Saturday’s game was the biggest gut, mind and grit test the Hurricanes have faced this season. It was hard to catch a breath with all the madness -- the absurd Corsis, unnecessary whistles, Sebastian Aho athleticism, Rod Brind’Amour venting, power play headaches, “getting skates under ya,” Justin Faulk-ian flusters, near-calls on Devan Dubnyk, Andrei Svechnikov’s clear learning curve…
*takes deep breath*
There are 1,001 things to examine from the overtime win over the Wild, but here are just a few that bear larger inspection.
1) The Win Itself
With all due respect to the Canes’ first four wins, this one was probably the most meaningful. Yes, for the team record of a fifth straight point-producing game for Rod Brind’Amour and for extending a great start to the season this franchise has desperately needed the past few years, but also because of the opponent and situation.
Outside of the Blue Jackets, the Canes’ previous games were against opponents who they should be able to beat if the squad wants to call itself a playoff contender (Islanders, Rangers and Canucks). The Wild are a playoff-contending team who sent one of the best goaltenders in the league to the ice on Saturday, touting home-arena advantage at the outset of a road trip that includes the two potential Stanley Cup finalists in Winnipeg and Tampa Bay. A loss to begin the stretch could be a momentum killer.
It also would have been a killer considering the Canes put 57 shots on net to Minnesota’s 23. And though four goals on 23 shots won’t sit well on Curtis McElhinney’s mind, a win in net will hopefully be enough mental support through his next start.
2) Aho the Animal
This team is something and by this team I mean Sebastian Aho— #WhyNot? (@LankyLape) October 14, 2018
Is this the season that Aho goes off? Because it’s starting to feel like the season where Aho goes off.
The switch to center is paying dividends in the early season -- a period in which he’s struggled at the NHL level -- as he picked up two goals and two assists to move to 10 points over the first five games. (Did our Kyle Morton call it a year and a half ago when he said Aho could be a legit top center?)
Aho showed off on Saturday. He made Eric Staal look stationary as he circumnavigated the offensive zone to tally an assist on a deflected goal off the stick of Brett Pesce, a move that screamed “elite talent.”
He had his hand-eye working well on his first goal, a rebound off the left pad of Dubnyk, then went full snipe mode past Dubnyk’s blocker side to seal the game (did that setup pass remind anyone else of Svech to Martinook a few games back?).
The final play. Sebastian Aho strips the puck, starts the rush the other way, and rips home the game-winner in Minnesota. pic.twitter.com/KX81mxugNC— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) October 14, 2018
With the defensive pressure the Jets are likely to bring, it would seem Aho will also be a big key to a victory in Winnipeg. This performance should certainly give him the confidence to take some risks and use his speed/shot combo to get his team on the board.
3) Still Not-so-special Teams
Despite Aho’s PPG, the special teams felt quite lackluster for all the opportunities the Canes had last night. The team upped their power play percentage to 10.5 with the goal, but went 1-for-9 on the night with only a couple creating multiple dangerous opportunities.
The penalty kill was just as much of a letdown, as the Wild went 2-for-5. In last night’s case, if the goalie is a team’s best penalty killer, Dubnyk certainly outdueled McElhinney for that honor. The Canes backup came back to earth a little, allowing two power play goals that he arguably shouldn’t have let in.
The first was a missed blocker save on a puck that wasn’t redirected, though it was close to being so at first glance. Instead of pushing it out, the puck rose over McElhinney’s back and, despite a decent swipe for it in midair, dropped in to tie the game. In the third, he allowed a go-ahead PPG from Jason Zucker, who wristed an undeflected puck off the draw into the net for a score. It had a bit of pace, and the Canes’ D certainly should’ve stepped up, but McElhinney was just beat and his confused look after showed it.
(McElhinney also allowed a short-side goal later in the period that was almost the game-winner, and though the linesman should get out the way and it was a decent shot, it was no Kuznetsov).
The special teams were a concern last year as the Hurricanes ranked in the bottom third in both power play and penalty kill percentage, so it’s certainly an area to watch throughout the season. To his credit, Brind’Amour has reportedly spent a ton of time coaching the power play in practice, but it’s a results-driven business, despite the luck, breaks and pure perseverance sometimes necessary.
4) Purposeless Penalties
One showed his age. One showed his youth. Both showed a lack of concern for the dire situation.
Both Justin Faulk and Svechnikov drew unnecessary penalties in the third period that created extra tension in an already-tense game. While on the bench, Faulk asked not what his team could do for him, but what he couldn’t do for his team by grabbing Zach Parise’s stick as a battle for the puck occurred near the Carolina box. He was whistled for interference, and about a minute later, Zucker netted his go-ahead goal. And Brind’Amour knows stupid when he sees stupid:
Then the rookie showed what appeared to be a bit of frustration after a little bumping at the circle on a faceoff, hitting Ryan Suter with a high stick for his third (!) penalty of the game. Fortunately, this one didn’t lead to a goal, but Svechnikov isn’t exactly the guy the Canes want taking penalties, so let’s hope this trend doesn’t continue and he can get it cleaned up.
There are plenty of other things to address from last night (feel free to do so in the comments), but by the nature of back-to-back games, I’m sure there will be some leftovers to discuss after today’s game against the Jets.