For the second time since the All-Star break, the Hurricanes took to home ice in a winnable game against a team below them in the standings. And for the second time since the All-Star break the Hurricanes emerged with a win.
With “results matter” growing in importance above all else, the perfect two for two is phenomenal. And with the Flyers losing to the Devils, the Hurricanes tied for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot with the Flyers and that is straight up since both teams have played the same 51 games.
And that Caniac Nation is a good place to be in early February.
As for the game itself, it very much reminded me of the Senators win on Tuesday. The first period was reasonably well played both ways without a ton of gifted grade A chances in either direction. The 7-7 shots on goal tie and 0-0 score were not far off in measuring a first period that saw both teams playing a more conservative after the loose and wild 6-5 affair last week in Montreal. The Hurricanes blue line was sound defending off the rush and marking men in their own end. Whereas goalie Cam Ward did need to make a few stellar saves early in Tuesday’s game, Thursday was more about just needing to be sound and rarely spectacular.
As the game wore on, the Hurricanes gained a possession advantage from a 79% winning percentage in the face-off circle and reasonable ability to advance and keep the puck. But despite playing with the puck more, the Hurricanes really did not gain a sizable advantage in terms of grade A scoring chances. Brock McGinn was in alone on Carey Price twice before finishing late on Justin Williams’ heady centering pass. And along the way Brett Pesce notched his first goal of the season a shot through a screen after earlier half-whiffing on a better chance stepping in to receive a pass inside the top of the face-off circle. The goal early in the second period was perhaps a deserved reward from the hockey gods.
The third period was more of the same without a ton of great opportunities either way. A Justin Faulk break down created arguably Montreal’s best scoring chance late, and Ward continued to play an assertive and confident game. When Justin Williams found Brock McGinn with a centering pass from behind the net, the game was suddenly in hand with a two-goal lead and less than five minutes remaining. The Hurricanes salted away the win with a conservative power play effort up two goals with only 2:31 remaining.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 2-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens
1) Cam Ward
Ironically, this shutout was somewhat similar to his other 2017-18 shutout against the Pittsburgh Penguins in that the story of the game was at least equally how air tight the defense was in front of him. But that said, the Hurricanes did not collect their second goal until inside of five minutes remaining, so through 55 minutes of hockey the game offered no margin for error. On this night, Ward did not need any.
2) Solid effort from the defense
As noted above, this game ranks right up there with the 4-0 win over the Penguins in terms of just playing the kind of solid game defensively that the Caniac Nation has been envisioning for a few years now. As noted above, Faulk was beaten once for a path to the net, but I honestly struggle to remember another true break down of significance. All six of the defensemen receive high marks on the night, but the player who stood out to me was Haydn Fleury who had a 3-4 really good defensive plays interrupting passing lanes that could have led to good scoring chances.
3) Brett Pesce
Good for Brett Pesce getting on the score sheet with his first goal and also onto the ice as one of the game’s three stars. The good version of his game is that of a steady, unsung hero, so it is nice to see him get an occasional turn with more recognition.
4) Brock McGinn
He was arguably the Hurricanes’ most dangerous player offensively. He was in alone on Price at even strength and then again shorthanded before finishing late by filling the front of the net to receive a pretty Williams’ backhand pass in front.
5) Balance on the blue line
For the second consecutive game, the ice team was really balanced on the blue line. The current trend is toward having three nearly equal pairings and coaches Peters and Smith allocating ice time more based on preferred match ups or simply which pair seems to be going best that night. Pesce was the only defenseman above 20 minutes with 21:04 of ice time. Fleury was the lowest still with 17:18 of ice time. The balance bodes well for playing the second half of the back-to-back on Friday and more generally for the busy schedule that lies ahead.
6) Jordan Staal
I thought he played the quiet version of his top-end game. He did not muster a ton offensively, but he played his big and mobile brand of hockey that just seems to take away space to do anything when he is on the ice.
7) Max Pacioretty
I am on record (repeatedly) as thinking he is the guy for Francis to make his first big ‘win now’ trade and push this team over the top. Is it confirmed that he did in fact board the Montreal team bus to head to the airport? 🙂
Next up is a quick turnaround with another home match up against Detroit on Friday and a chance to capitalize on three straight home games against sub-.500 teams with a 3-0 mark.