If Friday night’s dress rehearsal for opening night was a sign of things to come, this could be a fun year for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Carolina closed out their slate of exhibition games with a convincing 3-1 win over the Washington Capitals, who iced a handful of NHL regulars but went without the likes of Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, and John Carlson.
The Hurricanes started hot out of the gate in period one, and they were able to get the game’s first goal just over halfway through the opening frame.
An impressive cycling shift from the fourth line, comprised of Brock McGinn, Marcus Kruger, and Joakim Nordstrom, resulted in a goal on a seeing-eye point shot from Justin Faulk. Kruger got the lone assist and McGinn provided an excellent net-front presence on Faulk’s second goal of the preseason.
Carolina outshot Washington 8-4 in the opening frame and Scott Darling, who made his first appearance in front of his new home crowd, came up with a couple of big saves.
The Capitals got the equalizer just 30 seconds into the second period. Matt Niskanen faked a shot from the point, came in, and wristed one past Darling. Kruger left Darling out to dry on the shot as he accidentally screened his long-time teammate dating back to their days in Chicago. The 6’6” goalie didn’t see the puck.
Two minutes later, the Hurricanes regained the lead and they did it on the powerplay. Jordan Staal held the puck down low, waited for an opening, and hit a crashing Noah Hanifin in front. Hanifin poked in his own rebound to give the Canes a 2-1 lead.
The second period had a much faster pace as both teams got into more of an offensive rhythm, but it was the Hurricanes who continued to control play for a majority of the frame.
The Hurricanes continued to roll in the third period, badly outshooting the Capitals in the early stages, and they were able to extend their lead to two just over five minutes into the frame.
Trevor van Riemsdyk snapped a bad-angle shot on net from the outside of the circle, but it found its way past Philipp Grubauer.
The Capitals were unable to beat Darling a second time down the stretch as the new starter had a fantastic start, stopping 18 of 19 shots. He has yet to allow a goal that was truly his fault in the preseason, which is a very encouraging sign going into the regular season.
The story of the game for the Hurricanes was the blue line. Faulk, Hanifin, and van Riemsdyk all found the back of the net and Jaccob Slavin made some big defensive plays and nearly drew a penalty shot after a great display of his skating ability on a breakout.
Haydn Fleury, noted favorite for a spot next to van Riemsdyk on opening night, again played well. He picked up his second assist of the preseason on the former Blackhawk’s goal and racked up four hits in 14:32 of ice time.
Martin Necas lined up with Derek Ryan and Jeff Skinner on Friday night, and again he was a difference maker. His skating ability, hands, and vision with the puck are a real treat to watch and he is able to make some incredible plays both with space and in tight areas. If he hadn't already secured a spot on the opening night roster, I think it’s safe to say that he helped his case tonight.
On the specialty teams front, the Hurricanes took just one penalty and had no trouble killing it off. They scored once on five powerplay chances but the puck movement was very impressive. That one goal could’ve easily been two or three had it not been for some good work from Grubauer.
Carolina finishes the preseason with a 5-2-0 record and they have a lot of great things to build off of as they, following a day off on Saturday, have nearly a week of practice at their disposal before October 7th’s opener against the Minnesota Wild.