Twenty-three days ago on February 6 two struggling hockey teams met at PNC Arena in Raleigh. The Flyers entered the game with a four-game losing streak, and the Hurricanes entered with a two-game losing streak that featured two of the team’s worst games the previous weekend. The game was a low-scoring, grinding affair that was hard-fought on both sides. After coming close to a win on a few occasions, the Hurricanes ultimately fell to the Flyers in overtime. That game marked a turning point who used the win to launch a 10-0-1 run through the rest of February that vaulted the Flyers above the playoff cut line fray and up near the top of the Metropolitan Division standings. The loss seemed to leave the Hurricanes languishing a bit. The Hurricanes did win their next three outings but then followed that up with an 0-4-2 record in six straight losses. My game preview was appropriately titled, “Two hockey trains going in different directions meet in Philadelphia.”
Now starting another new month pitted against each other, this time the Hurricanes emerged victorious. As a team that currently faces a four-point gap from the playoff cut line, the hope is that this game can propel the Hurricanes forward into a well-time and much-needed March winning streak.
At the most basic level, the Hurricanes were a step faster and more aggressive most of the night, and that tends to the be a winning formula. The biggest thing that happens when the Hurricanes have a noticeable skating advantage is that they tend to be forced to play less defense at least under duress. And for me, that was the story of Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Flyers.
The Hurricanes pushed pace early, aggressively took away time and space in all three zones and generally won races to loose pucks. The result was an early shot advantage and even an early goal. Just as a power play was expiring, Justin Williams was rewarded for being in the right place when a Jeff Skinner shot trickled through Flyer goalie Petr Mrazek and was tapped into the net by Williams. After a bit of sloppiness defensively early, that part of the game also improved largely because the Hurricanes did not give the Flyers time and space to attack offensively.
The second period picked up right where the first period left off with the Hurricanes pushing pace and attacking. A pretty passing play that went from Teravainen to Aho and then back to Teravainen for a pretty goal put the Hurricanes up 2-0. And then Justin Williams’ second goal of the game on a deft tip shot staked the Hurricanes to a 3-0 lead. With Cam Ward mistake-free in limited work, the Hurricanes exited the second period with a 2-to-1 shot advantage (28 to 14) and a commanding 3-0 lead after two periods.
Not surprisingly, the Flyers finally pushed back in the third period. Only 1:20 into the third period, Travis Konecny beat Jaccob Slavin to the far post to receive a pass and finish. The goal boosted the Flyers who then surged, but the Hurricanes survived the push and clung to the two-goal lead until Sebastian Aho ripped a shot off the rush on an assist from Justin Williams who collected his third point of the night.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers
1) Justin Williams
After scoring only once in February, Justin Williams got off to a strong start in March with two goals. He also added an assist for good measure. The Hurricanes need offense from more sources, so Williams’ outburst was an encouraging sign.
2) The best defense is no defense
Thursday was one of a few dominant efforts in which the Hurricanes had a decided advantage. I think the result in these games is not so much that the Hurricanes defend so much better but rather that they defend so much less. In games like Thursday’s teams do not have the time and/or space to attack.
3) Jordan Staal’s return
Bigger than any evaluation of his play is simply that it was great to see him back in the lineup. He was not among the stars of the game, but his two-way play and ability to tilt the ice into the offensive zones on his shifts were a welcome component of a strong game.
4) Cam Ward
He was mistake-free which was all that was needed in a dominant Hurricanes effort.
5) Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen
I continue to think that one higher-end offensive player will make more of a difference than one might think because of a multiplier. I think Aho and Teravainen have a higher gear yet with one more pure offensive talent on their line. And then once the Hurricanes have that scoring line, everyone else (i.e. Jeff Skinner) receives less focus such that there is a domino effect scoring-wise.
6) Lee Stempniak for Joakim Nordstrom on the penalty kill
Without Joakim Nordstrom, veteran Lee Stempniak stepped onto the penalty kill and looked fine. The Hurricanes had to kill only two penalties but were successful on both with Stempniak taking Nordstrom’s turn. The sample size is small, but early returns suggest that the possibility exists to use someone else for penalty killing with little or no negative effect freeing up a roster spot for more offense.
7) Nothing has been gained but the ball is on the tee for Friday
The win was important in breaking the losing streak, and any two points is a good two points this time of year. But to play their way back into the playoff picture, the Hurricanes need to reel off groups of wins at a minimum. With a win on Friday against the New Jersey Devils, two would be a start. But with a loss on Friday, a 1-1 stretch is better than nothing but still a negative in terms of the playoff chase.
Next up is the New Jersey Devils at PNC Arena at 7:30pm on Friday.