After a run of lean years, it is an absolutely glorious time to be a Carolina Hurricanes hockey fan.
This is not to say that there are guarantees for the rest of the season and end results. As I said on Twitter shortly after Friday’s game ended, the long NHL season will inevitably deliver some ups and downs. But in terms of living in the moment and enjoying hockey goodness, nothing could be better right now.
After a one period effort that led to a win on Tuesday, Friday’s effort was much more even over a full 60 minutes despite a similar margin for victory. In a game that had good pace from the outset, the Hurricanes would score first off the rush. At the defensive blue line, Sebastian Aho made a strong play to win the puck forward and spring a 2-on-1 rush. Dougie Hamilton would carry and make a nifty lunge to create a passing lane to find Teuvo Teravainen who made no mistake burying the puck in the back of the net. But the Islanders would respond less than five minutes later when their power play found Brock Nelson wide open at the top of the crease to make it 1-1. But the Hurricanes would score next on yet another contribution from the blue line. First, Brett Pesce made a nifty move to walk in from the point for a scoring chance. When that did not score, he stayed up in the play and cashed in on a second chance when Andrei Svechnikov made a nifty short pass to find him in front. The back and forth first period would end with the Hurricanes still holding that 2-1 lead.
Early in the second period, the Islanders would again pull even with a power play goal when Johnny Boychuk beat Petr Mrazek cleanly stepping in front the point and blasting a shot far side. Most of the rest of the second period was pretty even hockey, but the Hurricanes climbed ahead late in the second period on goals from Erik Haula and Dougie Hamilton. The Haula goal was a great individual effort beating his defender, carrying the puck out from the corner to the front of the net and then finishing his own rebound. Subtle but significant was the play of Martin Necas to first win the puck and then have the sense to skate out of the corner to take his man with him, eliminate the traffic jam and make the space the Haula exploited for his path to the net. The Canes would close out the period with yet another blue line goal when Hamilton fired through a Teravainen screen to make it 4-2.
The third period very much reminded me of the Tampa Bay game. Despite the fact that the Islanders were down two and surely were pressing and willing to gamble a bit for scoring chances, the Hurricanes gave them absolutely nothing. Despite being the team protecting a lead, the Hurricanes completely stymied the Islanders on the way to an impressive 15-2 shot advantage in the third period.
After a ‘meh’ overall effort on Tuesday, the Hurricanes were back on track playing the kind of hockey that deserves a 5-0 record.
Player and other notes
With so much going well right now, it is difficult to write notes for fear of leaving out multiple players who also deserve credit. But in mostly quick hitter format, here goes for Friday’s win…
As a player who traditionally starts slow, does his early season outburst suggest a massive season is on the way? On Friday, he had a goal and was robbed of another when an Isles defenseman made a save on a sure goal. He had 18 goals after a slow start in 2018-19. Where even is his ceiling in terms of offensive production if there is no reversion to his usual slow start?
His NHL debut was a quiet one. He had a couple times when he carried the puck as he did all preseason but did not really convert it to much. On the negative side of the ledger, he picked up a minor penalty and also had a few times where instead of playing through players with the puck he went stick fishing a la Jeff Skinner. For a player with his size, he needs to consistently play right through the body such even if he does not get the puck, he makes things difficult for the opposition. I like the fact that he is guaranteed a decent run of games to settle in such that one game or even a couple does not decide his fate.
It was nice to see him get the first star on a night when there were a few options. He is often an understated hero on the defensive side of the puck, so on a night when he also scored it was nice to see him on the bench for the post-game interview.
His goal scoring is the headline right now, but what I like more about Haula is how well he thinks the game in all three zones. He very much brings a Jussi Jokinen-like read/react ability playing the center position behind two aggressive forecheckers who mostly pin their ears back and hound the puck. The Dzingel-Haula-Necas line reminds me a bit of Skinner-Jokinen-Ruutu from years past with Skinner and Ruutu similarly just hounding the puck at 100 percent on the forecheck with Jokinen having an uncanny ability to figure out exactly when to step up to play offense and when and where to defend in the neutral zone to help the defensemen.
Sebastian Aho and Nino Niederreiter
Both players had their best game of the young season. Niederreiter had four or five good scoring chances in addition to cracking the score sheet with two assists. Aho won a puck battle to start the break out for the first goal and also made a number of plays offensively. What are the chances that this duo surges right when some other players cool down a bit and help provide a second wind for the winning streak?
He continues to play well with a playmaking leaning. The pass to Pesce was a pretty one. He had to make a passing lane to feed the puck through two defenders and also had to find exactly the right pace to get the puck quickly to Pesce without putting too much on it from a short distance. Like Aho, he has only an empty-net goal, but he is playing at a high level offensively so far.
The penalty kill
The penalty kill was touched up for two more goals, so if you want to find a dark cloud, that would be it. The second goal was on a shot that a team willingly gives up shorthanded with Boychuk just beating Mrazek. But in the past two games, the group has been giving up the blue line too easy and also been allowing too many passes through the seam. Consider an area for potential improvement.
The third period
If I had to point to something very specific that makes me think that what we are seeing is sustainable, I think it would be the late efforts against the Lightning and Islanders. When the Hurricanes are firing on all cylinders with the forecheck and defensemen gapping up aggressively, opponents struggle mightily to string together the three passes needed to even play offense. Repeatedly, the Hurricanes force opposing defensemen to just play the puck up the wall where the Canes defensemen move up aggressively to intercept and resume playing offense. When the Hurricanes get going in this mode, they really do not even have to play defense.
Next up is a quick turnaround and a chance to see the team push to 6-0 with another win on home ice on Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.