Carolina earned four critical points on back-to-back nights against NHL cellar dweller Columbus, winning 4-1 at home Friday and 4-3 in overtime Saturday. The Hurricanes are now at .500 (18-18-7, 43 points) and just four points out of a playoff position.
1. Sometimes you take what you can get. Such is the case for Elias Lindholm, who got two goals Friday to end a 12-game goal drought. Lindholm’s goals won't show up on a career highlight reel — one was a redirection of a Noah Hanifin shot, which proved to be the game winner; the other an empty netter — but the confidence he received from getting them manifested itself Saturday, when his power play assist to Andrej Nestrasil showcased his playmaking ability.
2. In earning wins both nights, Cam Ward improved to a combined 6-3-1 in December and January. His save percentage is back above .900 for the season (.905), while his goals-against average is 2.42. With both Eddie Lack and Ward having good runs of late, coach Bill Peters will need to decide who gets the nod in the three games this week. It will be tough for Peters: Ward has been best at home, and two of the games (Tuesday vs. Pittsburgh and Friday against Vancouver) will be at PNC Arena. Thursday's game is in St. Louis, which would seem like an ideal time for Lack with four of his five wins on the road, but Peters might want to give him another chance against his old team Saturday when the Canucks come to town. Given his recent stretch of good play and his career success against the Penguins, Ward seems the logical choice for Tuesday. Chances are that game will set the tone for the rest of the week’s decisions.
3. Andrej Nestrasil’s consistent play has earned him power play time of late, and he's taking advantage of it. The 24-year-old forward scored his second man-advantage goal of the season Saturday, converting a nice pass from Lindholm to give Carolina 1-0 lead. Nestrasil's minutes have climbed, and he set career highs in shots on goal (six) and time on ice (19:55) Saturday as he continues to carve out a bigger and bigger role. The key to Nestrasil’s success has been his play down low: he is perhaps the league's most underrated player with the puck on his stick in the corners, and skating with two similar players in Jordan Staal and Joakim Nordstrom makes that line a nightmare for the opposition. Nestrasil's numbers won't turn heads (five goals, seven assists), but surely opposing coaching staffs are looking long and hard at how to stop him and his linemates.
Number To Know
1 — Assist for Justin Faulk Saturday, ending a six-game pointless streak that was his longest since he went nine games in 2013 (Nov. 5-23). Prior to his recently ended drought, Faulk had not gone more than three games without a point this season.
Jordan Staal — Staal now has a goal and an assist in three straight, registering two points in both games. He opened the scoring Friday, giving Carolina a first-period lead and early control of the game with a power play goal. Then he fired home the game-winner in Saturday's overtime win, beating Joonas Korpisalo with a wrister on a 2-on-1. This is Staal’s best scoring spurt since March 2014, when he had points in six straight from March 7-16, scoring three goals and adding six assists. He also won 34 of 52 faceoffs (65.4 percent) in the two games, pushing him to fifth in the NHL (57.7 percent) among those with at least 250 draws taken.
Brad Malone — The NHL deemed that Malone's hit Friday on Nick Foligno did not warrant any supplemental discipline, but Malone still had to answer the bell twice against the Blue Jackets (Brandon Dubinsky Friday, then Jared Boll Saturday). The Hurricanes undoubtedly want Malone to play with an edge, and while the NHL cleared Malone of any wrongdoing after the fact, would anyone have been surprised if he had received a five minute major for taking out the opponent’s captain on a blindside hit? In a then-2-1 game, it was a risky play by Malone in the context of the game — and also a gray area hit when it comes to respecting a fellow player.