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About Last Night: Finishing the First Half Strong

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The Canes’ fourth win in a row came thanks to converted power plays and defensemen scoring — two things they’ve lacked this season.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

After the ups and downs (mainly downs) for much of the first half of the season, the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Senators, 5-4, on the road to enter the second half on a four-game winning streak.

I know, I know — “they always get our hopes up then crush them,” “time is a flat circle,” etc., etc. But don’t pretend like the brand of hockey that Carolina has played the last two weeks hasn’t been exciting. You want goals? You got ‘em: 17 of them in four games.

Do keep in mind that three of those wins during this streak have come against either the Flyers or the Senators. The win against Columbus was strong, but these two are teams the Canes should beat. Sure, even the easiest of wins aren’t guaranteed (see: the Red Wings twice and a drubbing by the Blues). But heading into road games vs. the Islanders and Lightning, these are good steps, but the tests will likely come this week.

Here are a few things that stood out to me in Ottawa that the Canes can try to keep up:

First-period sprint

In the past four games, the Hurricanes have put up five goals in the first period. That may not sound like a lot, but consider that in the four games before this stretch, they put up exactly one goal in the first period.

There are many reasons to love first-period scoring, but a big part of it from my perspective is the fact that everyone is fresh. Take Brock McGinn. Many complaints leveled on him about not being to hang with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen on the top line, understandably. But on his shorthanded goal off a turnover in the Canes’ defensive zone, he was off in an instant and flew by the Senators.

It takes more and more to be able to finish those breaks with that kind of speed as the game wears on, especially if you’re a grinder along the boards like McGinn. That takes a lot of energy from you, so use it well early.

Bring the power

The Hurricanes — yes, in fact, our Hurricanes, as hard as this may be to believe — went 100 percent on the power play on Sunday.

The first power play is a candidate for the Canes’ best power play of the year, and it was only about 30 seconds long. But in that short time, the passing was incredibly crisp. There was a tic-tac-toe kind of chance near the crease before similarly quick passing set up Justin Faulk for his one-timer.

Then Justin Williams scored the game-winner on the power play, camping out in front of the net to allow Teravainen’s shot to deflect off his leg and in. (Sidenote: Have to laugh at Zack “Definitely Not Mad” Smith’s late shove.)

Defensemen attacking

Faulk’s first goal was just one of three goals scored by three different Canes defensemen. It’s the first time that’s happened since 2009 (shoutout to Joni Pitkanen).

After Faulk came Slavin, the steady force of Carolina’s defense. Slavin said in the intermission interview after the goal that he wasn’t necessarily trying to just net the goal, but rather he was thinking more about the guys who could score on a rebound. He ended up putting it past Marcus Hogberg with a shot that was sharp and ended up taking Ottawa’s starter out of the game.

Mr. Goal Streak netted the third by a defenseman. Dougie Hamilton hasn’t been exactly golden since the trade brought him over, but now he’s at six goals, which is pretty on par with his average, and building a ton of confidence. He also looks markedly more relaxed, and told Michael Smith after the game that he was struggling with an injury, now healed, that he suffered back in November. He also made his mark in the franchise record book with his third straight (see above tweet thread from NHL PR), a nice wrister that beat the glove of Anders Nilsson.

(And as Brett pointed out, though, he’s gone on this streak despite season-low ice times during the stretch — quite odd.)

As we get into the thick of tougher opponents with stronger defenses, it may be necessary for the Canes blueliners to stay back a bit to prevent rushes rather than attack like they did in Ottawa. However, part of me wants to see that same “shoot first, recover later” mentality that helped the Canes pull off some big wins to start the year.