So this is what it feels like, huh?
A win. One (1) victory, precisely. It happened in Chicago last night, 4-3, and despite that gut-shredding feeling of “oh god, they’re really gonna come back, aren’t they?” the Canes held on to shake the slump.
Finally, I don’t have to sit here and try to tell you who should and shouldn’t be on PP1, which lines lacked effort or execution and that there won’t be Bo-Berry biscuits in the immediate future.
There were problem areas throughout the game (looking especially at you, defensive Canes), but instead of another negative post, let’s look at a couple of individual performances that helped make the difference and then let’s look forward.
Darling a difference-maker, despite a couple of miscues
Was it a great night in net for Scott Darling in his third start of the year? I think yes and no is the only proper answer here. However, for me, it was mainly yes, especially considering how many times he bailed out the defense in pretty much every period. He was a big part in not letting the team get behind in the first period, going 13-for-13 and stopping a couple good shots on odd-man rushes.
He especially looked good from short range, not letting any poke-ins or sweep-ins get by, and showed good rebound control. But it wasn’t a perfect night, and the third Blackhawks goal was a prime example. Up 4-2 with the Hawks holding the momentum, Darling let an undeflected shot from beyond the left faceoff circle by Nick Schmaltz beat him blockerside.
He also got caught drifting a little to hard on the first goal, but it was also a two-on-one with arguably a missed tripping call to set it up at the other end.
Was he a key reason why the Canes won the game? Sure. It was a night in which the “elite” blue line switched things up, and some of the new pairings didn’t hold up their end, so Darling had to hold up his.
But while it was a game in which the Canes’ No. 1 helped get a desperately needed win, it’s clear there’s still work to be done. If the offense can click, the next question -- which pundits have had all offseason through now -- will be what about the goaltending?
Wallmark on the mark
The coaches trust Lucas Wallmark to find his groove at the NHL level, and Thursday was a reminder of the potential the young Swede has. In a game where the Hurricanes couldn’t afford to play catch-up for the umpteenth time, Wallmark’s crisp passes help his side to jump out to a 2-0 lead.
The first was what John Forslund might call a “dandy,” but for offense instead of the goalie. Andrei Svechnikov forced a turnover that reached Wallmark, who skated as if he were going to carry it up the glass to the point, but turned his head slightly to set up a great pass to Jordan Martinook with a slick backhand move. With quite literally no one in front of him, Martinook was able to play a clean rebound off Corey Crawford’s left pad that a crashing Svechnikov wrapped in.
The second assist by Wallmark wasn’t as flashy, but still well played. On the power play, Wallmark found Williams beside the crease with little pressure and fed him a perfect pass to set up a “hack and whack” play that Jaccob Slavin netted. Had he been a few inches one way of the other, it would have been much harder for Williams to quickly and cleanly turn with the puck to create the scoring pressure.
I get it: if this is Sebastian Aho we’re talking about, these are routine plays. But a ton of Canes have been misplaying passes so that scoring chances are wasted and the puck cleared -- especially on the power play -- so it’s reassuring to see one of the newer guys having early success in a road game with on-point passing.
(In case you were wondering, Aho’s still got it.)
Sebastian Aho with a beautiful behind-the-back pass to Calvin de Haan for his first goal as a Hurricane. It's a 4-0 lead for the Canes in Chicago. pic.twitter.com/KQaxVIHYXo— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) November 9, 2018
Also, Wallmark won 7 of 11 faceoffs (Staal Jr. might I say) and racked up a couple hits. Way to make a statement, my man.
Keep it going
It was a much needed win, and thankfully, the next two games should be chances for Carolina to continue building confidence if they can hold stride.
The Canes open a six-game homestand with matchups against a struggling Detroit and the transitioning Blackhawks. These are two teams they’ve faced already this season, and if we’re truly a pl*yoff hopeful team, these are the games they need to find a way to win.
The days of laughing about our spot in the table are over. Carolina has to be in “win today” mode and not get caught looking ahead. They took care of business before heading back to Raleigh, and now it’s time to hold down the fort.
No more excuses. As Justin Williams said in St. Louis, “excuses are for losers.”