Hurricanes fans who attended Friday night’s game received about all they could have hoped for. They had the chance to see phenom Connor McDavid in all his glory blazing through a small opening at the blue line to score a magnificent goal. But at the same time, they also saw the Hurricanes equivalent, Sebastian Aho, match him with a laser of a snipe for a power play goal. And most importantly, when it was all said and done, the good guys emerged with a 2-1 win to push their record to 2-0 after the all-star break and push a step closer to the playoff cut line in the Eastern Conference.
Recap of the Hurricanes 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers
As suggested in my preview, the game featured Bill Peters trying, and mostly getting, Jordan Staal’s line matched against Connor McDavid’s with a heavy helping of Slavin/Pesce to help out. Edmonton had the better of things early, but the Hurricanes were reasonably sound in their own end such that the Oilers did not get many grade A chances even while controlling play. The Hurricanes got on the scoreboard first, when an Aho centering pass off the rush to Lindholm missed. The puck fortuitously found Jaccob Slavin who fed Lindholm in his office at the side of the net from where he quickly fed Jordan Staal in front for a pretty passing play and a quick finish. The Hurricanes were decent defensively in terms of intensity level and attention to detail in the first period but did not generate much offensively being out-shot 9 to 5. But with a few good saves by Ward and 1 pretty hockey play, the Hurricanes exited the period with a 1-0 lead.
The second period featured a bit of the inevitable which was Connor McDavid using his speed and finishing ability to do what Connor McDavid does. At the exact time the Hurricanes were changing to get Staal’s line out to mark McDavid, as series of small break downs gave McDavid the tiny opening he needed. With all 3 forwards changing but not getting the puck deep, Edmonton quickly transitioned from puck retrieval to offense. With Hainsey far to the right and Hanifin pulled too far in the same direction, a passing lane was wide open for a stretch pass to hit McDavid on Hanifin’s side at the blue line. Lindholm tracked him down coming off the bench and about tackled him on the way to the net, but it was too late. McDavid used the small opening and a burst of speed to get to the front of the net from where he put a pretty backhand into the net to tie the game at 1-1. Despite looser play and a higher volume of scoring chances in both directions, the second period ended with a 1-1 tie.
But it was the Hurricanes offensive phenom from the 2015 draft who would strike next. On a strong power play that featured 2 Justin Faulk blasts with 1 off the post and also an open net missed by a Teravainen shot from in close on a rolling puck, the Canes were finally rewarded when Sebastian Aho received a nice pass from Faulk and made no mistake firing a laser behind Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot. The goal only 1:48 into the third period set the stage for the Hurricanes to try to protect a lead. Despite regular struggles with exactly this task, the Hurricanes were up to the challenge on Friday night. On this night, the Hurricanes seemed to find a reasonable balance of being sound defensively, pushing play into the offensive zone and relying on Cam Ward to make a couple but not a ton of big saves. The tiny negative would be that the Hurricanes were unable to find a third goal to finish things early, but with a win in the books it is hard to quibble about small things.
Most significant for me was that the Hurricanes against played a sounder game defensively than they were playing prior to the all-star break. And as the game wore on, the team actually generated a few more chances than the 2 goals scored might indicate. Aho maybe overpassed a bit trying to feed Staal on a 2-on-none rush, and they did not even get a shot. Teravainen missed an opening on a rolling puck on the power play. And the Hurricanes had a couple other good chances go by the wayside.
But after watching the Hurricanes win 4 straight home games in January with wild offensive outputs only to then implode on the road when they strayed too far from their defensive acumen, I happily accept a defensive foundation as a starting point for wins.
‘What I’m watching’ follow up
If you missed the preview and want to catch up, it is HERE.
1) Marking McDavid
The Hurricanes maybe did about as well as you can hope in this regard. His goal came in a rare instance where the the Canes bench were a step slow matching up, and he exploited a more favorable match up and a slightly slower line change. Jaccob Slavin had a phenomenal game defending him. McDavid is arguably the toughest to defend 1-on-1 off the rush because of his raw speed combined with skill, but Slavin looked pretty comfortable and had at least 2 if not 3 plays where his gap was tight enough to poke the puck off McDavid’s stick. That was impressive. Other than the goal scored with Hainsey and Hanifin on the ice and Staal’s line just arriving, I only recall 1 other McDavid shift where he busted loose. It actually started with Slavin poking the puck off McDavid’s stick but then McDavid corralling it and nearly scoring on a wraparound before then creating another grade A chance. But McDavid going lights out was not actually a common occurrence.
2) Cam Ward
He was sharp and solid. The team in front of him played pretty well defensively giving him a manageable game. But on a night when there was little margin for error, Ward was error free. His rebound control was good. He made a couple big saves when needed. And he was flawless in the third period. This was exactly what I hoped to see from Ward tonight hopefully before a strong outing from Lack tomorrow.
3) Sebastian Aho
McDavid might legitimately be in a class by himself but if that his the case, Aho is in whatever the next class is. He scored his 16th goal on a laser and also had a third assist on the Staal goal getting the puck into the offensive zone and actually making a decent centering pass to Lindholm that did not connect. With the Hurricanes desperately needing to start strong after the all-star break, Aho now has 4 goals and an assist in 2 games as the team’s best offensive player.
4) How the team responds if things do not go well
The Hurricanes scored first and never trailed, so I guess the bigger version of this test will have to wait for another day. But the team did weather the storm early when Edmonton started strong and also mustered a solid 60-minute effort even if it was not as dominant as the win on Tuesday.
Jaccob Slavin: He quietly had a phenomenal night defending Connor McDavid and picking up an assist to boot. Kudos to the media who voted on the 3 stars and got it right giving the first star to Slavin.
Justin Faulk: He was assertive and attacked with the puck all night pushing pace and stepping into the offense. He did not score a goal but he did get on the score sheet with an assist on Aho’s goal (thanks to Andrew Schnittker for helping me correct this), hit a post, have another blast that just missed through a screen and made a few other good offensive plays. When Faulk is skating well, his defensive game usually follows. That could be critical tomorrow when the Isles likely steer Tavares line away from Slavin/Pesce.
Great formula: As I touched on above, I really like the formula for the 2 wins this week. The much-improved defensive foundation is what it takes to stay in games every night and win games like Friday’s even when the scoring has a slow night, maybe misfires or runs into a hot goalie.
Results matter: We are clearly at the time of year when winning trumps process, so in that all-important regard the Hurricanes were a perfect 2 for 2 in winning points in the standings on Friday.
Next up is a quick turnaround and very likely a return to the ice for Eddie Lack for the first time at the NHL level since early November. The game is on the road against the Islanders who also played and traveled on Friday night making for what I call a fair back-to-back.