It was another physical game for the Hurricanes, but one that offered much more space to make plays and skate than there had been in the past handful.
Let’s take a look at some of the key takeaways from last night’s bout:
Power Play Gears Grinding
After four straight games of only getting a single chance on the man advantage, the Canes finally started to actually get calls going their way that allowed them to keep sending their units back out onto the ice.
And the NHL’s top power play (29.8%) went to work, scoring twice in its four opportunities — more so really three chances as one of the power plays lasted only seven seconds coming out of a 4-on-4.
On average, the Hurricanes score in one out of every three of their power plays, so when they get more chances, they score more often. Simple math, yeah?
But honestly, for whatever reason, the Hurricanes usually don’t score on the first power play chance they get in a game. The last time they scored on their opening man advantage was March 17 against the Detroit Red Wings and overall they’ve only scored in six of their opening chances in 38 games this season.
That first chance almost usually seems like a feeling out process for the Hurricanes, who typically prefer to find their game and footing at 5-on-5 before hopping into special teams.
But so long as the game is called how it should be — which hadn’t been quite the case in the past few — the Hurricanes can usually edge out most opponents.
The lethal first unit with Dougie Hamilton running the point, Vincent Trocheck (who has scored in all five games against his former team) and Jordan Staal creating dual screens and deflections in front and Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov running each circle just works incredibly.
Their individual talents are complemented by one another in the cohesive unit that just seems to ooze chemistry and it’s overloaded by confidence right now.
“We haven’t had too much power play time lately, and we hadn’t scored in a few games either so we wanted to show everyone that we still got it,” Aho said after the win last night.
Petr, Petr, Petr
Did anybody expect Petr Mrazek to play this well, right out of the gate in his return?
The coaching staff was nothing but patient with him, putting the decision on his shoulders and having no need to rush a return due to the consistent and elevated play of Alex Nedeljkovic and James Reimer.
Mrazek also got a conditioning stint with the Chicago Wolves where he faced over 40 shots and many different game and shooter scenarios.
But to come back and post a 28-save shutout Sunday against the Dallas Stars and then follow that up with his performance last night, where he stoned breakaways three separate times and stopped 13 high-danger chances against, according to NaturalStatTrick.com?
In five complete starts — the NHL tracks him as having played six games despite only having played 2:47 of the game he was injured in, so I’ll ignore that for now — Mrazek has posted 3 shutouts, has a 0.962 save percentage and a 0.99 goals against average.
And according to MoneyPuck.com, Mrazek has also turned aside seven goals above expected which makes him seventh in that regard among goaltenders this season that have appeared in at least five games.
The most consistent improvement to Mrazek’s overall game this year has been his tracking of the puck. He always has been an athletic goaltender and in some ways relied on that talent a bit too much, but now he seems much calmer and is combining that athleticism with more sound positioning.
Through traffic, Mrazek has especially done well with grabbing pucks and limiting rebounds to get whistles and when he does offer up a rebound, he’s usually already moved into position to get the next shot or he’s able to pounce on the loose puck.
He was great at the start of the season and he seems just as good right now. Like he never missed a beat.
Jordan Staal has been everything for the Hurricanes.
A leader, an aggressive forechecker, a key faceoff winner, a responsible backchecker, a penalty killer, a power play staple and a… prolific goal scorer?
Well maybe not prolific, but damn has he had some important goals for the Hurricanes all season.
Not only did he get the tie-breaking goal to slip through Sergei Bobrovsky last night, but he also iced the game away into the empty-net with both Patric Hornqvist (189lb) and Alexander Barkov (213lb) hanging off his back.
Every time Staal does that little something extra that makes us all take a bit more notice of him, Rod Brind’Amour always puts it perfectly.
“We love him,” Brind’Amour said after the win. “You know that. You’ve heard me talk about him forever. This year is special because his play hasn’t changed, but the goals are going in. His confidence is there. He’s leading our charge. It’s that simple.”
Staal might be one of the quieter guys on the team, but there is no doubt that he has the command and respect of everyone in that locker room. The team loves him and he sets the example for the whole team in what it means to play a complete game, and honestly, what it means to be a Hurricane.
He is the epitome of a captain and one of the biggest parts of Carolina’s success.