The Carolina Hurricanes and San Jose Sharks put on an entertaining, high-energy show at PNC Arena on Thursday night that ultimately went the distance. The Canes prevailed with a 3-2 shootout win, led by their teenage winger and fiery goalie.
The Good - Mrazek Magic
The energy level of this inter-conference battle was raised a few notches in the second period when Canes netminder Petr Mrazek and veteran Sharks forward Joe Thornton got into it.
Joe Thornton with an extra jab at the puck after Petr Mrazek covered the puck. Mrazek took a pretty big whack at him and missed, and Thornton then *punched* Mrazek. Mrazek went down, Thornton gets four minutes in penalties, Mrazek got two.— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) December 6, 2019
Thornton took liberties in front of the net and gave an irritated Mrazek an extra jab at the end of a scuffle. From that point on, the intensity was significantly higher, and other than the late second period goal Mrazek allowed, his focus and level of play was higher. While most people will point to the continued perfection on the shootout (shooters are 0-6 on the season against Mrazek) and the scuffle, perhaps the most impressive stretch for Mrazek was late in the third period as the Sharks took charge for a portion of action in a tied game. Their hard charge was met by a unyielding Mrazek that allowed his team to steady and eventually come away with a victory.
When Mrazek gets in trouble, he often is too jumpy with his positioning, leaving him either out of position or scrambling unnecessarily. This was somewhat evident on the second goal of the night as Patrick Marleau punched a one-timer past Mrazek from the point (with the help of an unintentional screen from Warren Foegele).
But when Mrazek is at his best, that energetic style leads him to challenge shooters and make life difficult on them, as you saw with his two blocker saves in the shootout.
The Better - Aho elevates his physical game
One of the most evident signs of the intensity being raised as the contest wore on into the third period was the physical play from Sebastian Aho. Though certainly not known for his physicality and hitting, Aho exhibited a bit of the edge that he has developed as he has become more of a leader on the Canes roster. His efforts in laying multiple checks on Mario Ferraro helped the Canes out of a potentially bad change in the later half of the third period, and eventually led to what should have been a tripping penalty on Logan Couture that was completely whiffed on by referee Kelly Sutherland.
Nevertheless, seeing Aho developing that portion of his game shows that he is poised to become a play that can still have a serious impact on a contest, even when he doesn’t dent the scoresheet. Foegele had a solid night with two assists, Jordan Staal was creative offensively, and of course Svechnikov is blossoming as his second season nears the mid-way point. But if the Canes are going to be a true contender, the overall development of Aho may be the single biggest factor in the Canes recipe for success.
The Best - A cold-blooded teenager
A backhander to the roof? No problem.
A shootout winner snapped quick, off the bar and in? Sure thing.
Andrei Svechnikov started the scoring, and he ended it. Hurricanes beat the Sharks 3-2 in shootout. Massive win. pic.twitter.com/Z3Tp9jSGVw— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) December 6, 2019
Andrei Svechnikov leading a postgame Conga line??? Why not?
Do that conga beat pic.twitter.com/gKIodp6cw4— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) December 6, 2019
The 19-year-old winger has simply become one of the most valuable offensive weapons not only on the Canes roster, but possibly around the entire league. His only official goal of the the night featured a tremendous pass from Foegele, but was finished off with patience and hand skills to elevate the puck that few players Svechnikov’s age have possessed. He remained the most dangerous offensive player on the ice for the rest of the night, and he continued that by beating Aaron Dell again for the only goal of the shootout session.
Svechnikov’s impact is not just in fits of highlight reel goal-scoring. His presence has impacted the power play to great effect. It has impacted how Rod Brind’Amour builds his lines by how he has established himself as a threat, but also an all-around player. If Svechnikov maintains his current trajectory, the sky is the limit for this budding superstar.
Moral of the Story
At the end of the evening, this is just another two points that the Canes need in the growing arms race that is the Metropolitan Division standings. The response to the hard-fought loss in Boston was a good sign to see. But in the NHL, you are only as good as your next performance. The Canes will need to summon a similar effort on Saturday night at home against another western conference foe as the Minnesota Wild and Eric Staal return to town, riding a ten-game point streak.