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About Last Night: Canes handle Hawks

The Carolina Hurricanes were led by strong performances by their centers to take a 6-3 win over the downtrodden Blackhawks.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes continued the best start in franchise history with a 6-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Friday to move to 7-0-0 on the season. This leaves the Canes and the Florida Panthers as the only two undefeated teams remaining in the league.

This win also moved the Canes into sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division standings, now clear of the Washington Capitals by one point with one game in hand.

This was the first game that Rod Brind’Amour utilized lineup changes, but they did not include Brendan Smith or Seth Jarvis, who could potentially see game action in the Sunday matinee.

Who’s That in Net?

For the first time this season, the Canes had someone in the crease who wasn’t Frederick Andersen. Antti Raanta earned his first win as a Carolina Hurricane, stopping 23 of the 26 shots that he faced in a game that was only competitive for about a period and a half.

His three goals against are a little misleading. Only one of the goals came at even strength, the first of the game. The other two came on the Chicago power play, with the last coming in the third period after the game was out of hand. Even the even-strength goal would be tough to pin on Raanta. The goal was a one-timer through the crease directly in front of net. It would have taken superhuman effort to keep the puck out of the net.

Much like Andersen, Raanta plays a fairly conservative style, much more conservative than the Petr Mrazek/Alex Nedeljkovic style that Canes fans are now used to. With the sub-par Blackhawks offense, he wasn’t forced to make soul-stealing saves, and he proved that he can play a competent game when he is called upon. It would make sense for him to see more action in the coming weeks to give Andersen more time off with the schedule getting denser.

High-Powered Centers

The center depth of the Canes really shined Friday night. The first four goals of the game saw each center either score or earn a primary assist. The vision and playmaking ability of both Sebastian Aho and Vincent Trocheck led to two of the first three goals on the night. Both were able to find open teammates in Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Tony DeAngelo, respectively, in open ice and an open net.

Jordan Staal and Derek Stepan on the other hand used their physicality to drive the net to create their goals. That should really come as a surprise to no one.

One of the main benefits of this year’s roster is the added talent in the wings. With Kotkaniemi and Teuvo Teravainen on the top line with Aho, there are more chances for odd-man rushes. Before it had to be Aho and Teravainen in the right spot, now it just needs to be one of the two. Kotkaniemi showed that he can finish in that spot, something that a top-six Brock McGinn could rarely do.

This extends down the lineup with Andrei Svechnikov on the second line with Trocheck. He earned his seventh goal of the year on a play set up by Trocheck. The Canes have great Centers, but they have also surrounded all four centers with players that can find the back of the net.

The Best Offense is a Good Defense

Not to be outdone by the forwards, the defensemen also joined the party. While DeAngelo was the only defenseman with a goal on the night, Ian Cole also earned his first point as a Hurricane last night. Ethan Bear and Jaccob Slavin also picked up assists on the night, which also means that every defenseman has found the scoresheet just seven games into the season.

On DeAngelo’s goal in the first period, he was down low on the post when he received the pass from Trocheck to score. He had a huge impact on the rush jumping in and ending up as the target man for the goal. He’s not the only one to do it, almost every position there is a defenseman jumping up trying to create more chances.

This hasn’t come as a detriment to the defensive aspect of the game. One of the benefits of a player like Slavin is his ability to shut down an odd-man rush single-handed. In the third period he stopped a three-on-one by batting a puck out of the air, but it's something he does almost every possession. That ability is why the Canes can play Bear on the top line and give him the freedom to succeed that he has.

This kind of play happens on all three pairs to some extent with Cole backing up DeAngelo and Pesce backing up Brady Skjei.

Nino Niederreiter Injury

Niederreiter left the game in the third period with a non-contact injury when his skate appeared to catch an edge. In the post-game meeting with reporters, Rod Brind’Amour said he “may be out a while.” This would be a big blow for the Canes as the line of Staal, Niederreiter and Jesper Fast was the most complete line on the team. Nino also had a great start to the season with three goals in the first six games.

This could lead to Brind’Amour shuffling lines, that would hopefully only alter the bottom six of the lineup or could include a new addition from the healthy scratch pool.

It was expected that rookie Seth Jarvis would see time this weekend anyway, but this may increase the urgency to play him. Jarvis has nine games at the NHL level before he will have to be sent back to the juniors, which could get the Hurricanes through Nov. 20 without the Swiss forward. This could be just the opportunity he needs to impress the coaches.

Looking Ahead

The Canes have a daunted Sunday matinee against the Arizona Coyotes. While the Coyotes may be a basement-dwelling team, the Canes' greatest enemy is an afternoon game.

The Canes will likely put Andersen back in net and could also mark the first appearance of Brendan Smith. However, it’s hard to tell which defenseman should come out of the lineup to make room for him. Both Aho and Svechnikov will enter the game on seven-game point streaks.