The Canes had a weekend at home with back-to-back games, and the two outcomes were very different.
After a devastating 4-1 loss to Columbus on Saturday, Carolina came back on Sunday to win 2-1 against the Devils in what felt like, at a few points in the second period, it could turn into yet another devastating loss. And yet what became a win and a loss showed something that I think has been true for the Canes for much of the season: this team can easily dig a hole that it can’t climb out of.
In turn, which teams scores first matters a lot when one of those teams is the Hurricanes.
Saturday’s First 2: What Are You Doing?
No, actually: what are you doing? WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Like, physically, with your bodies, what are you doing? What is happening? How do you break down this badly?
It’s not even the legs not being fresh. The goals against didn’t come on being beat on clear odd-man rushes or anything. It was miscue after miscue that seemed more mental than physical to me.
In fact, on the first goal, Sebastian Aho got caught puck-watching for a split second, which allowed Cam Atkinson to skate slightly back into clean ice for a quick shot from short-ish range. Scott Darling, who is looking for a statement win of his own, let it leak through without a redirection or anything to help the Blue Jackets go up 1-0.
Then, in the opening minutes of the second half, we have four guys on defense surrounding two Blue Jackets, and yet they find a way to score without a body near the shooter. Nearly all of them collapse on the puck, and no one peels off to stay with Atkinson as he breaks out to the left.
This is the best team (currently) in the Metro for a reason. They score nearly a goal more than the Hurricanes a game (3.45 to 2.60 GPG), and they feasted on the Hurricanes “taking a breath,” as Rod Brind’Amour correctly calls it, to up their average and bear down on first place in the division.
Speaking of RBA, I love how candid he is about this team not being good enough to take breaths. It’s a subtle truism he preaches every week, and while it could be a little harsh for a team to hear, he’s absolutely right. Saturday’s game against Columbus was a prime example of that.
Sunday’s First 2: No Shifts Off
It was a new look for the current crop of Canes, and it felt like the Hurricanes broadcasters read tea leaves or something. In the pregame show, they said the team’s key player would be Justin Williams to set the pace and provide leadership. I don’t know of a much better way to accomplish that than by what he did on Sunday.
In a year in which Williams’ age and speed has come in question due to low point production and unnoticeable shifts for a first-liner, he sped in between two Blue Jackets defenders and went five-hole on Cory Schneider. At the blue line, he was aware that Jordan Staal would be able to pass and not need a puck battle and peeled off into a passing lane.
Just the start we were looking for pic.twitter.com/FfeqY5Uhkq— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) November 18, 2018
The top line exploited the craziness of the opening minute...and then, the next line did it once again.
New Jersey, likely flustered and trying to seal the deficit quickly, tried to rush a zone entry quickly off the ensuing faceoff with a pass that was intercepted by Dougie Hamilton. Instead of a Devils chance, Carolina created the 3-on-2 rush, and Hamilton smartly moved the puck to Teuvo Teravainen, who had plenty of room to move it cross-ice to Ferland for an easy score.
Two to nothing in 30 seconds. It made all the difference in how the game played out. With how low our scoring has been this year, it’s never been easy to rush back into games, no matter the strength of the opponent’s defense. This time, the Hurricanes got to play out the game largely at their own pace, especially the third period, allowing just seven shots, many at low danger. (Also, Curtis McElhinney deserves great applause for his second-period play.)
So I know Tripp and John like to talk about “the race to three (goals),” but this weekend, I saw it as first to two. Obviously, this can only be said in retrospect, but recently, if the Canes don’t win that battle, more than likely it’s been a rough going.
But we can all smile a bit today thanks to a win and head into the work week with close to the confidence of Tripp Tracy attempting to floss on live TV.