Only two weeks ago, the Hurricanes rode 42-year old Zamboni driver David Ayers to an improbable win in Toronto.
The team’s storybook win road tour continued on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
With Ryan Dzingel sidelined with an injury, the Hurricanes called up Morgan Geekie from the AHL to make his NHL debut. With the quick turnaround from a Saturday game and the 1:30pm start on Sunday, most Canes fans probably did not learn about the move until pregame or game time.
The game proved to be a magical and historical debut for Geekie. With the Canes trailing 1-0 after Patrick Marleau shoveled a backhander past Alex Nedeljkovic off the rush, Geekie scored on his first NHL shot to tie the game at 1-1. The goal was a pretty one. First, he won the face-off. Then he deftly redirected a Jake Gardiner shot-pass into the net from out front. The Hurricanes would give up a power play goal to Evgeni Malkin late and actually be fairly lucky to exit the first period down only 2-1 after after a sloppy period saw them take four minor penalties in 20 minutes of play.
But that just set the stage for more Geekie heroics. First, he would win the face-off to collect an assist and then be the screen that led to a Jaccob Slavin goal. Then at the end of the period, he would again be the screen for a Jake Gardiner power play goal. The Hurricanes were dominant out of the gate in second period playing 5-on-5 only to have momentum sapped again by two more penalties in the front part of the second period upping the total to six in only half of a hockey game. But the penalty kill neutralized the harm, and the Hurricanes carried play by a wide margin at even strength on the way to a 3-2 lead after two periods.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead with the pressure on in another big hockey game, the Hurricanes poured it on and pulled away for a rousing 6-2 win. Justin Williams continued his scoring run but scoring two more goals by going where goals happen and having the hands to finish. Morgan Geekie continued doing his best Justin Williams impersonation doing the same to score his second of the game from in close. And the Hurricanes continued to dominate play throughout much of the period.
The win pushed the Hurricanes at least temporarily back up into a playoff spot and simultaneously pulled the Penguins who seemed exempt only a couple weeks ago closer to being stuck in the same playoff cut line dog fight.
Player and other notes
1) Morgan Geekie
His debut with two goals and an assist was far and away the story of the game. What stood out to me most about his debut was two things. First, when he had the puck on his stick, he showed no signs of being hesitant or jittery in his debut. Second, he very much thrived playing a Justin Williams type of game with a ‘when in doubt, go to the crease’ mentality consistently throughout the game. Obviously one cannot project a career based on a single game, but I do think there can be something to be said for players who seize the opportunity and immediately look like they belong in the NHL.
2) Alex Nedeljkovic
The first goal he allowed was not great when he gave up a goal on a backhand flip after maybe being a tiny bit slow to take away angle and then overpursuing to cover the near side post. When Pittsburgh beat him again through as screen to score twice in the first period, the game seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. But Nedeljkovic was stellar and shut the door from that point forward. The team in front of him did play better and post some goal support, but Nedeljkovic’s play including multiple penalty kills as the Canes went from down 2-1 to up 3-2 was a critical component too.
3) A huge night for the blue line
I have been (justifiably) critical of the blue line of late and in general this season. The group deserves credit from a strong effort on Tuesday especially with the volume of contributions offensively.
Jake Gardiner had a goal and a nifty primary assist on Geekie’s first goal.
Jaccob Slavin netted a goal.
Hayd Fleury continued a run of netting points from well-placed/well-timed wrist shots from the point into and through traffic for tip and rebound scoring chances.
The group in general played its best game in some time making a Penguins team with a good amount of fire power look pretty harmless for most of the second and third periods.
4) Justin Williams
The beauty in his game is its simplicity and common sense approach. Game in and game out, shift in and shift out, Justin Williams plays with a mentality that if he has nothing better to do, he goes to the front of the net and waits for the puck to show up. Couple that with deft ability to tip point shots and good hands to finish wrist shots in close, and he now has five goals in the past four games. After a bit of a slow start offensively trying to get up to speed, he seems to be firing on all cylinders as the team enters the stretch run.
5) Match up? Or just a good day?
One intriguing question is whether or not Sunday’s win includes an element of the Canes matching up well against the Penguins. Or was it just a good day? With the Penguins on the schedule three more times in the final 15 games, it would be absolutely wonderful if the Hurricanes just had the Penguins’ number. One can hope.
The Hurricanes are now 2-1 on a long five-game road trip. Next up is a game against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.