For a good chunk of two periods against the Nashville Predators Monday night, the Hurricanes appeared headed for another lackluster game that could lead to a loss. But the team finally got going, and, thanks to a rock-solid game from James Reimer in net and big goals from Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and Vincent Trocheck, they secured a 4-2 victory instead.
While the win wasn’t perfect, and may have come at a cost, there’s plenty to build on. Let’s take a look at some key takeaways from Carolina’s third game:
For the second game in a row, the Canes got off to a poor start. They were sloppy at both ends of the nice, particularly for a good portion of the second period. Nashville easily could have dented the score board first, and multiple times, to put Carolina out of this one. The main reason that didn’t happen? James Reimer.
Making his first start of the season, Reimer was superb, stopping 31 of 33 Predators shots as the Canes were outshot 33-24, and turning aside numerous grade-A chances. Reimer couldn’t be faulted on either Predators goal, and he more than earned his first win of the year.
For Reimer, seeing so much action early helped him settle in after such a long layoff. For the Canes, his ability to settle in so quickly was the difference between victory and defeat.
“He was great,” said head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “It always seems to come down to goaltending in this league. Obviously, they had some really good looks. He was just sharp. I think that was settling for us, so we could somewhat get our game going a little bit. That’s obviously what you need to be successful.”
Coming into a compressed, 56-game schedule, the Canes knew being able to rely on both their goalies would be vital. Between Reimer’s performance Monday, Petr Mrazek’s shutout on opening night and a game-two loss that was no fault of Mrazek’s, so far so good in that department.
Svechnikov setting the tone
Coming off a forgettable performance in the Hurricanes’ season opener, Svechnikov has led the charge in the past two games. Coming off a goal and assist performance against the Red Wings on Saturday, he followed it up with the same Tuesday.
With the Canes desperately needing a spark late in the second period, it was Svechnikov who provided it with a power-play snipe to break a scoreless deadlock. While, similarly to Svechnikov’s power-play blast that was tipped home by Trocheck against Detroit, the Canes almost immediately gave up a goal following the tally, this one sparked them to a much better performance the rest of the game, ultimately propelling the team to victory.
The sample size is small, but Svechnikov’s total of three goals through three games is tied for the league lead, and his five points sits tied for second in the NHL.
Andrei Svechnikov with a blocker-side snipe on Pekka Rinne. He has goals in each of the first three games of the season. Hurricanes and Predators are tied at one late in the second period. pic.twitter.com/r7sE6FOlqV— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) January 19, 2021
“In big crunch time, he doesn’t shy away,” Brind’Amour said. “That was just a high-end play all the way around. His goal was a high-end goal. I don’t think people realize how hard that is, what he’s doing over there on that off side, to catch and turn and fire it that hard. It’s a skillset not many guys can do. Obviously he was a difference maker tonight.”
Svechnikov also made a great pass on Sebastian Aho’s game winner. Speaking of…
Aho on the board
Coming into the season, much of the discourse around the Hurricanes’ forward lines out of camp centered on Svechnikov’s removal from the top line with Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. While Brind’Amour was looking to spread the wealth and not put all his eggs in one basket, sometimes you have to put your big guns together and let them go to work.
With Teravainen largely unavailable (more on that in a bit), Brind’Amour did that in the third period, putting Aho and Svechnikov with Brock McGinn. The move paid off, with Aho finishing off a gorgeous feed from Svechnikov for his first marker of the season.
“We played together all last year,” Svechnikov said. “We got some chemistry from last year. Obviously I know where he is going to be, and he knows where I’m going to be. That does make it easy on us. We feel each other now very well.”
And that first goal for Aho could be a domino effect. He’s been a player who’s taken a bit to start scoring in years past, but once he does, the goals come in bunches. With a short season, the Canes couldn’t really afford a slow start from their best player. Now that Aho has that first goal, it would be a large development for the Canes if that sparks a similar outburst to years past.
Trocheck stepping up to the plate
Coming into this season, Vincent Trocheck was arguably the biggest X Factor in the Canes taking a step forward. If he could be the second-line center the team thought it was getting at last year’s trade deadline and get back to his top-six form from previous seasons in Florida, it would make the lineup that much more dangerous.
He’s been that so far, contributing in all phases of the game and scoring two goals, including a beautiful shot off the rush Monday that gave the Canes a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“He’s a competitor,” Brind’Amour said. “I said that from day one. You know he’s going to compete. I think we’re using him on everything right now. Obviously that was a huge goal. He’s going to compete every night. He’s going to make some mistakes, just like everybody, and it’s all generally trying to do too much. You really can’t fault guys for that at the end of the day. He’s making some good plays for us, and that’s obviously why we got him.”
A costly win?
The victory may have been a bittersweet for the Hurricanes. Aside from their two power plays in the second and third, Teravainen largely did not play after the first period. Brind’Amour said he “tweaked something,” and while he wanted to gut it out on the power play, was otherwise not available, and his status for tonight’s game is uncertain.
The Hurricanes are already without captain Jordan Staal, who remains on the league’s COVID protocol list, and his absence has been felt, particularly in the faceoff circle. If Teravainen has to miss anytime, the team would be without its do-it-all, playmaking winger.
Every team knew this would be a season of attrition due to curve balls thrown by the pandemic and injuries stemming from the condensed schedule. Organizational depth would be important, and the Hurricanes have that. Still, having to fill in for players of Staal and Teravainen’s caliber and importance would test any team’s mettle, and the Hurricanes are likely no different.