Yesterday, the sports world got together and celebrated the event of the year. All eyes were fixed on the big game, and expectations were at an all-time high.
With anticipation through the roof, the moment finally arrived, and two star-studded teams went toe-to-toe in the battle to end all battles - a war for glory and long-lasting bragging rights. And, my friends, let me tell you, it didn’t disappoint.
The Carolina Hurricanes beat the Columbus Blue Jackets by a final score of 6-5.
Oh, what a game it was! Let’s talk about last night!
Brett Pesce Leads the Way
Sunday afternoon’s win featured yet another stellar performance from Pesce, who has quickly reminded everyone how valuable he is and how much he was missed during the team’s playoff run last season.
At 16:35 of the second period, he scored the first goal of the season by a Canes defenseman. For good reason, that was a stat that surprised a lot of people. This is a team built around their dynamic defensemen, and while Dougie Hamilton has been hovering around point-per-game production, he and every member of the Carolina blue line hadn’t scored a goal all year.
Pesce changed that.
His goal tied the game at 3-3, and it marked the last time in the game that the Hurricanes were trailing the Blue Jackets.
Beyond his big goal, he was outstanding in all areas. Reunited with Jaccob Slavin, the duo helped the Canes control north of 70% of 5-on-5 shot attempts while they were on the ice. Pesce had a team-high 25:15 of ice time in the win and paced all Carolina defensemen with an 80.85% on-ice expected goal-share at 5-on-5 and was on the ice for three 5-on-5 goals-for without rendering a goal against.
To go with all of that, his two points on Sunday extended his point streak to four games. He has five points over that span of games, dating back to Jan. 31 against the Dallas Stars.
Another Big Day for Jordan Staal
After the game, Ryan Dzingel said, “It’s 2021. Anything is possible these days.” While he was talking about the bizarre officiating fiasco, I’m going to steal his quote and apply it to the fact that Staal has been an offensive dynamo since coming off the COVID protocol list.
Over his last five games, Staal has recorded eight points, and yesterday he tallied a goal and a pair of assists.
His first assist was a slick feed to Warren Foegele in front of the net to tie the game at 2-2, and while his pass was the final play needed to set up the goal, it was his disrupting of goalie Joonas Korpisalo that created the turnover that led to the goal.
Staal’s line, flanked by Foegele and Ryan Dzingel, was fantastic at 5-on-5. All three forwards finished with an expected goal-share north of 90% at 5-on-5. They were a dominant force and did a great job maintaining possession of the puck in the offensive zone.
The Hurricanes are getting a lot of offense out of a player who doesn’t usually show up in the scoresheet as often as he has. Is it a new-found elite offensive finishing ability or puck luck?
“A little of both,” Staal said after the game. “There’s definitely puck luck, and that’s what you need if you’re gonna put it in the net, so we’ve been fortunate there. We’ve gotten some bounces, and it’s been to get them early and get going right away to start the season. I felt good coming into the season; I felt strong. I’m going to try to continue doing what I’m doing.”
The Canes know what they’re going to get on a nightly basis from Staal in the effort department. He’s as steady as they come, and he has been for years. I’m sure they’ll gladly take this offensive surge as long as they can, as well.
With 1:15 left in the second period, Vincent Trocheck scored to give the Hurricanes their first lead of the day. While the Hurricanes celebrated, the Blue Jackets thought something was wrong.
Columbus head coach John Tortorella challenged the goal for an offside zone entry, the play was reviewed, and it was ruled that the entry was legal. It looked pretty close, but the goal stood as called, which meant the Hurricanes got a power play as a result of a failed coach’s challenge.
Carolina failed to score in the 1:15 of power-play time they got before the period ended, and both teams went to their respective locker rooms and prepared for a normal third period.
Naturally, when the teams returned to the ice with five players on the ice, everyone said, in unison, “what the hell?”
As the period continued, we finally figured out what happened... and it’s a doozy.
After initially reviewing the offsides challenge, the league ruled that it was a good goal, but as the second period ended, they said, “Oopsies!” and changed their minds. The zone entry was, in fact, offside. The league decided that the logical solution was to keep the goal on the board but take away the rest of the Canes’ power play in the third period.
I don’t even know where to begin with this because it is one of the more ridiculous scenarios in recent memory of NHL refs being ridiculous. It’s so insane that I’m not even going to dive into the intricacies of said insanity.
The only thing I can say is... the Hurricanes got a pretty good break!
About the Goaltending...
If you love great goaltending duels, Sunday’s game was not for you.
Carolina’s James Reimer and Columbus’ Korpisalo went through it. Both goalies posted sub-.780 save percentages as they allowed 11 total goals on 48 shots on goal.
Reimer has a rough one, to say the least. Patrick Laine scored twice, both on power-play one-timers from the top of the left circle. I won’t scrutinize those goals because it’s about as close to the Alex Ovechkin experience that the Canes will get this season.
There were, however, some unfortunate goals.
Nick Foligno scored on a short-side shot on a two-on-one rush late in the second period after the Canes had played one of their best periods of the season. That felt like a backbreaking goal, but to Carolina’s credit, they fought back and scored twice before the end of the period.
In the third period, Max Domi sent a one-time shot from a bad angle off of Reimer’s shoulder and into the net to tie the game at 4-4. That one also hurt.
Carolina battled, as did Reimer, but it wasn’t a banner night for the veteran goalie who has allowed ten goals on 56 shots over his last two starts. With Petr Mrazek out for the foreseeable future, the Canes really need more out of Reimer. We know he can be an impact goalie in a tandem situation, but the story changes when he is the go-to guy.
Alex Nedlejkovic will get the net on Monday, and he really needs to have a strong showing, both for his sake and that of the team.