The Carolina Hurricanes knew that their string of five games in between the all-star break and their mid-February bye week would be important, and so far, they’ve gotten the results they’ve needed.
Tuesday’s 5-1 route of the Philadelphia Flyers was followed up with a gutsy 2-1 win over the league’s leading scorer Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.
The past two outing have been a return to form for the Hurricanes as they’ve strayed away from high-scoring affairs with lackluster team defense and returned to their defense-first style of play. As a result, Carolina has outscored their opponents 7-2 this week.
We saw the Hurricanes shut down some true world-class talent and convert in key situations against their 2006 Stanley Cup Final foe. Let’s talk about last night.
Winning the Special Teams Battle
The difference on Friday night was Carolina’s special teams dominance as the home team went a perfect four for four in special teams situations, scoring on their lone powerplay opportunity and killing off all three Edmonton man advantages.
Carolina’s powerplay opportunity was nothing short of the best man advantage sequence they’ve executed in months.
The unit of Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm, Teuvo Teravainen and Justin Faulk moved the puck with decisiveness and strength and held the puck in Edmonton’s end of the ice for all of their 1:34 of powerplay time prior to Aho’s one-time bomb from the right circle off of a marvelous cross-ice pass from Justin Faulk, who continues to play some of his best hockey of the season.
Carolina had seven shot attempts in their abbreviated powerplay.
Confidence is quickly building for the Hurricanes’ top unit on the powerplay. Over the last two games, Carolina has gone three for eight on the man advantage with Aho scoring two of those goals and Teravainen assisting on all three.
Canes Shut Down Connor McDavid, Kinda...
Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce put Connor McDavid through a clinic last night, effectively shutting the league’s top scorer down from start to finish.
McDavid will generate offense. There’s no way to avoid it, but Carolina’s top defensive duo limited his opportunities and kept him out of prime scoring areas for a majority of the evening.
The Oiler captain did score off of a fluky play as he broke his stick, got a new one, and then snuck by Noah Hanifin and beat Elias Lindholm on a breakaway.
Slavin and Pesce both posted corsi shares north of 56% at even strength playing almost exclusively against a McDavid-centered line. They were dominant and impressive as they conquered a very tall task.
Elias Lindholm, the Goal-Line God
Elias Lindholm is playing what might be the best hockey of his entire career, and he played a key role in both of Carolina’s goals on Saturday.
The 22-year-old Swede set up Jordan Staal with a marvelous one-touch pass from the goal-line in the first period to give the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead.
This is a player who is playing with such a high level of confidence and is showing how smart of a hockey player he is. Before Slavin even passes the puck, Lindholm knows where he’s going to go with it. He sees Staal beat Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and streaking down the middle of the ice to the crease. Then, without any hesitation, he deals a quick and accurate pass.
On Aho’s goal (shown above), Lindholm receives the puck at the goal-line, passes it back out, and then once he sees the puck get rotated around at the point, he moves in front of the crease and sets a perfect screen in front of Cam Talbot.
Lindholm’s highly touted playmaking ability was a big reason why he was drafted fifth overall in 2013, and he has been remarkable passing the puck as of late. Each of his 18 assists on the year are primary assists and he has 11 helpers over his last 13 games.
He leads the entire league in primary assists/60 in all situations and is quickly turning what was a disappointing start to the year into his best season in the NHL.
Cam Ward’s Excellent Outing Makes Saturday Interesting
Excluding a fluky breakaway goal from one of the top-two players in the world, Cam Ward was perfect against the Oilers on Friday as he stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced.
He was positionally sound and acrobatic against a very dangerous offensive team and caught a couple good breaks thanks to the goal posts.
Bill Peters didn’t commit to starting Eddie Lack for Saturday’s big matchup against the New York Islanders, which was the assumed plan entering the weekend.
The situation is very reminiscent of the last time Ward started games on back-to-back nights in mid-January. He played a marvelous game against the Sabres and followed it up by giving up four goals on 32 shots against the Isles in a 7-4 win.
The difference now is that Eddie Lack is healthy and eager to get game action.
In such an important four-point game between teams tightly nuzzled against each other in the standings, is it really smart to go with the goalie who hasn’t seen NHL action since November? If not, when do you get him in?
Peters said before Tuesday’s game that Lack would get a start before the bye week, so that would leave him two more opportunities to get in the net. The Canes get two days off after tonight’s game in New York before taking on the league-leading Washington Capitals, so Ward should be well-rested, and then the team gets three more days off before they take on the Dallas Stars ahead of the five-day break.