If you’re reading this, congratulations! You made it through one of the most, if not the most, stressful opening night games the Carolina Hurricanes have ever played.
The Canes eeked out a 5-4 shootout win over the Wild on Saturday night and are on pace to finish the year undefeated. Is it sustainable? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
The prospect of an 82-0 season wasn’t the only thing that went through my head over the past week. Here are this week’s Quick Whistles, all of which pertain to the opening night fireworks at PNC Arena.
The big story from the first period on Saturday was the defense, not because it was great per usual, but because it was pretty terrible.
Bill Peters has been yearning for a Noah Hanifin-Brett Pesce combo to work, but that pairing was atrocious in the opening frame and both players were responsible for a goal apiece, though Pesce’s blemish came during a penalty kill. Thankfully, Peters noticed the problem and wasted no time going back to what we know works to start the second period.
From there on, Pesce and Jaccob Slavin were phenomenal and Hanifin started to settle in alongside Justin Faulk, though the second pairing was responsible for Eric Staal’s breakaway goal. These were the pairings that helped propel the Hurricanes to a 13-game point streak down the stretch last season and again we saw that this team is eons better when the top-four looks like it did in the final forty-five minutes.
I understand mixing things up to improve the depth and reliability of the top-four, but after one game, I see little to no reason in trying to split up Slavin and Pesce going forward.
If the story of the first period was horrid defensive breakdowns, the story of period three was Sebastian Aho and how he took total control of the game.
He dished out a pair of marvelous assists, one via a seeing-eye cross-slot pass to Noah Hanifin and the other via a nifty spin move and pass to Victor Rask.
Aho was a real game changer against the Wild and he played a massive role in the win. It’s a big sophomore season for the Finn, and if he keeps on doing what he has done since last November, he will very quickly establish himself as a premier player in the NHL. His smarts, vision, and puck control never fail to disappoint and we saw last night that he can single-handedly change a game.
Jaccob Slavin played one of his best games as a professional hockey player on Saturday, and that is no small feat.
He led all Carolina skaters with 26:52 of ice time, a game-high 19:27 of which was at even strength. There was a point in the second period where I could have sworn that he was on the ice for ten consecutive minutes, and I would’ve been totally okay if that were the case.
Slavin mercilessly spun off of Eric Staal in the Canes’ end of the ice and got the puck up ice late in the third period. Moments later, Victor Rask sent a one-time rocket past Alex Stalock.
Slavin was absolutely amazing from start to finish, and when he was put next to Pesce in the second period, he got better and better as the game went on and finished with a game-high four blocked shots. When the game went to a shootout, every person in PNC Arena knew what was going to happen.
Jaccob Slavin reminded us yet again why he is one of the best defensemen in the NHL and turning into one of the best defensemen in the history of this organization. That’s not hyperbole. What he is able to do both with and without the puck is absolutely astonishing and it influences every game he plays in.
On 99.9 The Fan’s Aftermath last night, Canes play-by-play man John Forslund stopped just short of comparing the American blueliner to Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom. The praise that Slavin is getting from local and national media alike is fully deserved. In fact, he deserves more recognition, but I’m confident that will change as the Hurricanes turn into an annual contender and Slavin starts reeling in more Norris Trophy votes.
The seven-year extension that he got over the summer was quite expensive, but for what he brings on a nightly basis, it’s a steal for the team. This is a franchise defenseman and an absolute star.
Oh, and he’s 23-years-old.
Depending on whether you watched the game or you just looked at the boxscore, Scott Darling’s Hurricanes debut may look unimpressive, but that is far from the truth.
Darling allowed four goals on 27 shots, but Carolina’s aforementioned defensive miscues in the opening frame and beyond certainly didn’t help the 6’6” goalie.
A backdoor tap-in off of a blown PK sequence, two breakaways, and an absolutely botched goalie interference call (I’ll get to that later) all led to his goals against.
Beyond those blemishes, Darling did some really good things. His play with the puck was very impressive. He anticipates things very well and he’s decisive with what he wants to do with the puck. He made a choice as to what he wanted to do and didn’t hesitate, which is something that Cam Ward has struggled with for a very long time.
He was a brick wall in the shootout, making an aggressive blocker save on Tyler Ennis, a glove stop on Mikko Koivu, and forcing Eric Staal to shoot wide en route to a perfect three-for-three showing in the glorified skills competition.
In addition to all of that, we learned after the game that he was one of the several players who had cramping issues. He skated directly off of the ice to get an IV after the shootout, according to Bill Peters, and that was the reason why he didn’t speak to the media.
