Playing their first game in 10 days, against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, with five regular contributors out of the lineup, it would have been hard to fault the Hurricanes from looking sloppy, sluggish or less printable adjectives in their home opener Thursday night.
They looked none of the above, however, and got contributions from across the board in a 1-0 overtime win. There were big saves, a highlight-reel finish and debuts to remember. Let’s take a look at some key takeaways from the victory:
Goaltending continues to shine
With Jaccob Slavin one of the players missing, one would have figured on a busy night in net for Petr Mrazek. Add in the fact that the four forwards missing: Jordan Martinook, Warren Foegele, Teuvo Teravainen and Jesper Fast, are all defensively responsible players, and Mrazek was going to need a big night.
It turned out he had a flawless one. The Canes’ starter was stellar, stopping all 32 shots the Lightning sent his way, including 14 in a second period where the ice was tilted against the Canes.
It certainly wasn’t a horrible night defensively for Carolina, but Mrazek was called upon to make some highlight-reel stops, and he answered the bell each time. He had no choice but to be perfect, because his opponent on the other end, Andrei Vasilevskiy, was also stellar, stopping 34 of 35 Hurricanes shots, several of the high-danger variety.
“It’s always a challenge to play a goalie like him, especially considering he’s a Stanley Cup champion from last year,” Mrazek said. “It was a big challenge, but for everyone, it was exciting.”
And, while four games is a small sample size, stellar goaltending has been the norm for Carolina thus far. Mrazek has two shutouts, a .955 save percentage and 1.00 goals-against average in three starts, and James Reimer stopped 33 of 35 saves in a winning effort in his lone start thus far.
The Canes’ .949 team save percentage is second in the league, and they’ve given up 1.5 goals against per game, also the second fewest.
The Canes came into the year knowing they’d need both their goalies to pick them up, and so far so good.
“They’ve been super sharp,” said head coach Rod Brind’Amor. “Petr looked great tonight. He looked like he was on it right from the start, and even the grade-A chances they had, he looked like he was going to save them. He looked like he had a bead on it. … We need that. Obviously, you’re not going anywhere without goaltending.”
Newcomers fit in
The aforementioned absences meant room for others to step into the lineup, in this case, defenseman Jake Bean and forwards Morgan Geekie, Max McCormick, Steven Loretnz and Sheldon Rempal.
None looked out of place, and all made contributions in the victory.
“Everyone was good tonight, that’s what was great,” Brind’Amour said. “We knew we needed to have all 20 guys contribute in some form or fashion, and I thought that’s what happened tonight.”
Lorentz, who made his long-anticipated NHL debut, looked particularly comfortable skating on Staal’s wing, logging his first shot on goal and drawing in on the penalty kill.
“The kid was great,” Staal said. “I could tell right away that he was feeling comfortable. He’s got great speed and I just told him to use his legs. ‘You go get the pucks and find me backdoor,’ is kind of how I was joking around with him. He had a great game. He skated well, made some good plays and did what he had to do.”
Necas showed off his world-class speed and skill in overtime, going from end to end and executing a perfect give and go with Jordan Staal before eventually finishing it off to win the game.
And he made contributions throughout the night.
“He’s got that ability that I call it game breaking,” Brind’Amour said. “Five on five is hard and it’s tight. You get those specialty times, you need to have those special players, and we’ve got a couple. So he’s starting to really emerge. Obviously you can see it. To your earlier part about learning the game, he’s taken strides in that area too, so we can definitely use him. Tonight, we even used him on the penalty kill and he was fine. We talked about opportunity before the game, and he definitely stepped up.”
Necas was one of the players tabbed to step in for the aforementioned absent quintet of penalty killers, logging 1:26 shorthanded on a Hurricanes penalty kill that went 3 for 3 against a dangerous Lightning man advantage.
“I love it,” Necas said. “It was good. When I was younger, I used to play on the PK. Now I was just watching the guys, how they defended, and it’s good to be part of the PK. I like it, and we’ll see when the other guys are going to jump in, but I definitely like to play on the PK.”
Welcome back, captain
The team saw Staal, who was the team’s first player on the NHL’s COVID list, back for the first time since its season opener two weeks ago.
He turned in a great performance, with the beautiful game-winning assist, four hits, two shots on goal, two blocks, and, of great importance, a 67% night in the faceoff circle, an area the team had struggled mightily without him.
“He was great, logged a lot of minutes,” Brind’Amour said. He always does but tonight was even more so, and when he was out, you’d miss that. It’s tough to replace that.”
Coming off a trying 10-day layoff, without four valued teammates, the team needed its captain to lead the way, and Staal did exactly that.
“It’s adversity and teams grow with adversity,” Staal said. “Coming out of that break we knew it was going to be tough against one of, if not the, best team in the league. We knew it was a great challenge and I thought the guys did a great job of stepping up and fighting through that little adversity. Just finding ways to grind it out. It was a very rewarding feeling, but we have to stay after it. Can’t have a lull in the next games coming up.”