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About Last Night: It’s Not How You Start...

Five goals in the latter two periods gave the Hurricanes the victory over visiting Columbus, but what should we take away from the win?

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight game, the Carolina Hurricanes spent a period trading goals back and forth with an opponent. And, for the second straight game, they won. New strategy?

Hopefully not, but the team’s resilience is certainly admirable, particularly when they continue to shoot themselves in their collective foot with turnovers and missed assignments.

Carolina had a bit of an easier job solving young Anton Forsberg, who was thrust into the game in somewhat of a last-second scenario, than they would have with starter Sergei Bobrovsky in the cage. But when an opportunity like facing a very green goaltender in an environment you already thrive in, you have to take advantage. Fortunately, Carolina did.

The Usual Suspects + Chemistry

The Hurricanes are not known as a particularly high-scoring team, but here we are. They scored five goals in the game (four if you don’t count the empty net) and managed to do so with the players who should likely have been priorities #1-5 for the opposition to shut down.

The line of Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner, and Derek Ryan combined for eight points, as they are prone to do when clicking. They have been quieter as of late, and even found themselves on separate lines for a length of time. But with Ty Rattie in the press box, the time came for Ryan to re-insert himself into the top line.

This trio in particular is fascinating. Rask and Skinner have a well-known scoring pedigree, but Ryan is a wild-card for fans, media, teammates, and most importantly, opponents. Though he may not be a highly-touted young star, the 30-year-old has been a proven scorer for years in European leagues and is finally quietly finding some success in the NHL.

Sure, it helps that he’s playing with two of the best forwards on the Canes roster. But more importantly than just being on the wing, Ryan has beautiful chemistry with his linemates. Look:

The finish by Skinner is world-class, as we have come to expect from him, but the plays that lead up to him finding himself all alone in the slot show just how “together” this line is. They don’t make tape to tape passes, but rather put the puck in an area because they know one another will be there.

Ryan chips the puck behind himself to Rask because he knows that he has his support in the corner. Rask then uses one hand to deflect it to the front of the net, where Skinner will inevitably be. And this all happens in an instant. How do they know where to put the puck? Well, awareness of their surroundings for one thing, but also chemistry.

Through practice and conversation, these three can feel comfortable on the ice together because they understand what each other are thinking and doing. They can move as a unit, instead of three individuals, as you can see above. Streaky though they may be sometimes, this line firing like they are means great things for the Canes.

Chances Missed and Chances Redeemed

The Hurricanes were outplayed and outchanced for a majority of the game. But with the young goalie in net for Columbus and a strong player in Matt Calvert sitting out with illness as well, crazy things can happen. Still, the Blue Jackets showed their mettle, and managed to dominate much of the play, particularly after Carolina took a 4-3 lead.

The Canes can thank Cam Ward for making some crucial saves in the third period to keep the game in their favor, but that graph shows how far on their heels they were. Much of the team had a negative Corsi +/-, and Columbus’ stars far surpassed those from Carolina in terms of attempted shots.

But again, the circumstances can create havoc. Carolina was lucky to have what was likely a nervous Forsberg in goal, and they tallied at least a couple of goals that the Jackets’ young goalie would like back (Derek Ryan’s first goal, for example). Still, they deserve credit for capitalizing on the chances they were given.

Not to mention, Brock McGinn made his presence felt both physically and on the scoresheet, and appears to be gaining confidence by the day alongside Jordan Staal and now Elias Lindholm. McGinn and Lindholm were also the only two Hurricanes on the above graph with both a positive Corsi and five-plus attempted shots. Their line with #11 could soon be a monster of a third option for opponents to contend with.

Come April, the games (like this one) that Carolina can squeeze a point or two out of may be the difference between a long season and an early tee-time.

Penalty Kill Returns to Form

If we can call slipping to second place in the NHL penalty kill percentages a fall from grace, then it’s great news that the Carolina foursomes were able to right the ship in a big way last night.

The high-octane—and top-ranked, I might add—Blue Jackets power play was held to a single shot in four opportunities as the Hurricanes hopped over the Bruins to regain the top spot in the PK rankings (88.5%).

A scoreline of 5-3 does not usually conjure up thoughts of great defense, but ironically, that is just how Carolina won. When it came down to Columbus’ best offense against Carolina’s best defense, the latter won despite the obvious shortcoming of being down a man.

Last night’s win came over the top team in the League, and if Carolina is to do so again, their shorthanded unit will need to come up big time and time again. The problem lies in the fact that the best asset to this Canes team requires them to give up their level playing field in the name of a potential confidence boost and stat bump from their stout penalty killers.

Even so, penalties do happen and it is a comforting thought to know that the Hurricanes can actually use those situations to their advantage against any team, including, as we now know, the best team.

That was not a perfect game for the Hurricanes, but they won against a very strong Blue Jackets squad that probably deserved better from that game. The matchup was exciting and fast-paced, and started to prove that the Canes deserve some attention in the incredibly stacked Metropolitan division. As Carolina continues to make noise in the playoff race, let’s look ahead.

Carolina and Columbus will meet again twice in the next 10 days. Six of the eight remaining Hurricanes games in January will be against divisional opponents. If there was ever a time to make a case for the playoffs, this is it.