Justin Williams has only played in two games so far this year, but he’s managed to be the the reason the Carolina Hurricanes have won both of those games. He scored the game-winning shootout goal against the New York Islanders on Sunday, and he followed that up by scoring the game-winning goal against the Winnipeg Jets last night en route to a 4-1 victory.
Williams has been far more productive in those two games than anyone could have imagined he would be, but it was the entire team that came together to get the job done last night. Martin Necas scored another highlight reel goal, Teuvo Teravainen had three points, Andrei Svechnikov had another two points, all while Petr Mrazek stayed solid in goal. A great team effort sent the Hurricanes off on a nine day hiatus with a two game winning streak in hand.
The Good - Necas Wows Again
Known as one of the fastest guys on the ice, Martin Necas has already provided us with highlight reel goals that showcase his potential. He’s had mental lapses and he clearly needs to add some more muscle before next year, but the 21 year-old is showing flashes of greatness with his play.
His goal early in the first period last night was another example of flashing his potential. With a rush of speed up the wing, Necas is able to skate all the way to the net and pull off a sick forehand to backhand move leaving the Jets wondering what just happened.
Necas continued to impress throughout the night with multiple opportunities to score while making the Jets defense look like turtles in a rabbit race.
While he is noticeably the skinniest player on the Hurricanes, it’s easy to see why the Hurricanes believe his ceiling is incredibly high. His offensive skill-set is already there, he just needs to add a little weight and work on his defensive game. Following in the steps of Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov is no easy task, but Necas is showing he has the high-level potential that those two guys had and with a little polishing he could be a force to be reckoned with around the entire league.
The Bad - The Break
Every team needs a break at some point in the season. For the Hurricanes, their chance to go on a nine day break may not be the best timing. After struggling for a couple games and seeing their star defenseman go down with an injury, the team turned things around and won two big games leading up to the break.
Since there aren’t many injuries for the team to deal with, this break isn’t about healing wounds. It gives guys time to escape the hockey world (or, in Jaccob Slavin’s case, explore lovely St. Louis), but they have to come back ready to go. Momentum is a tough thing to gain in professional sports, and right now the Canes have it. They are feeding off Williams’ return to the lineup and have looked like a completely different team that they did in the previous three contests.
Rod Brind’Amour left the team with a strong message as they depart. They need to be professionals and return ready to work. All the good from the past two games can be easily erased if the team doesn’t show up ready to play against Vegas on January 31st.
Rod's last speech before the break was nothing short of amazing pic.twitter.com/apf9SLJIBP— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) January 22, 2020
The Great - Willy Does It Again
Not many athletes can take seven months off from their sport and come back like it is nothing. But Justin Williams has done just that and more. He played the role of hero on Sunday against the Islanders, and topped that performance by scoring twice last night. While Williams will be the first one to tell you both goals do not happen without great passes, it still takes the wherewithal and hockey sense to be in the right place at the right time to put the puck in the net.
His first goal of the game (and season) came on the power play where Teuvo Teravainen put a perfect pass on Williams’ stick for the redirection.
LOL at people who thought Willy wouldn't be able to keep up pic.twitter.com/fd6zQpY2kK— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) January 22, 2020
This goal not only put the Canes up by two, but it broke a streak of 18 straight power plays without a goal. On a team with so few right shots, having Williams out there for the power play greatly increases the ability to run certain plays, especially with Dougie Hamilton out.
It also helps that Williams has never been afraid to go to the net. One criticism of young players like Aho and Svechnikov is that they tend to stand to the side of the net, whereas Williams drives the front of the net unafraid of getting hit by a puck. That forces defenses to be more mindful of the front of the net while creating more screens against the goalies.
Willy’s second goal of the game came off another perfect pass, this time by Svechnikov. After Teravainen got the puck to Svechnikov, Williams charged at the net and with just a hair of space available, Svechnikov slid the puck across the crease to find Williams on the back door for the tap in.
For the final nine minutes of the game the the crowd at PNC Arena was enthralled with trying to get Williams a hat trick and he nearly had one. Chants reigned down throughout the building of “We Want Williams” after Winnipeg pulled their goalie for the extra attacker late in the third. However, Brind’Amour never put Williams on the ice while the goalie was on the bench, leaving the home crowd wanting more.
After Williams was named the first star of the game, and after the “Just-in Will-iams” chants filled the building, he took the time to genuinely thank the fans, calling the arena and the crowd a “very special place”. You can tell these last two games meant a lot to him, but they also meant a lot to the fans, and the team.
Nobody ever expected Williams to ride in to town and save the day for the Canes, but so far you can hardly tell the difference between a knight with shining armor, and a regular old grizzled veteran.
Moral of the Story
This was a much need win for the Hurricanes for many reasons. You always want to head in to a long break with a victory, and after the emotional high of Williams’ return on Sunday they needed to prove they were back on the right track, not just riding an emotional roller coaster.
While the long break comes at a bad time for a team with momentum, it gives everyone time to reset. The Canes will need more from their stars as they head down the stretch and if Williams can continue to shine like he has so far, it’ll greatly help.
For now it’s off to the All Star festivities and a chance for NHL fans to learn all about the second C. But come January 31st, the Hurricanes have to refocus and bear down as their toughest stretch of hockey all season comes throughout February and March.