A 19 year old rookie with a hat trick? Check. A big and loud crowd on a Tuesday night inside PNC Arena? Check. Leadership scoring and sparking the team? Check. Solid goaltending and suppressive defense? Check.
This is, needless to say, unfamiliar territory for the Carolina Hurricanes over the past two weeks.
Coming out of the All-Star break on a five-game losing streak, most all of us knew one of two things would happen last night against the Philadelphia Flyers: either the team would come out flat and likely put the nail in a potential playoff conversation’s coffin, or the Hurricanes of more than two weeks ago would come out firing and with fury. Thankfully the latter occurred and we all have tons to smile and feel great about.
From a hat trick to a much needed four-point swing, the Hurricanes did everything they had to last night to get the win. It shall be fun writing about something so positive for a change, so let’s get to it.
Welcome to the NHL, rookie
Sebastian Aho… write that name down, screen shot it, get it tattooed, do something because this kid is some kind of good. The Hurricanes have not seen a rookie this electric since Jeff Skinner. Aho got his first career hat trick last night, the first Hurricanes rookie to do so since Erik Cole did it way back in 2001, and then added another assist for fun. (For better context, Ron Francis was still playing and the captain of the Hurricanes at the time, while Aho was all of four years old.)
Aho was dominant last night and showed just how smart he is on each goal. His vision on the ice and his hockey IQ set him apart from many other rookies. He seems to always know what to do with the puck. For instance, on his second goal, Aho passed the puck to Elias Lindholm so he could slide across the ice and set up for a one timer on a return pass. How many 19 year olds playing against much more experienced players have the smarts to do that? Very few.
The future is extremely bright for Aho as he will only continue to get better and stronger going forward. He has the making to be a major contributor for years to come and it’s becoming more and more apparent why he did so well last year representing his country. Here’s to some more hat tricks and many more fantastic years of Sebastian Aho.
One of the most noticeable things from last night aside from Aho’s play was the leadership we saw from the Hurricanes. Both Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner scored, while Jordan Staal set up Aho’s first goal. While Skinner was not wearing a letter last night you can easily tell he was leading by example all night. Going into the All Star break the team had fallen apart. Nothing Bill Peters was doing was fixing it, and many games it looked like the team simply gave up.
This young team needs leadership both on and off the ice. Staal provides a large presence and a Stanley Cup resume so he naturally draws attention. Faulk has played in the Olympics and has represented the team at the All Star game the past three seasons. Skinner has truly come into his own over the past year and stepped up to being possibly the most vocal leader on the team. Last night we saw all three step up and lead by example, which is what the Canes need. Not to be left out, Victor Rask has a quiet night on the scoresheet but his work ethic on ice never goes unnoticed.
None of these guys will ever be Rod Brind’Amour from a leadership standpoint; to be fair, most NHL captains will never reach that level. However, they have to keep finding ways to lead this team if they want to make a run into the playoffs. Skinner has answered the call most of the season but it is very encouraging to see it from Staal and Faulk, who at times seem to run hot and cold.
The special teams were by no means fantastic last night. The Canes gave up a bad power play goal that broke up Cam Ward’s shutout during the third period. At times their power play did not look good at all either.
However, when needed the special teams answered. Sebastian Aho scored a 5 on 4 PPG and Justin Faulk scored on a 5 on 3 with one of his patented blasts from the point. All the while the penalty kill stopped the Flyers 4 of 5 times and practically smothered Philly for most of those.
The penalty kill still sits atop the league at 87.8% but has given up some bad goals in January. The power play has struggled mightily since early December and it’s no secret that Peters and Brind’Amour are not happy with the unit. Seeing positive signs from the power play are encouraging and needed. Aho and Faulk’s goals both were good plays, and they helped put the game away. The Canes need more of this going forward in the post-All Star Game phase of the season as the team pushes towards April.
Home Ice Advantage
13,577 was the announced attendance for last night’s game. To many markets that is laughable, but for the Hurricanes it’s progress. The team offered a $27 promotion in honor of Justin Faulk’s All Star appearance and it worked. The team has been averaging fewer than 10,000 fans for weeknight games this season and with another recent relocation rumor swirling during the All Star festivities, the Hurricanes needed the Caniacs to show up. If we can get 13,500 people on a Tuesday night it’s reasonable to think we can get near sellouts on Friday and Saturday nights - and there are only two weeks left on the schedule where the Canes don’t have either a Friday or Saturday night game at home.
The players get pumped and motivated from hearing a loud crowd like last night. Attendance also helps the franchise all around, financially and mentally. As this team continues to grow, the fans will continue to come back. For anyone who was there or heard it on TV, there was a Sebastian Aho chant during his post-game interview with Mike Maniscalco. That’s something we haven’t heard since maybe Rod Brind’Amour’s jersey retirement night? Far too long ago.
On a personal note, I have written about attendance many times this season and it’s a sore spot for me and many others. We all want to see the seats inside PNC Arena filled with crazy Caniacs, not Penguins or Rangers fans. No more opposing teams chants in OUR building. No more seas of blue and yellow. No more dead games without any energy! Let’s get out there and make PNC what it used to be. Last night was a great start for sure.
Moral of the Story
The Hurricanes knew this game meant sink or swim. Coming off the worst stretch all season, facing the team everyone is chasing, the Canes got it done. In the process of getting the win, we got to see how bright the future is for this team with Sebastian Aho. We also were treated to a strong showing of leadership from the core of the franchise. All of this combined with a very good crowd made last night one of the most memorable nights of the season so far. Hopefully we still have a lot more of these memorable nights to come as we continue on in the second half of the season.