It was far from pretty, but the Carolina Hurricanes finally took a step away from the mess they had become over the past month.
The reality is that the win over the Arizona Coyotes does not tangibly do a great deal for the team—they continue to crane their necks looking up at the playoff ladder—but the emotional atmosphere surrounding the team (and the fans) got a tremendous lift for more reasons than just a win.
This was it. Eddie Lack had to win this game. And he did, with help from his clearly exuberant teammates. After starting the week on a high note by shutting out the Senators on “You Can Play” night (for which Lack was fairly outspoken as Carolina’s designated ambassador) last Friday, the downward spiral then took the Swede on a ride he won’t soon forget.
Bill Peters’ remarks following Lack’s shoddy performance in Tampa Bay took on a life of their own, and Friday night’s game against these Coyotes went in the opponents’ favor despite having Cam Ward mind the nets instead.
Which brings us to last night.
I was admittedly a bit surprised that Lack started given Peters’ press conference quotes following the loss to Arizona, but it was good to see him return so soon.
Still, Peters seemed to suggest on Friday night that he was not comfortable starting Lack until he saw more from him (presumably in practice), saying “you guys want it to be a competition for starts, and you gotta have competition for it to be a competition, correct? I can’t just give people stuff for free in pro sports, that’s not how it works.”
But given the chance, Lack needed to respond. He deserved a chance to regain the respect that he had lost according to his coach, and to the delight of his team, coach, and #CanesTwitter, he did it.
Aaaaaand one more.
EDDIE EDDIE EDDIE— Cane-alytics (@Cane_alytics) March 6, 2017
Lack has long been a fan favorite for both the Canucks and the Hurricanes, but this season has been more than a step back for him. Through injuries and lack of playing time, he has hardly found any rhythm and thus likely found it hard to build confidence.
But by his own admission, Lack felt great last week before the Tampa game. In one of the more fulfilling post-game interviews of the season, he gave some insightful answers to his mental state in the past week:
Let’s take a step back: Lack has had four starts in the past week-plus. Three have been good, one was really super not good. And even though Peters’ criticism seemed a bit oddly directed/timed, his methods worked enough to spur his goaltender and team to a moral victory as much as it was one on the scoreboard.
So...Lack gets more starts now, right? The playoffs are, let’s face it, out of the picture, so what’s the point in riding Ward into the ground (for the second time this season)? Let Lack continue to build his confidence and continue to make saves, because his dismal numbers can only get better if he plays.
The Second “C” is For...
How good is Jaccob Slavin? I mean beyond what we already know—which is that he’s fantastic.
His point streak now sits at a career-best four games (four assists), with the last three coming as his own shots that were deflected for goals. But as he continues this offensive burst, he maintains his stellar defensive play.
No, he isn’t laying rattling hits or fighting everything that moves. He doesn’t have to. He’s smarter than that, and plays like it. Slavin has mastered the poke-check—he can take the puck away from attacking forwards and send it in transition the other way before his opponent even knows it’s gone.
But arguably even more impressive is Slavin’s positioning and skating ability. He gives himself every opportunity to succeed by doing the little things right—clogging interior lanes to keep the forward to the outside, having his head up and scanning for trailing players, skating the puck out of trouble instead of making blind passes, etc—and was nothing less than a star for Carolina last night.
Slavin has become what Noah Hanifin is projected to be: a smooth-skating stud on the blue line that you can put in any situation and see success. That isn’t to say Hanifin won’t develop into that—instead, it’s an acknowledgement of the luck of Carolina to have more than one of these players, and one so soon in his career.
And the luck continues for the Canes, as Slavin’s leadership is developing quickly too. He is generally one of a few to consistently speak to media (along with Jordan Staal), and didn’t shy away from the challenges his team faced after losing on Friday:
And while we can’t see what goes on in the locker room on a regular basis, if you ask me, the second “C” is for “Captain.”
Taking four penalties in a period is ill-advised. Taking four penalties in the third period is probably going to lose you the hockey game.
The Hurricanes were playing with fire, and had it not been for some excellent penalty-killing by what has been the best single unit for the Hurricanes all year and a couple of games-saving stops from Lack, they could have found themselves deeper down the rabbit hole of misery.
The scary part was Justin Faulk being responsible for six of those eight PIMs, as his status on Carolina’s back end is well-known and well-earned. He and his teammates would be wise to avoid another infraction-filled frame like that one.
In other bad news, this happened:
Forslund also said PDG was spotted with his arm in a sling after the game so it sounds like he won't be expected to make a quick return.— Jamie Kellner (@jbkellner) March 6, 2017
Phil Di Giuseppe left the game with an upper-body injury, and Coach Peters did not have an update post-game. This news is particularly disheartening as Di Giuseppe had been quite a catalyst for the Canes in recent history, leading the team in hits most games and providing a spark with whichever line he was assigned to.
As much as Lack needed his bounce-back game, so too did his team. The Canes were out of sorts in the worst way on Friday night, culminating in an awful defensive zone turnover which led to the game-winning goal for the Coyotes.
Last night saw a different, more focused team. Perhaps their coach’s comments drew some minds away from the game on Friday, but whatever the issue was seemed to be resolved. The next trick is to keep it going.
Carolina next visits the Avalanche on Tuesday night.