For 58 minutes of last night’s contest between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Chicago Blackhawks, the Canes were a dominant force to be reckoned with. The other two minutes of the game took a would-be shutout and made it a 3-2 game. Despite that two minute lapse, the Canes managed to hang on and win 4-2, earning their first ever sweep of a road trip that lasted at least three games along with a sweep of Chicago for the season.
The Good - Mrazek the #1
Heading in to this season the hockey community was hyped on the Hurricanes but everyone had that one lingering question about the Canes’ goaltending. Could Petr Mrazek be a number one in the NHL? Sure, he proved himself quite capable in a 1A/1B situation last year but James Reimer would never be as good as Curtis McElhinney was so Mrazek had to elevate his game.
So far, so good.
His win over the Blackhwawks improved him to 10-3-1 on the year and if the team in front of him had not blanked for two minutes he easily could have had his third shutout of the year. Mrazek has proven he can be a true number one, and for the first time in a very long time the Hurricanes have a true, successful, and confident number one goalie.
Known for his emotions, Mrazek was incredibly poised last night especially after the team gave up the two quick goals. He almost had a calming nature on the guys in front of him who were being outplayed and needed their goaltender to bail them out. But Petr wouldn’t be Petr if he didn’t get at least one shot in on someone who tried to poke the puck after the whistle had blown.
You know it's go time when Petr Mrazek starts punching people with his blocker after the whistle.— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) November 20, 2019
After the Flyers game tomorrow, the Canes have two sets of back to back games within a week, so odds are Reimer will see some action during those games. However, after that, the Canes do not play back to back games until the end of December. Mrazek will have an opportunity to play a large majority of the games throughout December as his team continues to try and track down the Islanders and Capitals atop the Metro.
The Bad - Two Minutes of Shame
It’s become a common trend for the Canes to at some point in a hockey game take a long breath. With a few exceptions Carolina has been the better team in most every game they have played this year, but critical mistakes in key moments have allowed teams to win or make a game much closer than it should have been. Every game on this road trip has featured at least one of those moments.
The Sabres took advantage and forced overtime, the Wild clawed back and forced overtime, and the Blackhawks nearly did the same. This time the Canes were able to close the door largely in part to Mrazek, but nevertheless the trend is clear.
With 12:05 left in the third period Erik Gustafsson put the Hawks on the board. Patrick Kane made a good pass around Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Dzingel got beat by Gustafsson to the net. That goal isn’t the problem goal, as the Hawks are a good team and odds are they are going to score at some point.
It’s the second goal that cannot happen. Just 1:10 after Gustafsson scored the Hawks tallied again.
You know Kaner wasn't going home without any points on his birthday..— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) November 20, 2019
Put him down for 2 assists and the #Blackhawks are right back in this game! Stream the rest here: https://t.co/BCF4YEpE1q pic.twitter.com/sV36HjY0EF
The entire defense just took a break on that second goal and even Mrazek didn’t play it well. This is the goal that is defeating and demoralizing. Suddenly a near shutout is a one goal game and that momentary lapse could easily cost the team.
Whatever the reason is, these mental breaks need to be stopped. Time and time again they have cost the team, and without some overtime heroics this road trip could have ended 1-0-2 instead of 3-0-0 thanks to the critical errors.
The Great - The Youth Group
The NHL was introduced to Andrei Svechnikov last season and this year they are being introduced to Martin Necas. With his goal last night, he registered his second four game point streak of the season four game point streak. After nearly making the Canes last year, his season spent in Charlotte has clearly paid off. Necas is just 20 years old and he is already one of the fastest skaters in the league. Pairing that with his incredible skill, you can easily see how this kid will be a star in the NHL for a long time.
His goal last night came off a 2 on 0 with Nino Niederreiter after Lucas Wallmark did the dirty work to get the puck out. After a quick back and forth, Necas buried the puck for his fifth goal of the year. His great start has him in the way-too-early conversations for the Calder Trophy and deservedly so. You can easily see him following Svechnikov and even Sebastian Aho’s path of having a really good rookie season but then truly turning into a star during year two.
Necas: You take it— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) November 20, 2019
Nino: No, YOU take it
Necas: *takes it pic.twitter.com/bObdrISIJJ
Speaking of Svechnikov, as great as his rookie year was, he is currently on pace to surpass his offensive totals from last year by game 34 this season. He is only four assists shy of his total from last year and he could hit that by the end of this month easily. With 22 points in 20 games, Svechnikov is delivering on the promise he showed as the second overall pick, and he’s quickly taking over as one of the faces of this franchise.
From his passing to his defensive play to his creativity on how to score, Svechnikov has improved so much from last year it’s simply amazing. The one area that hasn’t changed is his shot. He showed he had a laser last year and it’s been just as deadly this year. Last night he sniped a puck past Robin Lehner like it was nothing.
Alex Ovechkin may have the current reins as the best Russian shot in the NHL, but he needs to be looking over his should because Svechnikov is chipping at Ovi’s heels.
The Hurricanes have done an excellent job of finding elite homegrown talent in guys like Aho, Svechnikov, and Necas while finding the perfect outside pairings to go along with them such as Teuvo Teravainen and Niederreiter. As these guys continue to grow and get better, it’s not hard to imagine a trio of elite superstars not too much unlike what Chicago had years back when they won multiple Stanley Cups.
Moral of the Story
One short mental lapse nearly cost the Hurricanes once again last night. But they found a way to fight through it, just as they did during the entire road trip. Petr Mrazek is proving himself as a true number one while the youth core is proving why they were drafted so high.
After a tough stretch to start November, the team needed this road trip to go their way and it did. Now they must come home and find a way to get a win against a divisional rival which has been their kryptonite going back to last season.