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Game Analysis: Blackhawks At Hurricanes

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The Carolina Hurricanes stifled the defending Stanley Cup champions for the second time this season, sweeping the season series from the Chicago Blackhawks with a convincing 5-0 win.

Riley Nash scored twice — doubling his goal output for the season — in helping Carolina to a dominating 5-0 win Tuesday over Chicago at PNC Arena.
Riley Nash scored twice — doubling his goal output for the season — in helping Carolina to a dominating 5-0 win Tuesday over Chicago at PNC Arena.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Riley Nash scored twice and Eddie Lack made 26 saves to lead Carolina Hurricanes to a 5-0 blanking of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Three Observations

1. Eddie Lack’s confidence continues to grow. He has won three of four, earning two shutouts in that span, and has improved to 9-9-3 on the season. Analytics writers have praised the Hurricanes most of the last two seasons, but always pointed to the team’s goaltending as the Achilles’ heel that was sinking them. Right now, Lack is playing like a legitimate No. 1 goalie, and if you combine that with dominant possession numbers, opportunistic scoring and a nightly special teams advantage, you can easily see why the Canes are climbing the standings.

2. Thanks to LeftWingLock.com’s sweet line matching tool, we know that Jordan Staal spent more than 85 percent of his even strength ice time last night facing either Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews. Even on the road Dec. 27, coach Bill Peters managed to get Staal out against either Toews or Kane more than 58 percent of the time in a 2-1 win. Toews did notch an assist in the first game, but it was on an inconsequential goal with three seconds left, and the younger Staal was not on the ice. Where does all this take us? It's time to seriously discuss Staal’s shot at the Selke Trophy. Simply put, Staal has been one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL this season. Even if the Hurricanes sputter down the stretch and fail to reach the postseason, Staal should be a finalist if he continues to play as he has the past 20 or so games. His projected offensive numbers (he's on pace for 17 goals and 43 points) would be the lowest output by a Selke winner since Kris Draper had 40 points (including 24 goals) in 2003-04, plus Boston’s Patrice Bergeron has had a stranglehold on the award of late, winning three of the last four. So winning is a longshot — but at this point he's a clear-cut finalist.

3. With goals in three straight, Joakim Nordstrom is on the hottest scoring streak of his career. That's a feat he had not accomplished as a professional — not in the Swedish Elite League from 2010 to 2013, and not in the AHL or NHL since. He has proven to be a perfect complement to Jordan Staal, both at even strength and on the first penalty kill unit, and he has been a positive possession player despite taking on the opposition’s best every night. As a pending RFA, Nordstrom will certainly earn a raise this offseason, but his modest overall numbers this year will likely keep him from having much of a case in arbitration. Like Carolina’s young defense, Nordstrom should be an amazing bargain for the Hurricanes for a couple more seasons.

Number To Know

10 — Consecutive games that Jordan Staal has won at least half of his faceoffs. In the past 10 games, Staal has won 64.2 percent of his draws (113-63), including 15 of 17 last night (88.2 percent), and he has won at least two thirds of his faceoffs in five of those outings. He ranks second in the NHL in faceoff winning percentage (among those with at least 250 taken) at 59.0 percent, trailing only Edmonton’s Matt Hendricks (60.4 percent). When was the last time Staal finished below 50 percent in the circle? It was the Jan. 4 game against the Oilers, when he won eight of 18 faceoffs — and lost seven of eight to Hendricks.

Plus

Riley Nash — This space has been a critic of Nash playing the wing, but the 26-year-old made his case with two goals in Tuesday’s rout. His two tallies doubled his goal output for the season, and he contributed 67 seconds on the penalty kill, which killed off all four Chicago power plays. Peters has created competition among Carolina’s forwards, and Nash took advantage of his chance on Tuesday.

Minus

Noah Hanifin — It's hard to find a goat in a mostly perfect outing for Carolina, but Hanifin did head to the penalty box twice in the third with his team trying to preserve Lack’s shutout. Hanifin played almost exclusively against the Blackhawks’ bottom two lines — players he needs to avoid taking penalties against.