My game preview for Friday’s match up between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Vegas Golden Knights offered this foreboding comment:
The NHL did a smart thing pairing teams both coming off bye weeks for their first few games to even things up, but these first games back can still have a randomness to them in terms of which team is most ready to and looks rested instead of rusty.
The randomness dished out a Carolina Hurricanes team that looked nowhere close to ready for more than a leisurely skate and a Vegas Golden Knights team that looked it was shot out of a cannon coming out of the break.
The first period was utterly dominated by Vegas. The Hurricanes were a step or even two or three slow to any loose pucks, were sloppy trying to move the puck and then struggled defending under duress when the first two issues resulted in Vegas puck possession dominance. The result was an early goal as Paul Stastny’s line skated circles around Ryan Dzingel and Jake Gardiner on the way to a pretty passing goal. Next, that line struck again when the Canes were caught in a bad line change. The result was a Jonathan Marchessault snipe that beat Petr Mrazek short side. Vegas continued its dominance over a sleep Canes squad with a post, a few more near misses and a couple great Mrazek saves. Had this been a fight, it would have been stopped before the end of the first period. But in hockey, you play on no matter what. That, combined with a few good Mrazek saves saw the Hurricanes exit the first period down only 2-0 despite being completely dominated and probably playing more to an 0-4 level.
But things can change over the course of a 60-minute game, and that, to some degree, is what happened in the second period. The Hurricanes were not so much great in the second period as competent, but that was a massive improvement from the first period. The second period was a bit more controlled once the Canes found their skating legs and eventually the net when Teuvo Teravainen picked up a loose puck in front of the net and finished. The goal gave the Canes life in a 2-1 game. The period would end with that score.
A back and forth third period turned negative when the Golden Knights’ Nate Schmidt scored on the rush with saw Joel Edmundson struggling to find a man to mark leaving Jaccob Slavin to try unsuccessfully to defend a disorganized jail break. At that point, the Canes seemed destined to find the losing fate that they probably deserved. But right off the next face-off Brock McGinn finished off the rush on a nice Haydn Fleury pass to pull the Hurricanes right back within a goal at 3-2. Mrazek, who was better as the game progressed, held the fort and the Hurricanes evened the score on a pretty power play tip by Sebastian Aho with only 3:39 remaining. But shortly thereafter a broken stick by Edmundson on a point shot led to a bit of a panic trying to defend a rush that mostly harmless. Aho took an ill-advised hooking penalty, and Vegas scored only a few seconds into the power to go up 4-3. The Hurricanes had little luck generating good chances from that point forward and ultimately fell by a 4-3 margin.
I am split 50/50 on whether I am more disappointed that the Hurricanes failed to show up after the break or if I am more disappointed that despite the struggle still had a point in hand with less than four minutes to go and let it get away.
Player and other notes
1) Petr Mrazek
He looked rusty early like the team in front of him. He seemed to be just fighting off pucks and leaving random rebounds everywhere because of it. And when Marchessault beat him short side for the 2-0 lead, Mrazek seemed destined for a tough night. But from that point forward, he dug in and built a game. He made a handful of grade A saves to get the Canes out of the first period down only two and also held the fort until they could scratch back into the game. His four goals against do not look pretty, but he was beaten three times on mostly undefended passing plays that led to tap ins that he had no chance on.
2) Joel Edmundson
Especially early, the entire Canes defense and team for that matter looked a step or two slow, but it was probably Edmundson who most stood out. He had a penalty and did not close one-one-one versus Marchessault on the short-sider in the first period such that he let a sniper just pick a spot, wind up and score. His broken stick on his attempted shot also played a role in Aho taking the late penalty that led to the back-breaking game-winner. While there is an element of bad luck in having a stick break, I think people mostly underestimate the fact that mostly missing and driving a stick into the ice well before the puck is an error as much as it is bad luck.
3) Sebastian Aho
His game was a mixed bag. He scored a big goal and also tallied an assist for a productive night on the score sheet. He was also robbed on another shot and had a nifty play where he squeezed between two Vegas defenders to carve a path to the net for a scoring chances. But feature just as prominently in the Vegas’ goals. He was part of the group wandering around aimlessly on the first Vegas goal. His penalty late ended up being the difference. And in total, his productivity was much more about making a couple good plays than playing solid two-way hockey all night.
4) Jordan Martinook
He was one player who stood out positively in the first period and possibly the only one. In general, I am not a fan of elevating Martinook onto the top lines, but if there was a game for it, Friday’s was it. The team in total looked sluggish especially early whereas Martinook had some jump.
5) Haydn Fleury
One of the challenges with Fleury’s game is his struggles to advance the puck from his own end. That was on display with Fleury on Friday when pretty much the whole team was struggling. But the positive for Fleury Friday was generally sound defensive play and a key offensive contribution with the assist on McGinn’s goal.
6) One to flush
By no means is Friday’s loss catastrophic. Critical is to quickly find a higher gear with another game coming up in less than 48 hours.
Next up is a Super Bowl Sunday matinee at 2pm against the Vancouver Canucks.