After three consecutive losses, the Hurricanes entered Friday’s game desperately needing to leverage a favorable match up against a non-playoff team on home ice to get the train back on the tracks with a win. With Scott Darling in net, the game also presented the chance for him to get back on track.
And Friday night was a success on both accounts.
The game started fortuitously when an early rush saw Brett Pesce push up more aggressively than usual, receive a cross ice pass and go bar in for the fastest goal by a defenseman in Carolina Hurricanes history. The early tally relieved tension early and also staked starting goalie Scott Darling to a rare lead. Steady played followed and unlike recent games where the Hurricanes just seemed unable to finish even good scoring chances, Pesce’s goal seemed to unchain the team’s finishing ability. The first period was not overly eventful, but the Hurricanes capitalized when given the chance. Phil Di Giuseppe squeaked one home from the side of the net on an Elias Lindholm centering pass from behind the end line late in the first period. And just inside the final minute of the first period, Sebastian Aho finished a breakaway after receiving a pretty stretch pass from Jaccob Slavin. When the dust settled on the first period, the Hurricanes had run out to a 3-0 lead mostly courtesy of a burst of finishing, and Scott Darling had the chance to ease into the game with an early lead and only six shots on net for the period. Basically, the period could not have been better.
The Canucks did push back a bit when Michael Del Zotto scored through a screen on a shot that Darling never saw early in the second period. The goal briefly gave Vancouver life, and Vancouver actually out-shot the Hurricanes in the second period, but the team defense was pretty sound as was Scott Darling. The Hurricanes weathered the mini-storm for the rest of the second period and emerged with a 3-1 lead.
The third period was one of the better third periods that the Hurricanes have played defending a two-goal lead. The Hurricanes found a higher gear, tilted the ice into the offensive zone and attacked but importantly did so without taking risking or opening up the game for the Canucks. The result was a third period that saw the Hurricanes play a minimal amount of defense in mounting a 14 to 4 shots on goal advantage. When Justin Williams scored 7:25 into the third period to stretch the lead to 4-1, the Hurricanes seemed to be well on their way to a win. And in fact they were.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 lead over the Vancouver Canucks
1) A rare pair
Friday’s win featured the first time in awhile that both Scott Darling and the team in front of him played well on the same night. No doubt Darling has had his share of struggles of late, but he has also had a few games, including his most recent loss to the Detroit Red Wings, where the team in front of him did not play well either. Friday could not have played out better. The Hurricanes scored early and often to provide room for error for Darling and therefore relieve the pressure and also played a sound game that mostly gave Darling grade B type chances. And Darling was as good as he needed to be.
2) Scott Darling
As noted above, he did not face the toughest of tests, but he passed the test put before him with high marks in allowing only one goal. That is exactly what you want out of a starting goalie. Here is hoping that it becomes the first step on a path upward for Darling’s 2017-18 season.
3) Phil Di Giuseppe
His case this week is an interesting one. As a player on a two-way deal who could be demoted to the AHL at a cost savings the the team, one would have figured him to be at or near the top of a list of players who could be demoted. But for whatever reason, when the team made moves on Tuesday, veterans Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris were headed to Charlotte and Phil Di Giuseppe was still with the big club in Raleigh. Di Giuseppe has not been bad in 2017-18, but just like the rest of the fourth-liners he has produced virtually nothing (only a single assist coming into Friday’s game) offensively. I have no idea if Di Giuseppe woke up relieved, feeling pressure, just thankful or whatever else on Friday morning, but sure enough he had one decent chance to finish on Friday night and finish he did.
4) Jeff Skinner
Jeff Skinner’s game has been odd of late. He has had a handful of very strong games offensively without much for reward and then a couple in between where he just was not very good. The key for him is to keep the dial tuned up and just stick with it. He managed only a single secondary assist in Friday’s win, but I thought he had another game buzzing around the offensive zone and on the brink of a scoring break out.
Friday’s win was arguably one of the duo’s best of the season. They have faced bigger challenges defensively this season and risen to the challenge in many of those games. But on Friday, they were both air tight defensively and catalysts offensively. For a team riding a three-game losing streak, Pesce’s goal only 14 seconds into the game was a huge one. If you rewatch the replay, you can see a great example of calculated aggressiveness. With the Hurricanes three-wide and with possession of the puck, Pesce astutely pushed way up to the point where the team was almost four-wide and where he could receive and shoot from inside the top of the face-off circle. And sure enough he finished. Then with under a minute to go in the first period, Jaccob Slavin made a heady stretch pass that led directly to a back breaking goal. Right now, the Hurricanes desperately need more offensively out of their defenseman. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce provided exactly that on Friday.
6) Good start but nothing has been accomplished yet
Justin Williams summed it up after the game:
Justin Williams: "The game means nothing tonight if you don't win tomorrow. You've gotta follow up stuff and we need to string some wins together."
— Cory Lavalette (@corylav) February 10, 2018
If the Hurricanes lose to the Avalanche on Saturday night, the end result is a 1-1 record for two home games which does not cut it. The Hurricanes were flat and played absolutely horribly in the second half of their last back-to-back. Somehow, some way the Hurricanes need to find a higher gear and a win tomorrow night.
The puck drops at 8:07pm at PNC Arena after a big afternoon basketball game between UNC and NC State.