After many a game in which the Hurricanes lost but arguably deserved better, Thursday night against the Rangers had many elements of the opposite. Until a massive surge in the third period, the Hurricane were widely out-shot and at times outplayed. The Hurricanes took 6 minor penalties and lost the special teams battle in uncharacteristically giving up 3 power play goals against. But the Hurricanes got opportunistic scoring early even when they were not generating much offensively, and then Sebastian Aho lifted the team up late in a third period that was much better than the first 2.
Recap of Hurricanes 4-3 win over the New York Rangers
Thursday night’s game started okay but seemed to drift the wrong way almost instantly when Derek Ryan took a double minor penalty for high-sticking and then Elias Lindholm added a tripping penalty shortly thereafter to give the New York Rangers a full 2 minutes of 5-on-3 power play time. After Jaccob Slavin partially blocked a couple shots and the Hurricanes got scrambling around down 2 players, the Rangers finally capitalized from in close to go up 1-0. But a Rangers turnover in their own end found the puck on Victor Rask’s stick at the top of the circles, and he quickly put it on Jeff Skinner’s stick below the circles from where he quickly finished. Next Valentin Zykov, playing in his first NHL game, went to the front of the net, won a battle against Ranger and scored a power forward goal when Sebastian Aho got the puck to the front of the net. After a first period that was mediocre at best and the Hurricanes give up 6 minutes of overlapping power play time, they emerged from the period up 2-1. The secret recipe was opportunistic finishing and an ugly hard-working goal. Many times the Hurricanes have been on the wrong side of this type of period, so I felt no guilt whatsoever seeing our team head to the locker room up a goal.
The second period was more of the same and seemed destined to catch up with the Hurricanes. First, the Rangers scored when Ward seemed to have the puck but spit it out to the side for an easy tap in. Then Jay McClement received a pass between the circles and proceeded to immediately turn it over to Mika Zibanejad who scored his second of the period. In total in the second period, the Canes took 3 more minor penalties, were out-shot 14-4 and allowed 2 more power play goals. At the end of the second period, the Hurricanes were down 3-2, heading in the wrong direction and seemingly headed for a loss.
But the third period was a completely different hockey game. The Hurricanes stayed out of the penalty box and found some rhythm playing 5-on-5 generating both possession time, shots and a couple power plays. When Sebastian Aho ripped a shot from the center of the ice almost at the blue line through a perfect Elias Lindholm screen, the Hurricanes pulled even at 3-3. Shortly thereafter another Lindholm screen saw him find a rebound and start a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play to Staal and then Aho who sniped and finished again. A couple key Cam Ward saves and a post late were enough for the Hurricanes to hold on for a 4-3 win. The Hurricanes picked up 18 of their 30 shots in the game in the final frame and played a much strong period to pull out the win.
‘What I’m watching’ follow up
If you missed the preview and want to catch up, you can find it HERE.
1) Something, anything after Tuesday
The theme at Canes and Coffee on Thursday was fun (Forslund-isms reign) and leadership (some discussion of the captaincy in the Coffee Shop. A few players stepped it up in Thursday’s win, but by far the standout was Sebastian Aho. He picked up an assist getting the puck to the net with traffic early. He had 2 great offensive plays stepping in on the penalty kill for the first and easily could have had a shorthanded goal and assist. And when that did not pay off, he collected the game-tying and game-winning goals in the third period on the power play. If someone parachuted into the Hurricanes situation and was asked which players most looked like leaders in the past few weeks, I think the answer would be Jaccob Slavin and Sebastian Aho. This is not a knock on the current captains but rather a statement of how much these young players are rising up.
2) Valentin Zykov
He had a very good NHL debut. It took only about 1 period to understand his game. He did work on the walls and elsewhere when necessary, but when not doing that in the offensive zone, he went to the crease, battled for space and waited for the puck to show up. His goal came for 4 feet from the goal line, and he had a couple other times where he was parked at the top of the crease waiting for the puck to show up. As I noted in the preview, the challenge for Zykov will not likely be his play in either zone but rather his ability to play the 200 feet of the NHL rink at NHL speed. One telling play early in the second period saw him drive the net as the third player in a rush with Jaccob Slavin and Jordan Staal which is encouraging. Hard to say if it Zykov’s play was contagious or if it was just random, but Lindholm who should theoretically fill a similar role found himself parked in front of the goalie as part of 2 scoring plays in the third period. All in all, Zykov’s debut was a success and should definitely earn him more NHL ice time.
3) Continued progress for the young blue line
The Hurricanes were under duress for parts of the game but did a reasonable job of avoiding the kind of break downs that lead to point blank chances (at least at even strength). With the Rangers only scoring on the power play, Noah Hanifin was plus 2 on a quiet night with 19:54 of ice time.
Murphy had his ups and downs, but he did have a big rush that saw him gain speed, carry through the neutral zone and wheel all the way around the offensive zone net before feeding his partner Klas Dahlbeck for a good chance. He also had a penalty and a play where a Rangers’ forward got behind him. But biggest for me is that Murphy is at least rolling out the strengths of his game. I think that is significant for 2 reasons. First, it is the ONLY path toward him ever making it as a regular NHLer. Second, even if that does not happen in a Hurricanes uniform, at least showing off his upside could boost his trade value for a team hoping that a change of scenery helps him put it all together and realize his upside.
Scoring makes all the difference in the world: Cam Ward saw a heavy work load and generally had a decent night. But he also lost a puck he seemed to have and was beaten cleanly on the Zibanejad shot. But when you score 4, a good not perfect night from the goalie is often enough.
Sebastian Aho establishing himself as a big game player: We will likely have to wait until next season to see how he looks in the playoffs, but Aho is establishing himself as the type of player who steps up when the team really needs a win. Aho did so in early January against the Bruins when the team was sputtering and needed a win. He did so again when the Canes limped into the All-Star break, and his hat trick helped them right the ship coming out of the break in a big win against the Flyers. And facing another game that the team needed, he led the way again on Thursday.
Lindholm following the rookie: Lindholm has been playing fairly well in general, but he hit at least a recent high in terms of being a net front presence almost as if he was following the very clear lead that Valentin Zykov established in his first 3-4 shifts at the NHL level.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a home match up against Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs in Raleigh on Saturday night.