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Game Analysis: Back To Back Vs. Devils, At Blackhawks

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The Hurricanes came out of the holiday break with wins on back-to-back nights, defeating division foe New Jersey Saturday, then traveling to Chicago the next day and knocking off the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Eddie Lack and Andrej Nestrasil celebrate Carolina's 2-1 win Sunday in Chicago.
Eddie Lack and Andrej Nestrasil celebrate Carolina's 2-1 win Sunday in Chicago.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Faulk scored in each win, getting his first two even-strength goals of the season, and both Cam Ward and Eddie Lack earned wins in Carolina’s back-to-back victories over New Jersey and at Chicago this past weekend.

Three Observations

1. Carolina has been an analytics darling all season, but those same admirers admit that the Hurricanes’ goaltending has been a mess for most of recent history. That wasn't the case Saturday and Sunday, with Cam Ward putting up a solid performance at home against the Devils, and Eddie Lack one-upping him Sunday by coming up just three seconds shy of his first shutout in a Carolina sweater. If the Canes have any hope of making noise heading up to the trade deadline, at least one goalie — or both — needs to consistently play as well as they did over the weekend.

2. The Hurricanes have found some continuity in their top nine, but the fourth line continues to be a question mark. Jay McClement — who played his 800th career NHL game Sunday — continues to be a reliable center on that line, and he hasn't missed a game since joining Carolina last season. But the wings alongside him have been spotty, with Chris Terry and Riley Nash filling the roles the last two games and being serviceable but little more. The answers might be on the roster. If Brad Malone can play like he did Dec. 3 — when he was arguably the only Hurricanes player worthy of praise in a physical effort— he can be effective. Nathan Gerbe has missed more than a month with a lower body injury, but should be back in the picture some time in January. The duo could bring the energy to the fourth line to complement McClement's efficient play. Nash playing out of position isn't a recipe for success, and Terry continues to be too much of a tweener to find an everyday spot in the lineup.

3. Speaking of lines, the trio of Jordan Staal, Joakim Nordstrom and Andrej Nestrasil continues to be a growing problem for opposing teams. Not only are all three capable of shutting down the other team's top line, but they have arguably been Carolina’s best at generating offensive chances. While neither of his linemates are particularly fleet of foot, Staal is deceptively fast and all three are sound in their positioning. Both Staal and Nestrasil are dominant down low in the offensive zone, while Nordstrom just seems to make all the right plays. That was particularly true Saturday, when Nordstrom was the best player on the ice and was rewarded with two points and named the game's first star.

Number To Know

1 — Power play opportunity for Carolina in the two games. The Hurricanes’ play with the man advantage has been a huge plus in December, but it's good to see Carolina forced to win games with even-strength goals — and follow through.

Plus

Justin Faulk — Faulk won't win the Norris Trophy unless the Hurricanes enter the playoff race, but he's definitely worthy of being in the conversation. Faulk scored both nights — his first two even-strength tallies of the season — and was a big part of neutralizing Patrick Kane and Co. Sunday in Chicago. There's not much more that can be said about Faulk, but he deserves to be talked about throughout the entire league instead of just in Hurricanes Nation.

Minus

Elias Lindholm — Lindholm continues to struggle. He has now gone six games without a point since he notched three assists Dec. 12 in Arizona. It's Lindholm’s second prolonged point slump of the season, with one stretching 13 games in October and November earlier in the campaign. The Canes simply don't have the firepower to continue to win without contributions from all their skill players, and right now Lindholm is a weak link.