Coming off of a successful 4-1 road trip, the Hurricanes jumped back into action at home on Friday night against the Edmonton Oilers.
The game started with a bang. The Oilers struggled mightily to get started and sort things out defensively early, and the Hurricanes pounced on the opportunity. First, Nino Niederreiter finished a Sebastian Aho pass only 37 seconds into the game. Next the Hurricanes returned the favor defensively when Justin Faulk pinched and missed. Brett Pesce got too deep too early trying to defend a 2-on-1 and had the puck pass him twice on a pretty passing play and goal for Leon Draisaitl. But the Oilers continued to offer chances early and Lucas Wallmark finished next on a heady pass from Teuvo Teravainen. At that point, a barn burner seemed to be underway. The remainder of the first period did see more ‘iffy’ defensive play generate more scoring chances, but the goalies covered up some of the mess in front of them early. As the game settled down, the Oilers took the upper hand.
Other than McElhinney, the second period was completely forgettable from a Hurricanes standpoint. The Canes were out-shot 17-5, took two penalties and generated very little offensively.
The Hurricanes were somewhat better in the third period but still seemed to be holding on more than pulling away. But when Aho fed Niederreiter on the rush with less than four minutes remaining, the Hurricanes were on their way to a 3-1 win.
Usually my recaps are a bit longer, but I really just did not see that much noteworthy in this game. Once things settled down, the Hurricanes faded. Their pace was down a small notch, and they really did not make enough plays offensively.
Player and other notes
1) Curtis McElhinney
As he has done multiple times this season, Curtis McElhinney had the answer when the team in front of him did not. Save for being opportunistic early, the Hurricanes were not very good on Friday night. But McElhinney made a couple goals stand up with a near perfect night. He continues to be a key factor in what is good about the Hurricanes thus far this season.
2) Justin Faulk
He was in the middle of much of the first period mess. His pinch led to the 2-on-1 that turned into Draisaitl’s goal, and he had an Oiler forward blow by him in the neutral zone and storm to the net alone also in the first period. It is just my observation, but after a generally strong season at least partly because he looks a step quicker, Faulk suddenly seems to be struggling in terms of mobility in transition. He had a couple such situations in the Ottawa win and now a couple more against Edmonton. One has to wonder if perhaps he is dinged up right now and laboring a bit with a lower body injury or if perhaps he has just hit a lull physically.
3) Nino Niederreiter
His retaliation penalty after a missed boarding call was a bad one and not one a team with playoff hopes can take. But otherwise, he obviously had another great game. I continue to marvel at the perfect simplicity of his game. He generally reads what to do and when correctly, but when he has nothing better to do and his team has possession of the puck with incredibly consistency he goes to between the face-off circles and has his stick ready to receive and shoot. In addition to his two goals, he also had a nice play where he separated an Oilers defenseman from the puck behind the net and quickly put the puck on Justin Williams stick for a point blank chance.
4) Justin Williams
With Sebastian Aho as the team’s best forward and newcomer Niederreiter racking up points, Williams contributions on the first line should not be overlooked. Williams too has meshed well. His ability to win and keep pucks puts the team in the offensive zone where goals happen. And the chemistry of this line right now makes it possible to use Teravainen on another line to spread the skill and scoring.
5) The penalty kill
When the Hurricanes were being outplayed and were clinging to a 2-1 lead the penalty kill stood strong. Slavin and de Haan in particular seemed to do a tremendous job of getting into shooting and passing lanes on a perfect night.
6) Calvin de Haan
In a season where he has been good overall, he is playing some of his best hockey right now. As noted above, he was a standout on the penalty kill and just generally solid all night defensively.
7) Results matter most but the trend in terms of level of play right now is not favorable
Sitting three points out of a playoff spot entering the game now past the two-thirds mark of the season, results trump all else. So the 3-1 win is the most important thing. That said, the Hurricanes level of play has fallen off over the past few games. In three games against sub-.500 teams, the Hurricanes really have not won handily in any of them. The Canes lost to New Jersey. The team needed a rode a third period surge to a win over Ottawa in a game that was otherwise a ‘meh’ effort. And in my opinion, the Hurricanes were outplayed in Friday’s win but were saved by McElhinney.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a bigger challenge on against a Dallas Stars team that is currently in playoff position. The game is a late start at 8pm on Saturday at PNC Arena.