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About Last Night: Shorthanded Canes take top spot in Central

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The Carolina Hurricanes, despite their own best efforts, came away with the victory in Sunshine as they took down the Florida Panthers 4-2 for sole possession of the top spot in the Central division.

Carolina Hurricanes v Florida Panthers Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Florida Panthers for the sixth straight time Thursday night at the BB&T Center by a final score of 4-2.

Despite having to play against not only all 19 Panthers that hit the ice last night but also the four on-ice officials as well, the Canes held strong.

A rock-solid penalty kill and stellar goaltending from Alex Nedeljkovic helped carry Carolina back into sole possession of the top spot in the Central Division.

Here’s a few takeaways from last night:

Yeoman’s Work

The Carolina Hurricanes had their work cut out for them as the team had to kill off nine penalties called against them and collected a total of 27 penalty minutes in the 60-minute contest.

It was the kind of game where everything was getting called, whether it was really deserving of a penalty or not.

The Canes were also down not only one key penalty killer in Brady Skjei, who was out due to concussion protocol after being boarded by Blake Coleman in Tuesday night’s game in Tampa, but they also lost Jordan Martinook halfway through the game after he absorbed a big hip check from Radko Gudas.

So it was up to the rest of the team to kill off the torrent of penalties.

Jaccob Slavin led the way with 11:56 of shorthanded ice time — more than Morgan Geekie, Steven Lorentz, Cedric Paquette, Martinook and Joakim Ryan had total ice time — Brett Pesce logged 9:42 and Jordan Staal, Warren Foegele, Dougie Hamilton, Jani Hakanpaa, Martin Necas, Jesper Fast and Sebastian Aho all logged over four minutes of PK time.

In all, 15 Canes skaters saw the ice while the team was shorthanded and the only goal that was allowed out of all of that came during a 5-on-3 situation late in the third.

The Hurricanes’ penalty kill has long been one of their bread and butters, but this game was a true testament to their ability to #digin and #grind to victory.

All Skill

Aho netted two shorthanded goals in the victory, both assisted by Necas — who ended up with three assists on the night.

The two goals moved Aho into second place all time on the franchise history list for shorthanded goals with 12 and he now trails only Eric Staal’s 16, a number he should more than likely reach before too long.

But honestly it was about time that Aho and Necas finally connected on the PK this season.

We have all seen the dominance this pair has exhibited at even strength, but their shorthand play has been just as good.

The pair (according to NaturalStatTrick.com) had combined for 10 total scoring chances shorthanded with seven of them being high danger ones. They also control an expected goal for percentage of 58.6% when together while shorthanded.

The pair’s awareness and speed just leads to so many rushes the other way but goalies had continually stoned them even when they were getting really good looks. There was nothing, however, that Sergei Bobrovsky was going to be able to do with that 2-on-0 coming at him.

Next Man Up

The Carolina Hurricanes have caught an injury bug here as of late and the latest victim is Martinook.

That puts him alongside Skjei, Brock McGinn, Teuvo Teravainen and Petr Mrazek, who were all already listed on the injury report last night.

It’s been a bit of a rough season for the Canes with players being in and out of the lineup due to injuries and COVID, but Carolina has persevered.

Again the top team in the division and still one of the best in the league, the Canes have been winning without key players in their lineup and it’s thanks to the elevated play of everyone else.

In the goalie department, Mrazek’s injury has resulted in the blossoming of Alex Nedeljkovic, who seems like an NHL starter with his 12-4-2 record, 1.87 GAA, 0.933 save percentage and 4.9 goals saved above expected according to MoneyPuck.com.

He continued that dominance with a strong performance last night with 20 saves on 21 shots, including three high-danger saves with none better than this one on Jonathan Huberdeau.

The forward injuries have resulted in a stable role for Lorentz and allowed Geekie to continue to carve out playing time, and Aho, Necas and Niederreiter have helped carry a lot of the top-end load.

And the defensive injuries even allowed for Joakim Ryan’s Hurricanes debut last night where he played 10:53, charted some PK time and had a block.

The Canes are buying in all up and down the lineup, but can you imagine the level this team can reach at full health? A scary thought indeed for the rest of the league.