The news of the day heading into the game was the fact that Rod Brind’Amour had decided to give goalie Alex Nedeljkovic his first NHL start. I was a bit surprised that Brind’Amour did not decide to ride Mrazek into the eight-day layoff but also excited to see Nedeljkovic get his first start at the NHL level.
My game preview expressed concern about the Hurricanes ability to find the pace playing a back-to-back against a rested opponent. But the team picked up right where it left off on Tuesday. The Hurricanes were the better early and at times seemed to overwhelm the Canucks keeping them hemmed in their own end. Unfortunately, the first period was another bout of Canes domination of old with good puck possession, a decided shot advantage but not much for results. The first period ended with a 0-0 tie despite a 10 to 4 advantage in shots on goal.
But then the second period brought back memories of the wild one at PNC Arena a couple years back. Nino Niederreiter put the Canes on the board first on a power play goal when the puck found him hanging out in front of the net from where he finished. The Canucks would answer with two goals to go up 2-1. But then the Canes surged with Greg McKegg being rewarded for what had been a strong game forechecking after Hamilton stepped up to keep a puck in the offensive zone. Then Niederreiter would score again, and Dougie Hamilton would finish a pretty Teuvo Teravainen centering pass. Then Teravainen would pick a corner off the rush to finish off a five-goal second period for the Hurricanes. When the dust settled on a wild second period, the Hurricanes had come within one goal of matching the six that they posted in the wild 8-6 at PNC Arena on December 13, 2016. In the here and now, the Canes staked themselves to a 5-2 lead heading into the second intermission.
The third period was a mixed bag. Part of the period just ticked away. Then things got chippy which netted the Hurricanes a few power plays that looked somewhat disinterested with the 5-2 lead. And then the last 10 minutes were a mix of riding out the clock and fending off frustrated Canucks.
Kudos to Alex Nedeljkovic for picking up a solid win in his first NHL start.
Player and other notes
1) Nino Niederreiter
The sample size is small, but the early results are very encouraging. Thus far, Niederreiter looks to be every bit the power forward scorer that the Hurricanes hoped for when they obtained him. In only four games, he has four goals, two posts and three or four other good chances from in close. What stands out about his game thus far is his ability to match pace with Aho and Teravainen and his natural tendency to spend time between the face-off dots where goals happen. He reminds me a bit of Zykov in his consistency going to the slot when he does not have the puck or something else to do, but the key difference is the ability to skate the game between the blue lines in transition.
2) Dougie Hamilton
He is finally settling in and starting to play a leaning forward brand of offensive hockey. In both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s games, Hamilton has played an aggressively stepping up and pursuing pucks in the offensive zone and stepping up into the play. Stepping up to win a puck led to McKegg’s goal, and then he stepped into the offensive play for his own goal. He had a nice burst of offense a little while back, but is he finally dialing up the cerebral, offensive brand of hockey that he is capable of?
3) Alex Nedeljkovic
What jumped out to me most was his comfortableness handling the puck. He showed no hesitancy whatsoever to fully utilize his puck-handling ability which is a strength of his. The Hurricanes did a good job of dictating play early and limiting chances against, but give Nedeljkovic credit for stopping what he saw in the first period. From there, the team in front of him sprinted out such that though he made a big save here and there, he did not need to be the story of the game. But he was solid and looked comfortable. His positives continue to be his puck-handling and quickness. The challenge he is going to have at the NHL level is the noisiness in his movement. He can be a bit ‘scrambly’ which is prone to having quick shots squeak through unclosed holes. But that is something to watch going forward and not an issue on Wednesday night.
4) Greg McKegg
Especially early, McKegg was noticeably strong on the forecheck and played a significant role in getting the Hurricanes off to a good start. The game was his best in awhile after quieting a bit after being shot out of a cannon for his first few games. His game starts and ends with his aggressiveness on the forecheck. When he is doing that early, it means he is moving his feet and on those nights the puck usually finds him.
5) Teuvo Teravainen
Teravainen had a solid game showing off why signing him for five years was a good thing. He had a pretty pass that gave Hamilton half of a net to shoot into. Then he sniped a corner off the rush to get a goal of his own. He finished with a big three-point night.
Next up for the Hurricanes is an eight-day break for the NHL All-Star game and then the team’s bye week. The team next takes to the on on Friday, February 1 against the Las Vegas Golden Knights.