With a loss to show for it and moral victories counting for nothing in the midst of a 5-game losing streak, the Hurricanes actually played a pretty decent hockey game on Tuesday against the Penguins but received nothing to show for it. On Friday, the Hurricanes mounted an even better effort, and the hockey gods looked down and gave the team and the fan base the win they deserved.
Part of it is simply that after 5 straight debilitating losses, a win is a breath of fresh air that makes everything look good. But the game truly was 1 of the best that the team has played in a long time, and I am not sure you could do any better in terms of writing a script for individual players.
Recap of Hurricanes 3-0 win over the Ottawa Senators
Despite the lackluster run of losses recently, the game had the feel of a wild soccer game right from the beginning. Jordan Staal and Phil Di Giuseppe got the puck deep, worked the end boards and finished with a pretty wraparound goal right through hated Ottawa defenseman Dion Phaneuf only 1:19 into the first period. And the Hurricanes were off and running. The game felt like the ice was tilted toward the Ottawa net at a 45-degree angle for the entirety of the first period. The Hurricanes failed to score again in the period despite mounting a relentless attack and firing shot upon shot at Craig Anderson. When the dust settled on the first period, the score was only 1-0 Hurricanes but the 19-7 shot advantage more accurately told the story.
The second period saw Ottawa find their legs and open things up which led to a shootout of trading chances. Despite some wild play and near misses, the Hurricanes clung to a small 1-0 lead through most of the second period before finally breaking the game open. First, Elias Lindholm finished beautifully from a fairly tough angle on a Phil Di Giuseppe backhand pass. Then Viktor Stalberg extended the lead to 3-0 when he finished on a rebound of a heady Sebastian Aho shot.
From there, the Hurricanes would ride a strong outing from Eddie Lack, generally decent defense and a little bit of luck when needed to a 3-0 win that inexplicably had the air of a rowdy soccer game throughout.
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1) Heart, character, hunger, leadership, etc.
After playing the right way on Tuesday and not being rewarded, one had to wonder what Friday would be like. The team responded to being treated unfairly by the hockey gods on Tuesday by mounting an even better effort. The game was easily 1 of the team’s best in 2017 in terms of tenacity and also consistency.
2) Ryan Murphy’s return
Murphy looked good in his first action in about a month. He had 14:12 of ice time mostly without incident. In 1 sequence in the first period, he had 3 plays on the same shift where stepped up in the neutral zone without gambling and twice rejected pucks back before corralling it for keeps on a third attempt to move through the neutral zone on his side. He also had a decent scoring chance later when he shoveled a bouncing puck off the side of the net. All in all, Murphy gets high marks in his return to the lineup.
3) Phil Di Giuseppe
I REALLY like his game since his return to the NHL. He has quickly collected 3 assists in 3 games (all of the variety where he made a significant play to help create the scoring chance) which already betters the 3 points he had in 18 games prior to his recall. The scoring does matter, but a couple other things jump out. He finishes checks when he can. He skates hard on the forecheck and backcheck in the neutral zone somewhat reminiscent of Justin Williams who always seemed to close and take away as much as he could chasing the puck. He also has interesting potential as a cycling partner for Jordan Staal.
4) Noah Hanifin in the top 4
I have said in multiple posts over the past week or so that I would like to see Noah Hanifin get a run of games in the top 4 to see if a bigger challenge could spark his game and his development. I do not want to make too much out of 1 game, but in 1 game it seemed to work. Hanifin played his best game in awhile. He was error free as far as my memory goes and crisp with the puck on his stick. He also had a nifty pass through a seam to Jordan Staal at the front of the net on the power play for a grade A scoring chance. He was plus 2 on the night ending a run of 11 games where he was either even or negative. In total, he was minus 13 in those games. The game was a stake in the sand and something to build off of.
Eddie Lack: His game was not perfect with a couple posts, a couple shots that went through him and not in and a few rebounds here and there, but Eddie Lack fought for it all night and was rewarded with a shutout. The win was his first since October 20 and should build confidence and rhythm and give him something to build from. After a shutout, I would come right back to him on Sunday to reward him for his perfect 0 goals against and to see if just maybe he can be that ‘hot goalie’ that reels off a bunch of wins.
Sebastian Aho: Aho’s assist was another of the ‘boy does this kid get the game’ variety. With a bouncing puck on his backhand side right in front of the net, I think most players try to overhandle that puck to settle it down and then get a shot. In the meantime, the goalie gets in position and set and there is nothing left to shoot at anyway. Instead, Aho had the sense to get the puck off his stick and quickly on net low such that he had a really good chance to generate a rebound. Sure enough the puck went right off of Anderson to Stalberg who banged it home.
You Can Play/Hockey is for Everyone: Friday’s theme spans many different areas with a common theme of inclusiveness. In fitting fashion, the game featured a visit by Oak City Supporters which is a local fan group supporting North Carolina F.C. soccer. Joining forces with the best the Caniac Nation could offer in section 328 led to a rowdy, raucous and festive atmosphere that we could hear all the way over in section 320. As I said on Twitter, my older son is leaving for Section 328 if the soccer crew becomes regulars and my younger 2 sons are not yet committed but leaning.
After a tough run of hockey for the Caniac faithful, I am not sure you could ask for anything more on Friday night. The good guys played well and were rewarded for it, and an individual player checklist of to-do’s went pretty much perfectly according to script.
Here is hoping for a repeat in the home stand finale at 3pm on Sunday against the Calgary Flames.