In case you were unaware, last night featured the highest scoring NHL game since 2011. And the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t lose!
After 14 total goals and all four total goaltenders being used, the Canes came out on top with a final score of 8-6 over Vancouver during the “No Defense” promotion night at PNC Arena.
There were numerous highs and lows packed into that game, it’s hard to know whether to be excited for the massive comeback win or upset that Carolina gave up six somewhat soft goals on home ice. So let’s focus on the good and the bad of last night, and try to make sense of the goal circus we saw and may never see again.
If you’re going to come back from a three-goal deficit in the third period, you’re going to need someone to lead the way. Maybe that’s what Bill Peters and Ron Francis have in mind with their “four alternate captains” system, or maybe they just got lucky. Either way, the Hurricanes were dead to rights before their stars stepped up.
Carolina’s four alternates:— Cory Lavalette (@corylav) December 14, 2016
Faulk with 9 shots, 1-1-2
Skinner with 7 shots, two goals
Rask with 3 shots, 1-2-3
Staal with 4 shots, 1-1-2
We saw a throwback (to last season, at least) performance from Justin Faulk, who was far more dedicated to offense than we have seen in games past, and contributed three points by the end of the night and nine (!!!) shots for Carolina. For a guy that many have pegged as the next captain, a showing like this has been overdue.
Jordan Staal, in his first game back after missing seven contests, made his presence felt early and often. Carolina had missed having his size advantage on the forecheck and penalty kill, and he made a noticeable difference in terms of physicality. He also managed to score the game-winning goal, and fire four shots on the two Canucks goalies. Not a bad return to action for the veteran.
Victor Rask and Jeff Skinner, along with Derek Ryan, were the catalysts for the three goals in just over three minutes that Carolina scored in the third period to tie the game. This line was on fire last night, sharing eight points between each of them, and should be highly considered as a feasible combination going forward.
Skinner in particular seemed to shine last night. His two goals came on the power play, but he still worked his tail off, and then some, in order to create chances for himself. He was tenacious in his forecheck and puck retrieval, which directly led to two Canes goals, and went to the front of the net to score both of his goals—something the Hurricanes desperately need if they want to continue to produce on a regular basis.
With 53 playing as determined and confident as he did, there’s no question that the Hurricanes have a scoring forward—and scoring line—they can rely on.
Defense Gets Exposed
With the good comes the bad, and the bad showed up in full force during the second period. On several Canucks goals, the Hurricanes players were caught puck-watching and flat-footed.
Sigh. For as good as Matt Tennyson has been on the third pairing with Noah Hanifin, this is a pretty soft play. Playing defense with one hand on your own goal is not recommended, though having one defenseman on either side of the net is good positioning. The problem is, once you have the posts “covered,” you have to make sure the front of the net is covered AND go pressure the puck-carrier. Neither of those actions occurred.
At the end of that frame, Jay McClement glides into view two strides too late to stop Alex Burrows from tying the game at 2. As the center on the play, McClement needs to recognize who the most dangerous option is and cover that person. He began by covering Bo Horvat on the opposite side of the goal, but one look at Sven Baertschi’s body positioning would have told him that Horvat was not a threat.
This was just one of several plays where the Hurricanes defense as a whole paid the price for puck-watching. The Canucks scored three goals that began behind the goal line while no Canes defender was watching the other players get open in front of the net.
Luckily, Carolina won and can break down this film having not had it cost them too dearly. But they must learn to be more aware in the defensive zone or risk more six-goals-against outings.
Obviously that was a rollercoaster for fans of both teams, but it was even more so for the players. For Vancouver, it was a crushing loss during which they probably thought they were a lock to win. For Carolina, though, it could be a crucial jumping-off point of this season.
As our Kyle Morton pointed out, the last time Carolina won 8-6 was over Philadelphia in the 2005-06 season. Not that anything special happened that year, not at all. Obviously this win doesn’t guarantee a Cup in May, but it is a huge boost for the team. That win over the Flyers was a trademark win of that ‘06 team, and gave them a sense of confidence that allowed them to fearlessly aim high for the rest of the year.
Last night’s game could have a similar effect on this year’s group. On a night that their usually stout defense suddenly left their awareness and skills in the locker room, to have the offensive stars pick up the slack in such a big way speaks to the type of chemistry the team has. Whenever one player (or more) falls short, someone(s) else is there to support and figure out a solution. And even with the defensive pitfalls of last night, it was the ultimate team win.
As another parallel to the ‘06 club, remember their slogan, “Whatever It Takes.” It was posted in the locker room, on wrist bands, fan signs, etc. It’s a simple idea, but one that clearly took hold as part of the team’s culture. This year’s team has flirted with the idea of consistently putting it all on the line every night, and last night was their strongest example thus far. Without a doubt, this game can be a crucial turning point in what has been a quiet season thus far.
The Hurricanes can’t expect eight goals every night, so shoring up the defense will be top priority this week. But they have won seven straight on home ice, with three more consecutive PNC Arena outings ahead. This is a confident team, and it will be fascinating to see what they do to build on the work they put in last night.
Also, Derek Ryan figures to stick around for a while. The 29-year-old forward was dynamite with Skinner and Rask last night, earning beautiful assists with passes to set up goals for the two captains. Ryan has put up 10 points in his last 10 games with the Hurricanes, including seven in has last four. The Checkers will miss his offense, but as long as he is producing, expect #33 to be given the time he has earned with the big club.
The Hurricanes play next on Friday night against the Capitals.