Justin Williams (5-0—5)
Jake Gardiner (4-1—5)
Morgan Geekie (3-1—4)
Sebastian Aho (2-2—4)
PK – 87.5%
PP – 38.5%
March was set to be a grind with 16 games in 31 days including four back-to-back sets, one every weekend. The start of the month would also see the Canes continue a road trip started in February, with five straight road games to start the month.
It wasn’t going to be easy for the Hurricanes who faced a lot of questions coming into the month. They lost two top four defensemen and the top two goalies to injuries at the end of February and had to break in new players from an active trade deadline.
We all know what would happen in the month of March. The Canes would only play four games before the season would suspend the season on March 12. The Canes last game of the season would come on March 10th against the Detroit Red Wings.
With the loss of the rest of March and April the Canes would maintain their playoff position but lose valuable time for new players like Brady Skjei and Vincent Trocheck.
The Canes would start the month continuing their mini slump, losing their fourth game in a row. The outlook was grim after losing Petr Mrazek and James Reimer in Toronto, and without Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce, it didn’t seem like the Canes were going to be able to hold up defensively after giving up 15 goals in just four games including a 4-1 loss to the Flyers to open March.
The downturn wouldn’t last forever, however, the Canes would turn it around. Anton Forsberg would pick up his first win of the season on March 7 against the New York Islanders in a 3-2 overtime win. The game was a back and forth affair with the Isles answering each of the Canes two regulation goals.
The game featured big contributions from the new team additions. Anton Forsberg stopped 24 of 26 total shots faced including a breakaway. Trocheck created multiple high-danger chances and also scored the game winning goal in overtime on the power play. However, the Canes would lose another player to injury, this time forward Ryan Dzingel went down with an upper body injury.
Vincent Trocheck scores his first goal as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, and it's the overtime winner against the New York Islanders in a must-win game for the Canes. pic.twitter.com/7ybSQtWAQa— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) March 7, 2020
The win against the Isles helped the Canes regain their confidence, and it showed in the very next night in Pittsburgh. This time Nedelkjovic would get the crease to start. The Canes had a sloppy start to the game going into the first intermission down 2-1 but would never look back going on to score five unanswered goals.
Alex Nedeljkovic with maybe the biggest save of his young NHL career to keep the game at 2-1 in Pittsburgh. pic.twitter.com/JdfcevlkLE— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) March 8, 2020
The theme again would be big things from new additions, and this time an unlikely source, Morgan Geekie. Geekie was recalled after the injury to Dzingel and made an immediate impact. He would score two goals and get one assist in his first NHL game.
Welcome to the NHL, Morgan Geekie. He scores in the first period of his NHL debut. Jake Gardiner with a great feed. The Hurricanes and Penguins are all tied up. pic.twitter.com/GyFT20GSsR— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) March 8, 2020
But not only did he show up on the scoresheet, he was very impressive in winning important faceoffs and getting a net front presence that led to additional goals and scoring chances. Nedelkjovic finally seemed to settle in, stopping 28 of 30 total shots and only letting up one goal at even strength.
Morgan Geekie wins the face off and goes straight to the net. Jaccob Slavin's shot finds the back of the net and the game is tied in the second period. Geekie has 2 points in his NHL debut. What a debut. pic.twitter.com/eB7cxN5V7D— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) March 8, 2020
The Canes’ final game before the suspension of the season would come against Detroit. Detroit was the worst team this season by far, but the game was hugely important to the Canes because it saw Mrazek return to the ice.
It can be a tricky thing for a goalie to come back after time away, but Mrazek settled in quick only letting up two goals, neither of which were really his fault. One was a double deflection in the crease and the other was an uncovered redirect at the back post. The legend of Morgan Geekie who scored another goal early into the game, continued.
Jake Gardiner's just having fun with it.— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) March 11, 2020
A no-look pass to Sebastian Aho for a power play goal. Gardiner has 3 points tonight and 5 points over his last 2 games. Aho has 2 goals tonight. The Hurricanes are up 5-2 in Detroit. pic.twitter.com/1BdI02ezIN
The game also served as a huge confidence booster to special teams; it would have been great to see what they could have built on after scoring on three of their four power plays and scoring a shorthanded goal while killing off all five of their penalties. But it wasn’t meant to be as the season would close its doors before the Canes could play another game.
Teuvo Teravainen hits Sebastian Aho for a shorthanded breakaway goal.— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) March 11, 2020
I have absolutely no idea how he made that pass. The only explanation - it's Teravainen and Aho.
4-2 Hurricanes in Detroit. pic.twitter.com/zB2xjogsL1
Under the Radar
Justin Williams would end the season on a five-game goal streak with six goals in his last five games. Five of these goals would come in March with a multi-goal game in Pittsburgh. He had just two goals in his other 15 games. It was great seeing him get his hockey legs back and see him produce consistently.
This streak was under the radar because only one of his March goals came in a game determined by a single goal. The other games were one-sided blowouts, so goals just seem to mix in together. He also didn’t have a single flashy goal in this streak; they were all front of the net scores.
Justin Williams missed a wide-open net a few minutes ago. He made up for it here, though.— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) March 8, 2020
Williams has goals in 4 straight games and he has given the Hurricanes a 4-2 lead over the Penguins in the third period. Haydn Fleury and Jordan Staal with the assists. pic.twitter.com/nDa9L8UxkB
Williams brought much needed net front presence to the Canes. All five of his March goals were deflections or rebounds in front of the goal. Carolina has the talent to score from the wing and blue line, but needs more people willing to get in front of the net and into the crease to score.
New Additions fitting in
Like noted above, new additions were huge in the Canes’ three wins of the month. Trocheck had just two points in the month, but his only goal was the overtime game winner. He also worked on the power play and was huge in increasing puck movement with the man advantage.
Nino Niederreiter goes to the net and gets a bounce. Jake Gardiner's point shot deflects off of Nino and in. Other assist to Vincent Trocheck (first assist as a Hurricane). A power play goal gives the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead in Detroit. pic.twitter.com/J9OgAKSX69— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) March 11, 2020
Brady Skjei also saw power play time but made his greatest impact at even strength. With a new team he was immediately put into a top-four role averaging over 20:00 of ice time. This is a system that requires defensemen to play defense first but allows them to play offense after they learn the system. You can see that with Jake Gardiner’s production: eight points from October through December and 17 points from January on.
Morgan Geekie was very impressive in his first two NHL games. Normally with rookies, and specifically centers you see a real struggle in their two-way game. They must be the forwards to go into the dirty areas and have more defensive responsibilities. This is of course on top of face-offs, but he didn’t look out of place in any facet of the game.
He had a 54.5% success rate in the circle, and this included some important draws. He also knew exactly where to go after winning the draw. His first goal came off of his win and he goes right to the net to deflect the puck past Tristan Jarry. His second goal in that game also showed that he can win physical battels as he fought off a Penguin to get favorable position in front of the net to bury his second goal.
Rod Brind'Amour was certainly amused after Geekie's 2nd goal. pic.twitter.com/b4TE60B4YB— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) March 8, 2020
He has made a very big case even through a small sample size to be in the lineup when play resumes next week.