For everyone who has put down Cam Ward over the past decade look no further than last night for evidence as to why the former Conn Smythe winner is still playing in the NHL. He is the longest tenured goaltender remaining with his original team currently in hockey’s highest level and so far, he is proving himself as a valuable backup.
Along with Ward, Jordan Staal also stepped up in a huge way to help the Canes bring home two crucial points. For as good as the Columbus Blue Jackets were last season, the Hurricanes have played punch for punch with them so far this year and currently lead the series with 3 out of 4 points. Last night was very tough test for this young Hurricanes squad, and the ‘old guys’ if you will, came through.
The Ghost of Staal’s Past
Stop me if you have heard this before: “Staal scores twice to lead the Hurricanes to victory.” This was a very common phrase around Raleigh for quite a long time, only we were talking about a different Staal. (No, not you Jared, with your two games out of pity.) For years Eric Staal put on showcases in a Hurricanes sweater and once Jim Rutherford pulled the controversial deal off to acquire Jordan Staal many expected to hear stories of Jordan lighting up the City of Oaks. The latter never really happened though.
Last night, though, was a prime example of how when he wants to, Jordan can channel his inner-Eric and dominate a game. We have seen it from time to time (think about the Edmonton game last month), but it always leaves us with a feeling of where is that game every night? No doubt bringing in Marcus Kruger has taken some defensive burden off of Jordan, but he hasn’t been tearing up the scoresheet the entire season.
Last night he was as dominant as ever. Believe it or not, it was his first ever multi-goal game as a Hurricane.
On his first goal, most of the credit has to go to Noah Hanifin for his excellent slap-pass to find a wide-open Jordan. However, you must give Jordan credit for the wherewithal to find an open area and punch in his opportunity.
"If you're golfing, it's a gimme. What a pass from @NHanifin to Jordan Staal!"— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) November 11, 2017
-@JohnForslund#CARvsCBJ #Redvolution pic.twitter.com/CGAJ7mBzYR
On his second goal, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen outworked the defense to find Jordan in the slot, then Jordan delivered some high cheese showcasing more of the offensive talent.
Jordan Staal is on a tear. #CARvsCBJ pic.twitter.com/xQaxV6v24w— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) November 11, 2017
The best part about this goal was the fact that it caused the first stoppage since Cam Ward made his marvelous breakaway save on Cam Atkinson (more on that below). Timing is everything and Jordan’s goal here was perfect timing.
For the rest of the game, Jordan could be found forechecking hard and giving Columbus fits. All of this was great to see out of the Capt—excuse me, Co-Captain—of the Hurricanes.
But the team needs to see much more of this going forward. Nobody is asking Jordan to score 40 goals but if he could get to 25 and 60 points this year it would go a very long way for the Canes’ chances at the playoffs.
Haters Gonna Hate
Let the flak begin and excuses rain down, but Cam Ward outdueled a Vezina winner last night. Ward was as sharp as ever and stopped multiple grade A chances in route to his second victory this season. Three of Ward’s four starts this year have been very good from his end and he deserves some credit for that. For the first time since his rookie season, Ward entered this season knowing he was going to be the backup and nobody was really sure how he would handle that.
It seems safe to say he has handled it very well so far. From a flashy glove save on Artmei Panarin to a excellent pad save on a Cam Atkinson breakaway, Ward came through big time.
Cam Ward came through big time. #CARvsCBJ #Redvolution pic.twitter.com/xxMeYoo1N7— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) November 11, 2017
Cam looks better so far this year than he has in a long time and it is very promising to see. Nobody wants to see Scott Darling go down with an injury, but if something did happen Ward seems quite capable of taking over the net if needed. If all goes to plan, and he stays as the backup all year, maintaining this level of play will keep Darling on his toes and also steal some wins for a Hurricanes team that has struggled to find a quality backup for over a decade.
Did anyone have Brock McGinn, Derek Ryan, or Josh Jooris all scoring twice before Sebastian Aho scores once? I sure didn’t. While it is great to see all three of those guys contributing to the scoresheet, poor Aho has to be beating himself up by now. The only other regular forward to not score this season is Marcus Kruger. While it took Aho 14 games to score his first one last year, many had hoped he would have 5-8 goals by now and would form a dynamic one-two punch with Jeff Skinner. So far it hasn’t happened. That’s the bad news.
The good news is Aho has singlehandedly created just as many scoring opportunities as Skinner, if not more, so far this year. There is no better example of that than on Jordan Staal’s second goal last night. You get the feeling that once SeaBass (or Fishy as they are apparently calling him this year) scores once, he will blow up and be everything the Hurricanes need him to be.
On the flip side, the combination of McGinn, Jooris, and Kruger have formed a formidable shutdown fourth line who can go up against the league’s best. If Lee Stempniak is healthy and returns soon, it is likely either Jooris or McGinn comes out but both have earned their keep for now. (Side note: Stempniak left his game with Charlotte after just two shifts and did not return, so we will keep a close eye on that one.)
Along with McGinn’s empty net goal last night, the secondary scoring is starting to come alive for the Hurricanes. If the likes of Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask, Teravainen, and Aho can start pocketing some more pucks, the Hurricanes could easily turn in to a dangerous team.
It seems safe to say winning cures all. A week ago there were plenty of people calling for Bill Peters’ head and Ron Francis needed to send a shock wave to the Hurricanes. While the latter may still be true, a win tonight against Chicago and all of a sudden the Hurricanes could be as close as one point back of a wild card spot with a game in hand. So for now, everyone can say what they want about Bill Peters and how he is doing as a coach, but at least the team is now winning.
Oh and by the way, Brett has a lot riding on tonight’s game!
If the Hurricanes beat the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks in consecutive days, I won't say anything bad about Bill Peters for 30 days.— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) November 10, 2017
Moral of the Story
Huge divisional win! That essentially sums it up. The Hurricanes desperately needed to win and showcase a good effort against both Columbus last night and Chicago tonight. They are on the cusp of falling too far behind heading toward Thanksgiving but a three or four game win streak would do wonders for this team.
Having your goalie out-Vezina a Vezina winner and seeing a Staal light the lamp multiple times is nothing new for the Hurricanes, but it hasn’t happened in recent memory. Everything from last night was positive and it is very important that the Hurricanes take that momentum and come out flying against Chicago tonight as they look to push their winning streak to three.