On Friday night the Carolina Hurricanes toted a 1-7-1 record against Metropolitan Division teams below them in the standings into a home match up against the New Jersey Devils.
Sitting four points out of the last playoff spot but with two games in hand, the time was getting late to correct this Achilles’ heel. And at least on this night the Hurricanes did exactly that with a 5-2 win.
The game started ominously with the Devils dominating play early, and the Canes taking an early penalty (Jordan Staal). The start was eerily reminiscent of the poor starts in each of the four games on the recent road trip. But the Hurricanes managed to weather the storm early and actually scored first when Nino Niederreiter flipped a fairly harmless looking shot into traffic. A screened Louis Domingue could not find the shot, but the twine at the back of the net did giving the Hurricanes an undeserved 1-0 lead. The play featured another goal against where the forwards did not hold up their end of the bargain defensively. Jaccob Slavin and Trevor van Riemsdyk were back in decent position to defend a 3-on-2 rush, but help never arrived such that a nifty passing play led to a tap in goal. But following a similar theme as the first goal, a Brett Pesce shot into traffic found Warren Foegele who finished through the mess of bodies in front. The Hurricanes exited the first period with a 2-1 lead by virtue of doing a great job of creating chaos at the top of the crease but in general losing the first period otherwise.
But after spending too much of the first period hemmed in their own end fending off attacks, the Hurricanes found a higher gear in the second period. The Hurricanes out-shot the Devils by a 14 to 8 margin and increased their lead when Andrei Svechnikov finished a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play from Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen with a tap in goal. Unlike the first period, the Hurricanes were the better team.
The third period started with Martin Necas credited wit a goal that it looked like the Devils put into their own net. The goal was another that resulted from traffic and chaos at the top of the crease. From that point forward, New Jersey pushed back, but the third period was largely the Petr Mrazek show. In addition, to a crazy set of three consecutive sprawling saves, Mrazek held the fort a couple other times on point blank chances. But when Joel Edmundson scored on a breakaway coming out of the penalty box, the game was in hand at 5-1. The Hurricanes took a couple penalties late and gave up another goal but came away with a much-needed 5-2 win.
Player and other notes
1) The top line
The trio had only the one goal by Svechnikov on the score sheet but generated good chances all night. Svechnikov was the primary beneficiary with a few pretty good scoring chances. The line continues to roll.
2) Pucks and bodies to the net
What stood out to me about this game more than anything else was the Canes concerted effort to get traffic to the top of the crease and then get the puck there. Niederreiter’s goal was a harmless shot except for the screen. Foegele’s goal saw a Pesce shot not get through to the net but find Foegele who was battling in front. Necas’ goal saw him and Niederreiter battling at the top of the crease. Hopefully this was a concerted effort and carries forward to the next game.
3) Petr Mrazek
He was very good. He held the fort early when the Canes were being outplayed with flawless goaltending. And he made saves late to keep things from getting too interesting when the Devils had the upper hand again late in the third period.
4) Brett Pesce
He had an especially strong night and picked up a couple assists in addition to his yeoman defensive work. Giving credit where it is due, Jake Gardiner also had an uneventful night in a good way playing alongside Pesce.
But my favorite Pesce play was actually his penalty late in the third period. If anyone finds video of the full play, please post it in the comments.
As I described it on Twitter:
My version of what he said when Staal arrived at the penalty box a minute later was Pesce saying, "Come on Jordo! You gotta do better and get your money's worth!" https://t.co/bkcZXX9poV
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) February 15, 2020
5) Nino Niederreiter
Niederreiter was a leader battling for position around the crease on a night when many Canes did it. He also managed to get under the skin of a couple Devils players which usually means you are doing something right.
6) Haydn Fleury
His strong night was tainted only a tiny bit when he got caught watching the puck instead of identifying passing lanes on the second New Jersey goal. But in total he had a strong night with 18:20 of ice time.
7) It takes two
Friday’s win was a good one. The Canes beat a team that they should beat and did it with some breathing room at the end. But with the playoff chase so heated in the Eastern Conference, it takes a win on Sunday to make Friday’s win count.
Next up is a 4pm game against a Connor McDavid-less Oilers team on Sunday at 4pm at PNC Arena.