a time but no margin for error when a shot came his way. He fared well early but not so much late. The first goal against saw McElhinney square to the initial shot but then somehow allow the rebound to end up behind him. Then the late goal that was almost the difference-maker saw McElhinney get beat short side from an angle where there should not have been net to shoot at. All in all, Saturday was not a good night for McElhinney, but right now the team’s run and gun style has been incredibly forgiving for goalie play.
Next up for the Canes is a flight, trip through customs and a fast turnaround on Sunday night in Winnipeg against a good team. As I said on Twitter shortly after Saturday’s win, the team already did well to get one out of two for the back-to-back, so it is playing for bonus points on Sunday.