You could be forgiven for having an old, familiar feeling sitting in your seat at PNC Arena on Thursday and watching Thomas Greiss continue his inexplicable Ken Dryden-esque run of dominance over the Carolina Hurricanes. It was certainly understandable if you saw the first game of Rod Brind’Amour’s coaching career and wondered if you were instead watching the opening game of Bill Peters’ fifth season behind the Canes’ bench. Sure, you heard the players and the coach talk about how they did everything right but score goals, and you’ve been burned by that attitude so many times that the skepticism could have filled Falls Lake multiple times over.
Well, put that in the past. The Hurricanes showed last night, against tougher competition, that their evaluations on Thursday night were right on the money. And, of all places, it started in goal. Never mind asking what’s changed; the better question after last night is who are these guys?
Take A Bow, Curtis
Four days ago, Curtis McElhinney joined the Hurricanes in a bit of an uncomfortable spot. With Scott Darling out, McElhinney was the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option to spare the Hurricanes from having to pull Alex Nedeljkovic from preparing for the Charlotte Checkers’ season and, perhaps, give Petr Mrazek a breather every once in a while.
Based on last night’s evidence, Mrazek might need to be looking over his shoulder.
McElhinney, facing one of his six former clubs, was spectacular on Friday, and figures to only get better with time - remember, he’s had a grand total of one practice and one morning skate with his new club. And yet, he was making saves like this almost as a routine last night.
Curtis McElhinney. WOW. pic.twitter.com/WJCJW0To17— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) October 6, 2018
Curtis McElhinney! Have a night. Another marvelous save. pic.twitter.com/M0yeyoilXd— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) October 6, 2018
Now, just to make the point: McElhinney is 35 years old. He is by no one’s definition a long-term solution. We have seen in the past other backups play well - Manny Legace and Anton Khudobin come to mind - and then inexplicably lose their mojo. The Canes’ long term success is going to depend much more on Mrazek and Darling than on what McElhinney does in what is likely to be a few cameo appearances.
But the performance we saw last night, if it can be replicated, allows the Hurricanes the luxury of giving Darling time to heal without regard to how well Mrazek is playing - which, to be fair, was very well on opening night. McElhinney is a priceless insurance policy if he can keep it up; he likely won’t ever find his way to Charlotte, because he’d be snapped up on waivers as soon as the Canes tried, but it could very well mean that they keep three goalies on the roster once Darling is healthy and jettison someone like Phil Di Giuseppe to the Checkers.
Suddenly, the Hurricanes - the Carolina Hurricanes, for heaven’s sake - have not only competent, but game-changing goaltending. What a time to be alive.
Aho Passes The Center Test
Sebastian Aho had never scored a goal prior to Halloween in his NHL career before he recorded the game-winner last night. Who knew that moving to center was all it took?
But playing the pivot requires more than a deadly shot, and Aho proved that on this picture-perfect feed to Micheal Ferland for the insurance goal.
Michael Ferland with his first goal as a Hurricane. An awesome pass from Sebastian Aho makes it happen. 3-1 Canes after a big third-period goal. pic.twitter.com/WIEABvuXHJ— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) October 6, 2018
(As an aside: Ferland is the closest thing we’ve seen to pre-injury Erik Cole in many years. The Canes have needed that type of player seemingly forever. Long may it continue.)
This past offseason, I was in the camp of keeping Aho on the wing and not messing with what works. While admitting that Victor Rask’s injury significantly changed the calculus, two games in I’m ready to admit I was wrong. Aho has been as advertised, even defensively; recall the shot he saved off the goal line behind Mrazek on Thursday.
The Canes still, in all likelihood, need to pick up a center at some point. However, instead of picking up a center to allow Aho to move back to the wing, now anyone they acquire would form a one-two punch with a player that had long since proven his worth offensively and is now seeing the rest of his game round into form.
Rod the Bod, Undefeated Road NHL Coach
Brandon Dubinsky scored a goal to tie the game in the first period, and then proceeded to do this for some reason:
Dubinsky shares his joy with the Hurricanes' bench #CBJ pic.twitter.com/hCTuChw1cs— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) October 5, 2018
Now, if you feel the need to rub a first-period goal in game two of the regular season in the face of a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in nine years, I mean...vaya con Dios, amigo.
But the Hurricanes responded by doing exactly what you’d expect a team coached by Rod Brind’Amour to do: let the play on the ice do the talking and stay away from the Marchandian monkey business.
Brind’Amour on Thursday was clear: the kind of effort his team put forth against the Islanders was going to win them many more games than lose. His words proved prophetic, and you could see why as they just kept on coming at Sergei Bobrovsky and earned their just desserts.
In a bit of irony, it was McElhinney - the shortest-tenured Hurricane - who picked the puck up to give to his coach as a commemoration of Brind’Amour’s first coaching win. The culture change that Tom Dundon has mandated is in full swing, and it’s very clearly being led by Brind’Amour, the captain turned coach who is quickly putting to rest any notion of him being a Bill Peters clone.
And, let’s be honest: when the boss is tweeting your praise, you know you’re doing something right.
Congratulations, Rod. Proud of you and excited for the future. https://t.co/W4mVezkkah— Tom Dundon (@TDCanes) October 6, 2018