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About Last Night: Running and Gunning to Four Straight Wins

The Hurricanes are averaging 5.25 goals over the past four games. Yes, really.

Speaking in probabilities, Brock McGinn probably scored immediately after this was taken.
Jamie Kellner

The Carolina Hurricanes’ goal scorers made the jump to hyperspace on Star Wars night at PNC Arena. Seven goals and 60 minutes later, they earned a 7-4 victory over the New York Islanders, firing 45 shots on the two Isles goaltenders.

Surprisingly enough, just nine of those shots came in the three-goal third period in which the Hurricanes sealed their victory. Carolina continues to get scoring up and down the lineup, and on a night where the defense was not at it’s strongest, the depth certainly came in handy.

The “3rd” line

It’s impossible to do an analysis of last night’s scoring fiasco without a look at this line. The recent offensive powerhouse trio of Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm, and Brock McGinn was at it again, showing no mercy to the Islanders. McGinn, in particular, had himself quite an outing to say the very least—a goal and three assists, including two gorgeous cross-ice feeds to Lindholm and Brett Pesce for the tying and go-ahead goals in the second period.

Holy vision, Batman.

But again, no man is an island, and these three have worked together more beautifully than even the seemingly clairvoyant Bill Peters could have seen:

The 14 SOG alone is staggering for one line’s production, but the fact that they go even further as to put those shots to good use (one goal and multiple assists for each of the three) is even more impressive. And the cherry on top is their shot suppression versus creation.

A +23 differential in shot attempts while this line was on the ice is an important stat to remember along with their offensive domination because it shows their commitment as a group to play that 200-foot game we all hear so much about.

It seems that, for the better part of the season, one line has been highlighted for a week or two before trailing off, which is not a new concept. The difference in this season and in past years is that now another line is picking up the slack afterwards.

We saw Skinner/Rask/Stempniak set the NHL on fire in the opening of the season, followed by the Teravainen/Staal/Aho flurry, then Ryan/Skinner/Rask had their say, and now it has come to Staal/Lindholm/McGinn. We’ve seen what the Canes can do with one of these lines on fire at a time. Can you imagine what they would be like with all three of them simultaneously playing to their potential?

Of course, that’s a tall order in today’s shutdown-minded NHL. In fact, much of the reason that there has been so much parity in the offensive leaders for the Canes is that opponents are focused on whichever line has been firing most effectively, leaving the door open for another to step in their place.

Bill Peters spoke in his press conference about how important it is to have another line prepared to step up when the “hot” one becomes neutralized, which is something we haven’t seen from past Hurricanes’ teams. It seems the depth of this one could be a trademark of the season.

The Elephant(s) in the Room

Scoring seven goals is great, and in theory, it should eliminate the problems created by giving up four to the opponent. But the reality is that this was a poor defensive game for Carolina.

Perhaps that stems from the lack of penalty killing opportunities (there were no penalties called on either team in the game) which have given the back end confidence in games past, but the team was visibly outworked in front of their own net.

John Tavares scored two, and very nearly three, goals from within eight feet of Cam Ward with little more than an outstretched stick in his way. That’s not going to cut it on any player, let alone a world-class scorer like Tavares. Carolina’s defense would be wise to stick to their marks in front of the net a little tighter against a quick-attack team like Columbus.

The forwards are not off the hook either. Two of the Islanders’ goals came from point shots that had clear lanes to the net—lanes that should have been filled by a winger responsible for the defensemen. Defensive zone coverage has been somewhat of a pitfall for Carolina at times this season, and should the five-plus goal games start to dry up, it could end up costing them in more than just goal-differential.

On another note, this was the fourth straight game in which the Hurricanes gave up the first goal. Granted, they’ve won all four of said games, but even that seems to be the exception instead of the rule. The team has looked discombobulated in the first periods of the last few games, with their passes missing their mark and forecheck looking more timid than we have come to expect.

To his credit though, Peters has made the necessary adjustments to get the team in gear for the remainder of these past several games. But as much as they have struggled playing with the lead (*cough* the entire first quarter of the season), Carolina should look to get started on the right foot more often.

Culture Matters

The term “culture of winning” is a bit of a buzzword(s) in NHL discussion today. Every team wants it, but few teams have it. It’s too early to say whether or not Carolina has grown such a culture, but the signs are positive. Of course, they need to figure out how to take their strong play on the road, which has plagued them all year, but let’s look at what they have shown so far.

They gave up the first goal to a player in Tavares who is a notorious Cane-killer—which could have shot down the home team’s momentum. Instead, Peters rolled all four lines and and Carolina found their game, scoring soon after. But New York scored again at the end of the period, and again to start the second. Down 3-1 on home ice to a team that has had their number for the past few years? Carolina could have been in trouble.

But Peters ran all four lines as usual, and the Hurricanes found their way back into the game, soon passing the Islanders at breakneck speed. So now the Hurricanes are up by a few goals, what does Peters do? He rolls all four lines, as always. The lines did not get equal ice time, but he stayed consistent in his player deployment strategy, showing faith in each of the guys on his bench.

My point is this: the culture of winning is really a culture of consistency and confidence. Even when the team goes down by a goal or two, the coaches have faith in the players and the players have faith in themselves to get the job done. A team’s culture is often thought to be a tangible presence in the room—often a coach or a player. But truthfully, it is a mental entity within each player.

A team’s culture is decided by the collective group, but practiced by the individuals. The “winning” part of that culture comes when each individual buys into the idea of the collective (in this case, consistency in message from the coaches and consistency in the roles of the players, hence all four lines playing throughout the game). Carolina seems to have found a way to have each player buy into what is best for the team, and it continues to pay off for them.

The atmosphere of last night’s game is also of importance—16,000-plus saw the second-best offensive performance from Carolina this season, and that’s no coincidence. The Star Wars night promotion obviously helped drum up interest from families in the Triangle, but for the players, seeing the stands full of excited, engaged fans is an inspiration like no other.

When Raleigh shows up for the Canes, they show up for the city. If seven goals and a win don’t warrant repeat business from the families who thought it might just be a fun Saturday night outing, I’m not sure what will. Attendance will be an interesting sidebar as the Hurricanes continue to dominate at PNC Arena.

Next up, however, is a date with the Blue Jackets in Columbus.