Earlier this week, I penned an article saying that the Canes would need to find a higher gear mostly meaning more sound play if they were to push up into the playoffs again.
Then in both my game recap from Thursday and also my game preview for Saturday, I suggested that Thursday’s fun win was not all it was cracked up to be because of continued issues with quality of play.
And in the process, I led perfectly into the messy game that the Hurricanes played on Saturday and lost for 40 or more minutes.
But then the 2019-20 Carolina rose up defiantly and stormed back for a wild win. The game was exactly the opposite of what I continue to think the team ultimately needs to do to finish this season successfully. And it was an extreme version of the seemingly imperfect model for the 2019-20 team that has many times out-run or out-gunned any number of mistakes on the way to a win.
I guess at some point, I need to at least consider the possibility that maybe this team is just completely different than the 2018-19 team but with a chance to be successful nonetheless.
I am spent and do not have it in me to write a detailed recap, but let me try a few bullet points…
Vegas was the better team early and pretty much throughout the first two periods. Breakdowns and errors again cost the Canes. Aho missed covered and his man scored from between the circles. Slavin failed to clear a puck when he got his stick whacked and then was soft defending in front of the net such that his man was unhindered to tip a point shot for a goal. And Pesce got caught up leading to a 2-on-1 the other way that Gardiner did nothing to defend. Even after the Hurricanes took an improbable lead, Reimer got caught wandering a bit and in the process gave one way.
But oh the resiliency…
Aho continued his scoring ways potting another ‘just go to the right place and wait for the puck to show up goal and the top line added two more goals to its hot streak. Haula made the most of his return with a goal and an assist. More than any game since being acquired Gardiner was the offensive difference-maker he was acquired to be piloting the comeback by making plays to generate offense and picking up three assists for his work.
And ‘wow!’ the extra hockey
NHL overtimes are always excited, but as I said on Twitter, I really thought Saturday’s was at another level. Surprisingly, the Canes spending the first minute on the penalty kill was somewhat calm. But the second half of the overtime unleashed a massive volume of hockey goodness. Svechnikov and Pesce both clanged iron off the rush just missing game-winners, and Reimer made a crazy desperation save late to get the game to the shootout. All of this of course occurred in the fun back and forth fire wagon hockey that overtime usually is.
Then in the shootout, Svechnikov actually had the game-winner only to be overshadowed by Williams adding to his growing shootout legend with his third tally in three tries in 2019-20 to officially end it.
I could nitpick this game for sloppiness and issues just like the last one but will instead just leave it to stand on its own as a crazy ‘just find a way’ win.
Next up is the finale for the four-game road trip in Dallas on Saturday.
I am wrestling with the same issues that you are Matt – is this a repeatable formula for success? I also have mixed feelings.
On the one hand, a necessary part of a magical season is “find a way to win”, or perhaps more aggressively, stealing some games that you didn’t deserve to win. This one was on that spectrum somewhere.
A fun and magical win after 40 minutes of mostly struggling.
On the other hand, the defensive breakdowns by veterans who should know better can be baffling. Aho giving up inside position to the point man, etc.
The occasional oops from a defender jumping into a play on the offensive end is simply part of the statistical nature of being aggressive. It works out more often than not, but there is a price. That’s ok and part of the design.
The defensive lapses in the D zone are a different sort of oops, though. At a minimum it is lack of focus and it borders on lack of effort. Time for a “come to Jesus” meeting? All guys have to be “all in” on the system to deliver them to the promised land of hockey.
The biggest positive was Jake Gardiner’s offensive play. Whether he finally has a “green light” from the coaches to use the middle of the ice in transition, or is just feeling more comfortable, his 3 assist night is a statement game. The canes are a much more dangerous team offensively with the recognition that opponents are cheating towards the boards and leaving gaps through the middle. The exploitation of opportunities up the middle was beautiful.
It feels different with Willy in the line up. He didn’t have a great game statistically (-3), but the canes may have their “Willy Magic” back. It is starting to have that magical feel.
Will be interesting to see if Williams has a higher gear yet in terms of mobility. It’s not hard to see he is still paying a tax for missing much of the season. Right now, he is struggling mightily in high-paced games against teams that transition quickly. He has enough wily veteran in him to fill some roles regardless, but his ability to fill a regular shift type of role is limited. He is still only a few weeks deep in his 2019-20 season, so hopefully he is still just ramping up.
Before you get too excited about Gardiner go watch the Knight’s game tying score. Gardiner just goes for a skate while Eakin executes the wrap around. I don’t care how many assists he has, he cannot be counted on in a tight game. Canes look like they are trying to follow the Leafs model. It doesn’t work.
The original mess was not his fault, but Gardiner also made a 2-on-1 basically play like a 2-on-1 when he went mite level and just kept chasing the puck instead of at least taking away a passing lane.
But I think the book on Gardiner upon arrival was that he was a very good offensive defenseman who was not as strong defensively. He has struggled defensively, but my big question has always been if the offensive part of his game was a mirage created by the skilled Leafs forwards. We are at least seeing his offensive upside now. It’s a start.
First time this years I managed to watch a 10PM game. I was this close to going to sleep after the second, but glad I stayed up for the fireworks (and the W).
Kudos to Fleury for potting another one. He is establishing himself as a pretty reliable third paring guy at least.
I wonder if Jake Bean would’ve done any worse than Gardner if given the same amount of games and management/coach support, still glad to see some offensive flare from the guy, hope it continues.
JW has not been playing well, but man he is clutch. Jordan Staal continues his less than stellar play offensively, but he can do some damage on d. Still from a second line center you need more scoring.
Reimer definitely did not have an elite game, but he got it done and made the big saves at the right times, and got the W in the shootout (something Cam Ward did at most a couple of times in his whole career).
Nick Roy played pretty well on Vegas’s 4th line, good to see him finding a fit. I am no longer sure the Canes had a good fit for him (they would if they had traded away Jordan Staal but there’s a lot of promising bottom 6 centers in the pipeline, Geekie just broke the all time point streak record down in Charlotte).
I liked the ability to outgun the mistakes, we have not seen that in decades, I liked the skill on display (this is one of the youngest forward cores in the NHL), but the defensive breakdown and lack of attention to detail are too much for the Canes, they have to clean those up to some degree or there will not be any 2020 playoff games at PNC arena.
Just look at the Leafs, they’re fighting for their playoff lives, even with 3 of the biggest forward stars in the NHL, you can’t win it all with forward skills alone, you need a whole team, top D, top goaltending and a lot of luck with injuries.