The state fair is in town, so the Carolina Hurricanes are out of town.
Last night, the Hurricanes kicked off game one of five on their tour of the Pacific Division against a San Jose Sharks club that dropped both of their games with the Nashville Predators last week in the NHL’s Global Series in Prague.
It took a while for Rod Brind’Amour’s group to get to their game, but two dominant periods and goals from Martin Necas and Sebastian Aho were enough to spoil the Shark’s home opener and make Brent Burns’ homecoming a success.
Let’s talk about last night.
An Uninspired Opening 20
For whatever reason, the first period on Friday night looked like it was played by a rebuilding team that last played six days ago roughly 6,000 miles away, and a team that had to start a cross-country road trip in the opening week of their season.
27 seconds after the opening puck drop, the Hurricanes found themselves shorthanded, setting the tone for a sloppy start for the team at 5-on-5.
Carolina had a strong response after the successful early kill, leading to a handful of scoring chances for the top-six, but they were kept at bay by former Hurricane James Reimer. After that push, they struggled to get much of anything going in the first period, lacking execution at even strength and flailing during a power play opportunity of their own in the second half of the frame.
Antti Raanta was fighting it early on. He struggled to control rebounds and locate pucks in his first start of the new campaign, benefitting from a few botched Sharks scoring chances before allowing the first game’s first goal with just over two minutes left in the period.
A seemingly low-danger shot from Evgeny Svechnikov outside of the left circle avoided the stick of a defending Calvin de Haan and snuck into the net for a short-side tally on Raanta.
Fortunately, they quickly found their game after exchanging power plays with the Sharks early in the second period. After scratching across 11 5-on-5 shot attempts in the first period, the Hurricanes pelted Reimer and the Sharks to the tune of 21 in the second and 23 in the third while dominating possession and often outclassing their opponent.
A New Necas
After showing out with a three-point opening night effort against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Martin Necas was one of the few Hurricanes who were flying in the early stages of game two.
The 2021-22 season was a concerning step in the wrong direction for Necas, whose breakout age-21 season in ‘20-21 came with a new set of higher expectations for the 2017 first-round pick.
There hasn’t been an ounce of indifference in Necas’ game so far this season. He flirted with the back of the net multiple times on Friday, including a near miss on a wrap-around attempt, before finally breaking through and getting the Hurricanes on the board late in the second period.
A neutral zone steal and a great feed from Andrei Svechnikov set the table for Necas’ slick finish through Reimer's legs to tie the game 22 seconds before the second intermission. That was far from the end of Necas’ contributions, though.
Again, the 23-year-old forward was absolutely flying all over the ice. He was going hard into corners and fearlessly driving the front of the net, even catching a puck to the side of the face around the halfway point of the second period as a direct result of him being in the middle of the ice.
He was relied on to take some faceoffs on the right side, as well, and while he was a modest three-for-seven in the dot, it also contributed to him being in the middle of the action.
The entire second line has held impressive form through two games. Svechnikov secured some quality scoring chances in addition to his great play to set up Necas, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi led all Carolina forwards in on-ice expected goals-for while winning 64% of his faceoffs.
This version of Necas is one that can be a hugely impactful force in the top six. He’s been engaged in all three zones, using his skating ability to put himself in the middle of the action. There’s a palpable energy that he is playing with, and it spreads to his linemates.
“He’s been great,” Brind’Amour said of Necas after the game. “Now he’s just gotta keep doing it.”
A Very Finnish Finish
Despite controlling the game for much of the final two periods, the Hurricanes were in danger of seeing their late night go even later as the final minutes of regulation time ticked away in a tie game.
A pair of team cornerstones connected to finally give the Canes their first lead of the night with 1:58 left in the third period.
After a centering pass from Teuvo Teravainen just missed the stick of Sebastian Aho in front, Brett Pesce retrieved the puck, stepped in, and wired a pass to Aho as he pushed off of Erik Karlsson for a skate-redirection goal.
Aho’s first goal of the year came at an opportune time, and all the Hurricanes had to do was keep a sound-asleep offense off the scoresheet for 118 seconds.
The Sharks very nearly pulled a rabbit out of their hat in the game’s dying seconds. Tomas Hertl, who had a quiet night, had two late chances, the latter a chance at the goalline against a sprawled-out Raanta.
Raanta managed to stretch out and rob Hertl with a glove save with less than two seconds on the clock to secure a 2-1 road win to kick off the five-game road trip.
Game one out West was a grind, but this team should be capable of winning any kind of game, be it a barnburner or a slog. They got the job done on Friday to improve to 2-0-0.