Carolina fell to Pittsburgh at the PPG Paints Arena by a 3-2 regulation time score and got leapfrogged by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference standings as the Bolts defeated Canadiens in overtime.
Despite the loss, the Hurricanes played a near-perfect game on the road against the defending Stanley Cup champions. Let’s talk about last night.
Finn(s) and Stempy
The trio of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Lee Stempniak has turned into a lethal scoring line for the Hurricanes as of late, and they were dominant against the Pens on Wednesday.
Stempniak gave the Hurricanes a 2-1 second period lead following a great play at the offensive blue line by Aho and then a beautiful skill move to the front of the net by Teravainen.
On top of the goal, the three players led the way for Carolina forwards in shot attempt differential, which is especially impressive given that the Hurricanes more than doubled the Penguins in shot attempts, winning that battle by an 86 to 42 margin a five on five play. All three players eclipsed a 70% Corsi share with Stempniak topping all Carolina skaters at 73.53%.
The chemistry between Aho and Teravainen has been impressive since the beginning of the season, they always seem to know where each other are at all times and the addition of Stempniak has worked. He isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas and clear space for his two skilled linemates.
When this line is clicking, the Hurricanes have two dangerous scoring lines, a powerful shutdown line with Jordan Staal and a fourth line that, at its best, eats up ice time and grinds out some good shifts that wear down opponents. I think we saw that come together on Wednesday against a very good opponent.
Life without Justin Faulk
Losing Justin Faulk for the foreseeable future will be a challenge for a young defensive core, but they, by and large, shut down a dangerous Pittsburgh offense last night.
With a right-handed defenseman exiting the lineup, Ryan Murphy’s long absence is now over, and it didn’t take long for him to make a positive impact as he assisted on Elias Lindholm’s early first-period goal.
Murphy did show some rust. He was flat-footed at times in the neutral zone but that is something that has plagued him in the past.
All things considered, he played well for it being just his fifth NHL game of the season. He had a plus-12 shot differential and he created offense. Unfortunately, we didn't see him work on the man advantage as no penalties were called on Wednesday, which is an entirely different conversation itself.
Faulk’s 22+ minutes of ice time per night and his recent offensive resurgence will be missed. This could very well be a make or break opportunity for Murphy. He’ll get time on the powerplay and he’ll see 18-20 minutes of ice time per game if he can prove that he can handle it. This may be the last chance he gets and he has the benefit of being a right-handed shot, which plays well into Bill Peters’ preference of three righties and three lefties on the blue line.
At the End of the Day...
This was a game that the Hurricanes should have won, but they didn’t.
We’ve seen this over and over again from this club. It’s great that this team can compete with and outplay the best teams in the NHL, but they’ve been able to do that for a long period of time. It’s time to get results.
The Hurricanes are seven points out of a playoff spot and it’s easy to find seven points that this team should have gotten this year.
It’s still relatively early, but these are games that haunt you late in the year when you're looking for points that push you up in the standings. The Metropolitan Division has been absurdly good this year, which only makes games like this even harder to swallow. This is a team that has consistently played like a playoff team, but until they can win games like this, that doesn't really matter.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom when you look at the youth and talent that this team possesses. That, coupled with the help on the way from the junior hockey ranks, makes this a team that will be very good for a very long time. Now the question is when will they turn the corner.
Onto the Next One
The Hurricanes will return home on Friday night for another tough matchup, this time against the best in the West Chicago Blackhawks, led in part by Artemi Panarin who is fresh off signing a two-year, $12 million dollar extension. Carolina won both of their games against Chicago a season ago.