While it wasn’t a perfect game for Darling, and you could definitely nitpick things like his failed poke check on Chris Stewart’s goal or maybe he could have been more aggressive on Staal’s breakaway, he battled and made big saves when the team needed it, including several instances after Canes goals where the team could’ve lost a lot of momentum had the Wild found the back of the net.
It was a good starting point for Darling and he received praise from Peters and his teammates for it.
The Hurricanes were largely able to roll all four lines against the Wild, and the fourth line picked up right where they left off in the final preseason game.
Brock McGinn, Marcus Kruger, and Joakim Nordstrom were great as they combined scored the team’s first goal of the season, held Minnesota’s top players in check, and provided a viable option for Bill Peters in a variety of situations.
It’ll be huge going forward if they can continue to provide stability.
Here are a few miscellaneous thoughts from opening night:
Janne Kuokkanen only saw 9:51 of ice time, most of which came in the first two periods, but he created offense and was only on the ice for three Minnesota shot attempts. He looked very good early on with Derek Ryan and Jeff Skinner, and he looked even better with Victor Rask and Teuvo Teravainen. That trio of Europeans dominated the corsi game as all of them finished north of an 85% shot attempt share.
Skinner, on the other hand, struggled. He tried a lot of his patented moves with the puck and with his skates and they just didn’t work. Every one-on-one situation ended in him trying to do too much and the puck was quickly taken away.
Speaking of doing too much, Carolina’s near 90-second 5-on-3 sequence at the tail-end of period one was among the worst two-man advantages I can remember watching. If you didn’t see it, you didn’t miss anything. They essentially passed the puck around the zone for a minute and a half and seemingly made the executive decision to not shoot the puck. The fans in attendance didn’t like it, and it’s difficult to blame them. It was ugly.
After some early jitters, Haydn Fleury had a really impressive NHL debut. He saw 14:23 of ice time, finished with one hit, one shot, and two blocked shots, and defended a two-on-one perfectly as he left his feet and forced a shot on net which Darling handled relatively easily. Much like Kuokkanen, Fleury looked like he belonged. His tandem with Trevor van Riemsdyk was pretty good, though TvR did miss much of the middle portion of the game after sliding awkwardly into the board.
I said I’d talk about the botched goalie interference call, and I am a man of my word.
The Wild scored with just .2 on the clock in regulation, and after a review for goalie interference, the goal somehow stood.
Before I bash the officiating here, it is only fair to point out that Derek Ryan initially shoved Matt Dumba into Scott Darling. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the rest of the play.
Ryan pushes Dumba into Darling and causes him to get out of position, but after the contact was initiated, Dumba made no attempt to get out of the goalie’s way, and in fact stayed in the crease through the remainder of the play. In addition, Ryan Suter is also on the border of the crease and served as another obstacle for Darling to pass in order to have a chance of making a save.
The only reason I can come up with as to why this wasn’t reversed is that the referees didn’t want a disallowed goal to dictate the outcome of the game, which leads into an entirely different discussing, centering around how officials tend to always swallow their whistles in the third period. Penalties in the first period are not always penalties in the third period in many instances, but that’s beside the point.
On top of interfering with the goalie, Minnesota was guilty of another penalty on the play.
Eric Staal’s stick got stuck on Marcus Kruger (left side of the gif), and Staal promptly responded by mauling Kruger and forcing him into the ice, totally taking the Swedish center out of the play and rendering him unable to defend the play in the final seconds. It’s a damn shame that Staal’s stick got stuck on Kruger, but what he did there is totally illegal.
Moral of the story, the goal shouldn’t have counted for numerous reasons and the game should’ve ended right then and there. If the Canes had lost in overtime or shootout, this would be a huge deal, but they didn’t. Instead, Carolina won and Eric Staal missed the net in the shootout. All is right in the world.
The Hurricanes got their first opening night win since 2010 on Saturday, and there were a lot of good things to come from it. There were also some bad things.
However, when it was all said and done, Carolina beat last year’s second-best team in the Western Conference and kicked off their season with a big win in front of one of the loudest crowds PNC Arena has seen in the past decade. It was hugely important that the Canes got that win, for the sake of starting the year on a positive note and showing the fans both in attendance and at home that they are for real and that they can deliver, even when things aren’t going their way. That game would have been a regulation loss in October last season.
Columbus comes to town on Tuesday and then the Hurricanes will hit the road for a four-game Western Conference road trip, starting Saturday in Winnipeg.