The Carolina Hurricanes did it. They played three periods of great hockey on the road against a good team, and won. Obviously now the trick is to build on it, but take time to acknowledge the fact that everyone—from Cam Ward to Derek Ryan—was able to bear down even after L.A. scored to get within two and shut the game down from there.
This is something we hadn’t seen from the Canes in their past six road games, as they managed to give up leads late in games time and time again. But with some mental and physical fortitude, they got the job done. Between the lines, there even more important points.
Depth players lead the way
The Hurricanes received just two points from their top-six forwards (Victor Rask and Phil Di Giuseppe assists), but were wholly covered by two former Charlotte Checkers. Derek Ryan (2g), captain of the Checkers, and Brock McGinn (1g, 1a) producing two points each to lead the Canes over the Kings was not necessarily surprising, but the fact that they were the only ones producing offense certainly was.
And if you did not catch the goals last night, it’s safe to say you missed out.
That play showcases the playmaking ability of both Ryan and McGinn, and was Ryan’s second goal of the night. This is the kind of stylish passing and finish we are used to seeing from players like Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask, and on a night when they were stifled by the Kings’ defense, it was crucial to have the role-players scoring instead.
For the record, Ryan’s first goal was equally worth a watch. Ryan and McGinn may not remain as permanent fixtures in the lineup, as they could see more ice time and greater benefits in Charlotte. However, given their chemistry together and obvious playmaking touch, it does not seem out of the question to imagine a longer call up for these two as the season rolls along.
And even though the star scorers for Carolina weren’t producing last night, take a look at this stat from Michael Smith:
With the team’s offense going at the clip they have been on the road trip thus far, their confidence can only continue to build and scoring throughout the lineup can certainly become a more regular occurrence.
60 minutes from everyone
What a refreshing feeling it is to watch Carolina play a whole game without their trademark defensive breakdown. Even when Drew Doughty got the Kings on the board, the Canes team defense remained stout and refused to give an inch.
I’ve talked before about how the Hurricanes aggressive nature is what best suits them throughout the game, and I still believe that to be true. Their team identity is one that plays a suffocating style—they strictly limit their opponents’ time and space with the puck in all three zones of the ice, and in all situations (5v5, Shorthanded, etc.).
When the Hurricanes get away from that, as they did two nights ago in Anaheim when they allowed the Ducks players to hold onto the puck and move around to open passing lanes, they end up giving up multiple goals in short periods of time, which immediately shoots down the confidence of such a young team. But when they manage to keep their focus and their energy up, they can play as they did against the Kings and win against anyone.
We last saw this type of full-game effort and execution from Carolina in a road game two days before Thanksgiving, when they beat Toronto. That was over two weeks ago. But last night, they seemed to have their mojo back—they were scoring on transition plays, the defense was blocking shots and passes, and the goaltending was superb (more on that in a second). It was just one game, but it creates so much to build off of against San Jose tomorrow night.
Welcome back, clutch Cam Ward
Honestly, I thought Michael Leighton might have started tonight. It was a back-to-back scenario, and Ward gave up five (six if you want to count the shootout) goals the night before. But Peters stuck with his man, and credit the Head Coach for his insight there.
Cam Ward was nothing short of stellar last night, making crucial saves on the penalty kill and late in the game, which was an area that drastically needed improvement after the night before.
He had his quiet confidence back, which means he let the play come to him. He wasn’t reaching or diving to make saves, instead, he waited for the player to make the first move and his positioning did the rest. His rebound control was pretty solid, and he was able to re-energize the team with some impressive saves throughout the game. For example, his save on Drew Doughty at 18:52 of the second period was a game-defining moment, even if Doughty scored later in the third.
With Ward finding his footing on the road, so did the Canes. If he can keep up his steady play in San Jose, Carolina could be on the fast track to five points earned on this road trip.
Penalty Kill continues to dominate
Ben Pope (@CanesReport) posted a tweet after last night’s game that touched on a point that had occurred to me, but I did not know how to word it. He did so perfectly:
That late PK really saved the #Canes. Let them settle into something they're confident about, rather than freaking out about holding lead.— Ben Pope (@CanesReport) December 9, 2016
By now, Carolina’s impressive PK has been well-documented. And the effect it has on opponents is clear—when they can’t gain confidence on the powerplay and score goals, they get frustrated. But what about the effect on Carolina when they continue to kill so many shorthanded situations?
The Canes killed off three penalties last night, one of which was in the last five minutes of the third period. Obviously they are all aware of their prowess while playing a man down, so Ben’s point about them being more confident in these situations makes quite a bit of sense. We saw them meltdown in 5v5 play against Anaheim, but when Carolina had the opportunity to play where they seem to be most comfortable, they were successful.
Relying heavily on killing penalties is certainly not a sustainable measure of gaining confidence, but having the PK as a benefit instead of a liability is a priceless asset. Hockey is often described as a game “played between the ears,” and lends itself to the importance of confidence and momentum.
In Carolina’s world, their confidence currently stems from killing penalties, and while they may not take many penalties—they are ranked 2nd fewest PIM in the league—they can count on their killers to create a spark for the team when they are needed the most.
So after that win, it’s up to the team to follow it with more. The next game against San Jose could set the tone for the rest of the season—If they can replicate their performance from last night, they could give themselves a massive boost coming home and have plenty of positives to build on.
The name of the game now is consistency. The fans/players/coaches all know what the team is capable of, but its a matter of drawing that out of the lineup on a nightly basis. Here’s hoping they can do it again.