With a Washington Capital team readying for the playoffs and attempting to climb above 100 points playing a Carolina Hurricanes team that entered with 79 points and staring at early-booked tee times for the second week of April, Friday’s match up figured to be tough sledding for the Hurricanes. But the Capitals looked more like a team resting before the start of the playoffs than a team preparing for them, and the Hurricanes pounced with a strong effort and a 4-1 win.
The Capitals entered with a 9-1 mark in their past 10 games and a seven-game winning streak that dated back to February 20, so despite its lack of significance at this point in the season, it was an impressive one.
The game started maybe as it was expected to go throughout with Washington scoring first on a shot from a ways out by Michal Kempny. But the Hurricanes responded quickly when Derek Ryan scored on a second rebound after Jaccob Slavin galloped the length of the rink for a great individual effort and put the puck on net. Joakim Nordstrom had the first rebound try, and Ryan finished on the third try that featured offense generation from the back end and two players going hard to the net. In a game that started evenly, the Hurricanes built upward while the Capitals continued to look lackluster. Another great individual effort from the blue line put the Hurricanes up 2-1 about midway through the first period. This time, it was Justin Faulk deftly walking around a defender up top with a toe drag and then labeling a shot past goalie Braden Holtby. With some help from Scott Darling, the Hurricanes would exit the first period with a 2-1 lead.
The Hurricanes dominated play overall in the second period but also had a decent volume of the intermittent break downs that have plagued the team of late. During the first two periods, Scott Darling’s saves included two breakaways, a player lost in front of him and a few other saves that required sharp anticipation to be in the right place early enough. Despite peppering Holtby with 17 shots on net in the second period, the Hurricanes failed to score. But by virtue of a strong period by Darling, the Hurricanes still led 2-1 entering the third period.
The Hurricanes were a bit tighter defensively in the third period and clung to their 2-1 lead through most of the period until Sebastian Aho notched his 28th goal on a play that saw him and line mates Teuvo Teravainen and Valentin Zykov carve a path straight up the middle of the ice toward the net. Darling continued to hold the fort on a solid night, and Brock McGinn added an empty-netter late to push the final to 4-1.
The game was an impressive win for the Hurricanes. The Canes were the better team in a match up against a team that has generally been better than whoever it was playing of late.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals
1) Scott Darling
His game in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss was what I would term an ‘almost.’ He allowed four goals and lost, but I think he was noticeably sharper for the most part. His rebound control left something to be desired, but I thought his strength as a ‘first shot goalie’ did show through on Tuesday. And though his rebound control could have been better, Darling’s four goals against were not bad on a night when the Hurricanes were widely outplayed by a desperate Devils team. So Friday represented an opportunity to try to pull the positives from a mixed bag and build on them. Darling did exactly that. He faced only 21 shots, but the Hurricanes offered up enough intermittent break downs, that the ingredients were there for three or four goals against if Darling was not sharp. What stands out most about Darling’s play on Friday and to some degree Tuesday was his level of anticipation. He had multiple saves that were made possible by the fact that he read the play early and was in position to make a tough save look relatively easy. He also seemed to read a couple breakaway moves early such that he quickly closed up an opening to score. All in all, Friday was a strong outing for Darling and qualitatively better than the modest number of saves would indicate.
2) Offense from the blue line
Justin Faulk’s individual move and snipe obviously represented scoring directly attributable to the blue line. Derek Ryan’s goal that featured Jaccob Slavin carrying the puck most of 200 feet before getting it on net for rebound chances was another big play by the blue line. For the young blue line to take the next step and emerge as a strength that drives wins, more contributions offensively must be a key component, so Friday’s game was encouraging in that regard.
3) Jaccob Slavin
In addition to his assist on the Ryan goal, Slavin had a strong night defensively. The Capitals offense looked relatively toothless on Friday, but a quick glance at the Caps recent results show that this is not the norm and should be credited to the Hurricanes defense with Slavin leading the way defensively.
4) Phil Di Giuseppe
He continues his run looking like a completely different player. It is hard to say if he is just hot, pressure to win a next contract is boosting him or perhaps chemistry with Elias Lindholm at center is propelling him right now, but his seven points in five games is astounding after only scoring four points in 40 previous games in 2017-18.
5) 30 is in range!
With his 28th goal on Friday night, Sebastian Aho is now within two goals of 30. A big game on Saturday with him being featured (sorry for messing up the date in the preview for this game) could see him hit 30 in front of a home crowd and on a perfect night.
6) Derek Ryan
Derek Ryan, who has been much-maligned of late, had a strong game offensively with his rebound finish early and an assist on Faulk’s goal.
Next up is a quick turnaround and the second to last home game of the season on Saturday night against the New York Rangers.