The Carolina Hurricanes arrived in frigid Pittsburgh in an unfamiliar spot: a playoff spot. And while it is certainly far too early to fixate on positioning, the pending four-game road trip to Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington, and Tampa (recently the class of the the Eastern Conference) has the feeling of a telling challenge.
In their first test, the Canes passed with flying colors. A comprehensive 4-0 demolition of the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champs will most certainly raise some eyebrows around the league, as Carolina steadies itself for the most important second half of the schedule in recent memory.
In a game of great import to both sides, the Hurricanes won every matchup and every zone of the ice. While that did not instantly translate on the scoreboard, as each team went to the first intermission scoreless, the hunger displayed in all facets played a direct role in the game’s first goal. Jeff Skinner chased Ian Cole, who was carrying the puck, away from center ice and toward his own blueline and the boards. With a deft poke of the puck. he took control and headed straight to the front of the net where he beat Matt Murray glove-side for what would end up as the game-winning goal.
Late in the second period, again winding up from their own zone, the symphony of Teuvo Teravainen, Jaccob Slavin, and Sebastian Aho was on full display in one of the more beautiful displays of passing and precision you’ll ever see. It left a gaping net for Teravainen, who started the rush, to finish it.
While the story of this game is probably best told with the dazzling displays of offense from Carolina, the impact of Cam Ward in net cannot be overstated. His steady effort in net was also buoyed by a full team game on defense with the blueline and forwards all buying into their defense creating offense.
"It was entirely a team shutout. I thought our guys were really good at containing their top-end players and taking away their time and space," -Cam Ward in the locker room after tonight's 4-0 win over the Pens. #Redvolution pic.twitter.com/7VHjSnA7v2— FOX Sports Carolinas (@CanesOnFSCR) January 5, 2018
Ward was able to keep the Canes even in the first period to allow the offense to get going in the final two periods. In total, Ward stopped all 21 shots he faced, and the team as a whole killed two Pens power plays. Ward is now 10-0-2 in his last 12 games and looks totally reborn, which few would have guessed would be the case two months ago.
Sea-Bass on Parade
The final period served as the Sebastian Aho experience as the 20-year-old Finn showed why the sky is the limit on his offensive future. Close to midway through the third, Aho (again with the Canes transitioning from the defensive zone) received a touch pass near center ice from Jordan Staal. He proceeded to skate right around the traffic cones disguised as defenders on the blueline to power in on the left wing towards Murray. From there, he dipped his shoulder in towards the front of the net, and deposited the puck five-hole past Murray. 3-0.
To finish off the masterpiece, with Teravainen curling back past the right half-boards, Aho positioned himself just off the left side of the net. As Teravainen flung the puck towards Murray, Aho tipped a beauty past Murray to complete the destruction of the Pens 4-0.
Three of the Canes’ four goals were created off the rush, which is something that they haven’t done frequently in the past. The Penguins tried a very high-tempo start last night, which didn’t work, and when they slowed it down the Canes caught them over and over again on the counterattack. It’s a nice new dimension added to a team that for a long time has relied on stagnant motion in the offensive zone that often doesn’t work too well.
Moral of the Story
Well, this performance was more than just a story, it is the type of fuzzy-feeling bedtime tales you recite to small children before they doze off. While efforts like tonight cannot be the consistent expectation at the NHL level, it certainly is a terrific sign to see the Canes display this sort of dominance over a very good team in their building. The two points are a terrific start to the road trip, but that is all they are, two points. For the road trip as a whole to be deemed a success, they must put forth at least a few reasonable facsimiles of last night’s performance to bring home a winning trip before settling in for what could be an exciting and important month of February which is jammed with home dates.