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Game Analysis: Back-To-Back Vs. Panthers, At Penguins

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The Hurricanes earned two points on back-to-back nights this weekend, losing 2-0 Friday at home to Florida before knocking off the Penguins the next night in Pittsburgh, 2-1.

Cam Ward kept Carolina in both games this weekend, including Saturday in the Hurricanes’ 2-1 win in Pittsburgh.
Cam Ward kept Carolina in both games this weekend, including Saturday in the Hurricanes’ 2-1 win in Pittsburgh.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Ward allowed one goal in each game of the back-to-back set, but the Hurricanes only came away with one win. Two power play goals — by Jordan Staal and John-Michael Liles — carried Carolina to a win in Pittsburgh after being shut out at home by Florida in the night before.

Three Observations

1. Phil Di Giuseppe’s offensive potential was never in question. While he wasn't considered a can't-miss point producer, anyone who watched him at the University of Michigan or in the AHL knew he was capable of getting hot. He hasn't done that yet in the NHL — he has five points in his first eight NHL games, mostly buoyed by linemate Jeff Skinner’s recent hot streak — but he has done something not many expected of him: become a physical presence. Di Giuseppe has 28 hits in those first eight games for an average of 3.5 a night, easily besting second place Brad Malone (2.3 per game) for the top per game average on the team. While his sample size is small, those 3.5 hits a night rank in the top 15 in the NHL and make you wonder if Di Giuseppe can have the same kind of impact down the road as a player like Matt Beleskey or Chris Kunitz. Those two are among those ahead of him on the list, and also have 20-goal seasons on their resumes while making a difference with their physicality. It is something the Hurricanes have sorely missed in the top nine, and Di Giuseppe is making the most of his opportunity to find a niche.

2. There's no doubt that Justin Faulk is Carolina’s No. 1 weapon on the power play, but it's easy to see why rookie Noah Hanifin is playing alongside him on the top unit. This is becoming a broken record, but Hanifin is still scratching the surface of his potential and yet continues to sparkle in his expanded role. The same can be said of Brett Pesce, who is playing on the second unit and is growing in confidence with each game. They are the main reasons Carolina’s power play has been so effective of late.

3. Fourteen games into his NHL career and Jaccob Slavin has yet to visit the penalty box. In a combined 70 games, rookie defensemen Slavin, Hanifin (eight in 30 games) and Pesce (six in 26 games) have combined for just 14 PIMs, and it has contributed to the league-low 6:32 of shorthanded time the Hurricanes face per game. While the PK is among the league's worst, Carolina still has one more power play goal scored (20) than they've allowed (19) because the team — even the newcomers — stay out of the box.

Number To Know

16 — Rank of Carolina’s power play after two goals in Pittsburgh. The Hurricanes had no even-strength goals in the back-to-back games, but the power play converted for both the team’s goals in the win over the Penguins, and it is now converting at an 18.3 percent success rate. The penalty kill ranks 28th at 76.3 percent.

Plus

Cam Ward — Like we mentioned here, the Hurricanes goaltender job is still up for grabs. While Eddie Lack was earning wins in his recent string of starts in net, he was doing so behind Carolina’s best goal support in years. Ward kept Carolina in both games this weekend and came away with two of four points despite getting just two total goals from his offense. Ward played well, particularly in Pittsburgh, and the constantly teetering see-saw that is the Hurricanes’ No. 1 spot in net again has Ward on top — at least for the time being.

Minus

Eric Staal — Staal doesn't have a point in four straight and was beat in the corner by Jonathan Huberdeau — who found Willie Mitchell in alone front when Kris Versteeg failed to get back on him in time — on Florida’s game-winning goal Friday. He also took the penalty that led to Pittsburgh’s lone goal Saturday, and Staal won fewer than 40 percent of his faceoffs both nights.