Welcome to About Last Night! For those returning, you know the drill; for everyone new this season, this segment will run the day after each Hurricanes game, win or lose. We will go beyond the stats and basic game interview to provide analysis, with some opinions added here and there. We hope to strike conversation with these pieces and dive a little deeper in to what happened in the game the night before. So, let’s begin.
Finding a way to win in hockey simply means what you would think. Teams scratch and claw, get to the dirty areas, and overcome adversity to claim victory. The Carolina Hurricanes have struggled for years with finding ways to win games when all hope seemed lost. Last night, that changed.
From being down 3-1 to a gut wrenching (and very questionable) last second goal from the Minnesota Wild, Carolina responded each time. Nothing was pretty and there were no highlight reel goals, yet the Canes kept finding a way. We saw a resilient team that would’ve rolled over last year and we saw a lot of new faces contribute in big ways. It’s time to talk about what happened last night.
The second C stands for Clutch
Back in July when Jaccob Slavin signed his seven-year, $37.1 million deal contract extension very few people questioned it. At least locally, everyone knows Slavin is one of the most underrated players in the NHL and may very well be the next face of the franchise.
Slavin proved last night he is worth every penny of that contract. Not only did he score the deciding goal in the shootout, but he also showed his intelligence many times by reading plays then shutting them down.
While Slavin will never be the top scorer and he will rarely make the flashy plays, he consistently plays the game better than anyone else on the ice. That’s is saying so much for a guy who is only 23! But he also finds ways to help his team win.
Many speculated Slavin was a candidate to be the captain of the Hurricanes this year and while he did not receive a letter, he is undoubtedly a leader by example. As we saw last night, the second C may not stand for Captain, but it surely stands for clutch.
If you were not one of the 18,680 people inside PNC Arena last night, you likely missed out on David Allen Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” playing over the arena sound system. And if you were there, you likely chuckled when you heard what they were doing, Darlin’.
As an ode to the Canes’ new starting goaltender, Scott Darling, the DJs at PNC decided to honor him after making a big first-period save on Joel Eriksson Ek with a subtle musical choice. While Darling certainly was no Vezina trophy contender last night, although admittedly being hung out to dry on the majority of goals, he found a way to win the game and shut down the Wild completely in the shutout.
But the biggest surprise last night was Janne Kuokkanen. The 19 year old Finn looked up to the task in his first NHL game, doing nearly everything right and never seeming out of place. Only time will tell if he will stick with the big club or not, but he had a very solid NHL debut and showed promise for the future.
Haydn Fleury, also in his NHL debut, solidified a bottom defensive pairing with fellow newcomer Trevor van Riemsdyk. Last season we saw the likes of Klas Dahlbeck, Ryan Murphy, Jakub Nakladal, and so on play in the Hurricanes bottom six. Needless to say, it was beyond bad. Fleury and TVR gave the Canes exactly what they need to see more of this year from the bottom defensive pairing.
Lastly, a return of an old friend, Justin Williams, prompted arguably the loudest ovation of any player during pregame introductions. No shortage of old #11 jersey’s floating around PNC revealed the hype behind his return. During the first intermission interview, with the Canes down 2-1, Williams told Tripp Tracy “We’re going to surprise a lot of people (this season), and that starts tonight” and boy was he right. His wicked assist on Derek Ryan’s power play goal started the comeback and Williams helped truly the team find a way.
Not all was peachy inside PNC Arena last night. For as good as the defense was last year, last night was not their best.
Brett Pesce was beaten to the net on the Wild’s first goal and then Noah Hanifin was beat pretty badly on their second goal. Not to mention, Hanifin and TVR botched a simple pass later, giving Eric Staal a partial breakaway leading to the Wild’s third goal. Obviously, things went up from there as the team mounted a comeback. Whether it was butterflies or just rust, for most of the game the defense was certainly subpar.
As for that 5 on 3...I’m going to ignore my mother’s longtime advice and open my mouth here even though I have nothing good to say (sorry mom!). One of the biggest issues under Bill Peters has been the Canes’ power play units. With the offensive talent this team has, and with the exception of Ryan’s well-worked goal, why does it struggle so much?
Rod Brind’Amour runs the PP and it has been mediocre far too often under his tenure. The players look confused or they try to be far too pretty with the puck. During the 5 on 3 for nearly 90 seconds the Hurricanes had no shots or scoring chances, and when the team needed a goal they could not provide it. Naturally Eric Staal put the Wild up 3-1 right afterwards. The power play must be fixed if this team wants to make a push this year. One goal on five attempts just isn’t good enough in a tight game.
This point is not so much focused on the team’s energy, but the crowd’s. From the moment you pulled in to the PNC Arena parking lot you could tell this game would have energy. Tailgating was everywhere. Granted, the first game of the year always draws a big crowd, but this one felt different.
We wont get in to how much the crowd ripped the officials on the Wild’s final goal. They clearly felt, like many at home, that Darling was interfered with but the officials kept quiet. The fans were totally in to it, and that’s what we need more of. If any of you still need confirmation on what happened there, you can see the NHL’s “explanation” here. (Bill Peters, unsurprisingly, disagrees.)
We all know there will likely be lighter crowds for the next month or two until college football ends. But this team can truly be something special this year and they deserve the crowd pop they got last night. Nobody will ever convince me otherwise that the noise and energy inside PNC last night didn’t will that team to victory. So let’s make that a habit this year. I preached on this multiple times last season and maybe it is just a sore spot for me, but I want to see more seats filled this year and want to make PNC Arena somewhere other teams do not want to play at. Who’s with me?
Moral of the Story
Nothing was pretty last night and everything was, pardon the pun, wild. The Hurricanes were led by unheralded leaders and got support from guys who don’t normally show up on the scorecard. The energy was flowing inside PNC Arena and it was a very special night. Sure some players did not play well but it was there first game of the year after a week off from game action.
October has been forgettable for the Hurricanes in recent memory but last night was hopefully saw the start of something special. The Canes found a way to win a game they probably shouldn’t have and we could very well look back on last night come April and say we knew something special was brewing all the way back then.
Here’s to a great season and remember, 82-0 is still possible!