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About Last Night: Canes outclass shorthanded Habs

The Carolina Hurricanes returned to play and hung four goals and a shutout on a decimated Montreal Canadiens roster Thursday night at PNC Arena.

Montreal Canadiens v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

What is hockey? Is a puck a ball? Who are the Carolina Hurricanes?

All valid questions after the ‘long’ hiatus from Hurricanes hockey, but a four-goal, shutout performance of the Montreal Canadiens Thursday night at PNC Arena may have rejogged some memories.

Despite a slow start to the game, the Canes got it going midway through the first and never looked back as they handled the Habs for three straight periods.

Let’s take a look back at last night:

Special Teams

It’s hard to imagine a better showcasing of special teams than what the Carolina Hurricanes did last night.

Four total goals scored in the game, yet not a single one at even-strength.

And the Canes needed their special teams to be on point with the way the game was officiated. There were 10 penalties called over the course of the game, five to each team, and that equated to nearly a full period of time not at 5v5.

“That’s obviously the game tonight,” said head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “Special teams were huge. I knew we would struggle with the 5-on-5 play because we’ve been out so long. We had guys not doing much, some of the guys were dealing with their COVID things. The nature of the whole thing, I figured it would kind of look like that. But it was a good win.”

But the penalty kill stayed perfect, as it has many times already this season. It’s honestly becoming a staple in these pieces. Just heaping praise on the penalty kill but they deserve it and especially with how effective they are given the frequency of Carolina’s infractions.

The shorthanded goals starting to finally come just makes it all the better.

What is more promising to see though, is the power play having success.

Sure the Canes were playing against basically an AHL roster with a combined cap-hit of about $19 million once Brendan Gallagher left with an injury, but it has been clicking as of late and it continued to take care of business, so phooey to that.

Special teams is a bigger aspect of the game in this day and age than ever before, so for the Hurricanes to have a top-two PK and top-10 PP is the key to a very successful season.

Staying Hot

It had been 12 days since the last time the Hurricanes played a game of hockey, yet despite that, the hot streaks continued for a few key players.

  • Sebastian Aho, who picked up two assists in the win, registered his sixth straight multi-point game making him just the third player in franchise history to mark that feat — Mike Rogers and Kevin Dineen being the others.
  • Nino Niederreiter opened the scoring for Carolina last night — his fourth goal in the last five games — marking his fourth game-winning goal of the season, one short of tying his career best and two shy of the current league lead.
  • Jaccob Slavin continued his impressive offensive performance, picking up three assists without a drop in his dependable and stellar defense.
  • Jesperi Kotkaniemi kept up his point-per-game pace against his former club with the primary helper on the game-winning goal and wasn’t shy of physicality with six hits.
  • Teuvo Teravainen continues to surprise (not really) everyone by actually being a primary shooting option, with a two-goal night and more alone expected lines, having 11 points in his last nine games.
  • Antti Raanta turned aside 26 shots and saved 2.32 goals above expected according to MoneyPuck.com to earn his first shutout with Carolina and first since Feb. 4, 2020.

“I think for me my mindset was just trying to battle,” Raanta said. “I was just trying to see the shots, do whatever it takes to make a save. Obviously all the saves weren’t the most perfect, but I was managing to keep the puck out of the net. Sometimes that’s how it is. I was just trying to battle hard. I wasn’t trying to make all the saves as perfect as they can be. I was just trying to keep the puck out of the net, and I managed to do that.”

Looking Ahead

That is the end for the Hurricanes in 2021, but it was a pretty good year on the ice. For the entire length of 2021, the Canes had a 63-25-9 record for both regular season and playoffs and scored 305 total goals. Not too bad.

The team will kick off the new year early though, with a 1 p.m. puck drop on New Year’s Day in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.

January features a more favorable split of home games for the Canes — eight home, five away — with three sets of back-to-backs.

Carolina will also play host to a handful of true contenders in January: Calgary Flames on Jan. 7, Florida Panthers on Jan. 8, and Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 25, along with more matchups against divisional opponents (six out of the 13 total games).

The Canes were slated to play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 3 in Toronto, but the NHL postponed the game due to increased COVID protocols in Canada.

Here’s to another year of Canes’ hockey and may there be many more goals and Stanley Cups for the Hurricanes in 2022.