Who needs to splash draft picks and prospects at the NHL trade deadline when all that’s required to add a key component is faxing a sheet of paper to the NHL’s central registry?
That’s what the Carolina Hurricanes did on Saturday morning when they activated Jordan Staal from injured reserve, the prelude to the Canes center playing his first game in the new calendar year. With the Columbus Blue Jackets seemingly hoovering up every player on the market, the asking prices for rentals are going to go ever higher before 3:00 Monday rolls around. But the Hurricanes may not care, because getting Staal back into the lineup is just as important an addition as they could ever hope to find in the deadline market.
As an aside: a shout out to the Dallas Stars for waiting to acquire Mats Zuccarello until after the game, the better that he not improve on his career mark of absolutely owning the Canes to the tune of 29 points in 31 games. Let’s hear it for that famous Texas hospitality.
Staaling for Time
Jordan Staal’s game Saturday afternoon, by his usual high standards, was largely nothing special. He played 13:57, his lowest total in a game in which he was unaffected by injury since October of 2015. He had two shots, plus one that missed the net, and was only sparingly used on the penalty kill - and not at all on the power play.
But, interestingly, Staal took 26 shifts, behind only Teuvo Teravainen’s 27 among forwards. And therein lies Staal’s value.
It was a bad day at the office for Staal in the faceoff circle, which is to say he won nearly half his draws and immediately made the Hurricanes more dangerous off the draw. By contrast, Sebastian Aho won 36% of his faceoffs. Jordan Martinook won exactly a third, and one wonders if Rod Brind’Amour will move Martinook back to the wing now that Staal is back. The Canes would have been massacred in the circle without Staal, and he moved them from horrendous to respectable all by himself.
Especially late in the third period, Staal would take a faceoff and immediately leave the ice. All but three of his 18 draws were taken in the defensive or neutral zones. His last faceoff win set the stage for Martinook’s insurance marker, and that was that: his job done, he watched the final 2:30 from the bench.
He was physical. He cycled the puck into the ground. He killed the clock all by his lonesome at times. He was exactly what the Hurricanes expect of him, and he is going to make a good team even better over the next six weeks.
It couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Goaltenders: The Real Stars
Suffice it to say that the Dallas Stars are perfectly happy to see the last of the Hurricanes’ goaltenders, thank you very much.
A week after Petr Mrazek shut out the Stars at PNC Arena, Curtis McElhinney stopped all 24 pucks he saw to give the Hurricanes their fifth shutout of the season, and their fourth in a month. It’s the first time in franchise history that the Canes have allowed zero goals in a season to a team they played more than once, and the first time since they shut out the Capitals twice in 2011-12 that they’ve whitewashed the same team twice in a single season.
That 2011-12 season is a convenient waypoint, because it’s also the last time the Hurricanes registered more than four shutouts in a full season. This squad has posted four in the last month!
Put another way, the Hurricanes had ten shutouts in Bill Peters’ four seasons as coach. They already have half that number in Rod Brind’Amour’s first season at the helm, and they have five more games to register another shutout and make it five — again, in a single month.
And they’re doing it no matter who is in net. This isn’t a matter of a single goaltender getting hot a la David Rittich or John Gibson stopping everything in sight. The “hard work, good results” quadrant is the one of the lesser populated ones, and the Carolina Hurricanes have not one, but two residents of that zone - the only team other than the Ducks with that honor.
And they make it look so, so easy. McElhinney in particular is renowned for making the ridiculous look routine, but this is really something else.
Just another day at the office for Curtis McElhinney. pic.twitter.com/9rgW52h91w— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) February 24, 2019
As Brett wrote last week, the Canes are in an enviable yet somewhat awkward position in the goaltending department going forward. But if both Mrazek and McElhinney can continue their sterling play for the next six weeks, they could be the difference in giving the Canes the bump they need to squeeze into the playoffs.
The Hurricanes relying on above-average goaltending to fuel a playoff run: who’d have thought it?