Last weekend, things started well enough with a Hurricanes win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, but when pressured by a Detroit Red Wings team that came to skate, the Hurricanes had absolutely no answer on Friday. The result was a lackluster loss that was never close and the beginning of a three-game skid. Fast forward one week, and the Hurricanes won soundly on Friday night against the Vancouver Canucks and again faced the prospect of trying to follow it up a day later against a rested team and somehow find a way to win and in the process do better than treading water.
And this time around, the Hurricanes did exactly that. The game was fast-paced early and almost completely without stoppages with the puck moving rapidly in both directions. Though that was a recipe for trouble only a week earlier, this time the Hurricanes found their skating legs and were able to match pace and counter punch. Despite the pace in the first period, both teams defended reasonably well such that shot volumes grew but grade A chances not as quickly. Colorado struck first when a turnover during 4-on-4 play saw the Avalanche go quickly from defense to offense and finish when a defenseman stepped up and fired past Cam Ward. But Brock McGinn responded almost instantly with an answer goal when Elias Lindholm fed him from behind the net to right in front for a point blank chance. The goal was one of three good chances for McGinn in the first period alone. And past the goal, the Hurricanes skated well pretty much to a man which is not small feat in the second half of a back-to-back.
The second period saw the Hurricanes get into and survive a stretch of shorthanded play within the first 10 minutes of the period. Teuvo Teravainen managed six minutes of ill-advised penalties in the second period. First, he took an offensive zone forechecking tripping penalty. Then when he engaged with an Avalanche player off of a face-off he got his stick up and clipped the player for a high-sticking double minor. As often must be the case when killing penalties, Ward was the Canes best penalty killer, and the team lived to fight another day. Once the stretch of penalties ended, the game went right back to fast-paced back and forth play. McGinn continued to be in the mix off the rush, and the Hurricanes continued to play up to speed in a fast game. But no one scored which pushed the game to the third period still tied at 1-1.
With a 1-1 score and significant stakes for both teams, a lot was on the line in the third period. And once again it was Elias Lindholm feeding Brock McGinn from behind the net for the go ahead goal. When Jeff Skinner tapped in a rebound from the crease late, the Hurricanes had a bit of a cushion and a clear path to what ended as a 3-1 win.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche
1) Brock McGinn
Awhile back I ate crow and pegged Brock McGinn as a player who I was completely wrong about through about half of the season. His strong play just continues to get better. I still do not think McGinn is a pure finisher, and I still do not think his ceiling offensively is as high as some other young players on the Hurricanes. But at some point evaluations and projections must take a back seat to results. And McGinn’s results continue to be good. His 10 goals are not eye-popping, but for a player whose ice time is modest and his power play ice time negligible, his pace for about 15 goals represents solid depth scoring. When coupled with his consistent physical play and the volume of time he spends in the slot area, he looks even better. And when one considers his Justin Williams-like feel for the pulse of the game he gets even better.
Accolades aside, the Hurricanes desperately needed a win on Saturday to make the weekend successful. McGinn’s first star effort with a huge answer goal in the first and the game-winner in the third period were a big effort in a big game. He was easily the team’s best skater on a night when many players had strong games.
2) Cam Ward and the goaltending
Like Scott Darling the night before, Cam Ward was solid. The team in front of the goalies had a MUCH better weekend in terms of defensive play and compete level which helped, but both goalies were solid as well. Two games is not enough to declare a rebound in net, but at a minimum it is a nice reprieve when the team really needs it and has the potential to grow into much more.
3) Jeff Skinner
Jeff Skinner has had his share of games recently that could have been break out games offensively but has not really been rewarded on the score sheet. On Saturday, he was finally rewarded with another goal to offer some breathing room in the third period. The goal was not anything too pretty – just a garbage goal rebound tap in – but it was just reward after being a bit snake bitten. Here is hoping it sparks his next goal scoring binge right when the team needs it.
4) Elias Lindholm from behind the net
Long-term, I question whether Elias Lindholm is more useful at right wing or at center, but short-term he makes the team deeper by playing center at least part-time. Minus Marcus Kruger who just was not producing offensively, the team gains both in terms of offense and balance when Lindholm plays center. In the two weekend wins, he made significant contributions offensively with three centering pass assists.
5) Trying to climb back to the pace
With the win, the Hurricanes are now 4-2-1 in the first seven games of the 12-game stretch with 11 games at home. Before the run of home hockey started, I said that the Hurricanes ideally needed to go 9-3 to gain ground and position themselves to win a playoff spot. The struggles of much of the Metropolitan Division lately actually has the Hurricanes gaining ground with a pace less than that. With a win on Tuesday, the Hurricanes would be within a point of my aggressive target pace through two-thirds of the stretch.
Next up is the last of eight straight home games against the Los Angeles Kings at PNC Arena on Tuesday night.