The Carolina Hurricanes faced an arduous task on Friday night.
After a dramatic come-from-behind shootout win down in Tampa on Thursday, the team had to back it up against a Buffalo Sabres team riding a three-game win streak that saw them score a whopping 18 goals.
After a shaky start, the Hurricanes kicked things into gear and rode monster performances from star players to their fourth consecutive win.
Let’s talk about last night.
A Slow Start
On the heels of an emotional road win, the Hurricanes struggled to find their game in the early going against the Sabres.
After Alex Tuch’s bid for the first shot on goal of the game got deflected out of play by Jaccob Slavin 15 seconds into the game, a defensive zone faceoff win by Jesperi Kotkaniemi quickly led to a rare Slavin turnover and a quick Buffalo goal.
Jacob Bryson’s shot bounced off Andrei Svechnikov, who couldn’t get positioning on Tuch, and the puck bounced by Antti Raanta.
The shifts following the goal weren’t much better, as Buffalo secured a few chances in the offensive zone, and Carolina struggled to do much of anything with the puck.
Peyton Krebs nearly extended the road team’s lead after a defensive zone breakdown saw the former first-round pick get a point-blank chance. Raanta out-waited Krebs and managed to make a big stop.
It was one of those nights where the Hurricanes needed a bounce to go their way to get going, and thankfully, that bounce came just after the eight-minute mark of the opening frame.
Sabres rookie Jack Quinn turned the puck over to Hurricanes’ sophomore Seth Jarvis, and the Finns took care of the rest.
Teuvo Teravainen slid a dazzling no-look pass straight to the tape of an unmarked Sebastian Aho for the tying goal.
Carolina’s follow-up shift saw them seize the momentum shift and push for another tally, but one rush the other way from Kyle Okposo set up another offensive zone faceoff and another goal for the Sabres.
Victor Olofsson’s one-timer from the high slot awkwardly trickled through Aho and Raanta, who were jumbled together in the Carolina crease. Buffalo’s early goals were aided by sloppy defensive zone positioning that saw a Carolina forward limiting Raanta’s space in the blue paint.
Fortunately, the Sabres wouldn't beat Raanta again for 49:53 of in-game time. During that stretch, it was all Carolina on the scoreboard.
The Sebastian Aho Show (Ft. Martin Necas)
Kotkaniemi drew a Rasmus Dahlin tripping penalty (that wouldn’t be their final interaction of the game) to set up the first Hurricanes power play of the night, and Aho did it again.
Martin Necas’ shot off of Aho’s faceoff win found the pivot’s stick for a redirection, but Craig Anderson made a kick save. Then, after regrouping, Necas found Aho for a short-side one-time rocket and his second goal of the night.
Aho, who went four games without finding the back of the net, struck gold twice in just over 4:30 of game time. Both goals were wicked one-timers off perfectly-placed passes from Teravainen and the red-hot Necas.
One of the most promising developments from Friday night was the power play. The top unit combined for several great scoring chances, including a backdoor chance for Svechnikov off a great pass from Stefan Noesen on a set play.
Aho’s first legitimate bid for a hat trick also came on the power play. Noesen gained the offensive zone and set up Necas for a quick 2-on-1, but Aho rifled his shot wide of the net. Necas and Aho were flying all night, and they got yet another chance four minutes into the second period - this one at 5-on-5.
Necas’ hard forechecking on Casey Fitzgerald forced a turnover in the Buffalo zone. Aho collected the puck, spun away from a recovering Fitzgerald, and found Necas on the other side of the net for a fadeaway snapshot that Andersen could barely react to.
That was Necas’ fourth goal in five games and his seventh of the season. It also vaulted him into the top ten in NHL goal-scoring - just one behind Svechnikov’s team-leading eight.
On his next shift, Necas got another grade-A scoring chance off of a feed from a pinching Brett Pesce, but Anderson got across in time to shut him down. He managed to gain separation early in the third period and get another great chance off of a centering pass from Svechnikov, but that rendered the same result.
Raanta had a stretch late in the second and early in the third period where he had to make some tough stops, but after his rough start, he was on his game and helped the Hurricanes retain their lead.
Necas’ persistence finally paid off again in the form of a gorgeous assist to make it a 4-2 game almost halfway through the third period.
Kotkaniemi won an offensive zone faceoff, and his line put the Sabres’ defense into a blender.
Buffalo anticipated Svechnikov moving the puck back to the point. Instead, he found Necas in the slot, and Necas instantly spun a centering feed that deflected off of Kotkaniemi’s skate and slid by Anderson.
Necas’ start to the new season has been well documented, but last night was another stellar outing from the electric forward. He was constantly in the middle of the ice, finding open space, making himself an option for his linemates, and pushing the pace on the forecheck.
Through 11 games, Necas has points in ten of those outings and ranks in the top ten among all NHL skaters in goals, assists, and points. He’s one of only three players in the league in the top ten in the three major counting stats. The other two are a couple of bonafide superstars - Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Boston’s David Pastrnak.
Aho was eventually able to cap off his hat trick (get it?) on the empty net late in the third period. Aho’s hatty is the second from a Carolina player this season (Svechnikov on Oct. 20 against the Oilers) and the fifth of his NHL career.
Aho and Necas combined for four goals and seven points as the Hurricanes picked up a 5-3 win to end Buffalo’s win streak at three and extend their hot streak to four games.
Positive Steps in an Imperfect Game
It was an inconsistent effort at 5-on-5 for the Hurricanes. The Sabres produced plenty of chances off defensive breakdowns that Raanta had to clean up with some clutch saves during the first and second periods.
Carolina’s depth has been strong so far this season, but on the back end of the back-to-back, they needed the star players to fuel them if they were going to secure two more points in the standings. That’s exactly what happened.
That star power was present on the man advantage, as well. Despite only going one-for-four on the power play, the top unit had their most effective effort in recent memory. It was a promising development for a power-play group that has struggled to make an impact at points in the young season.
The penalty kill was excellent in their five assignments. Rasmus Dahlin ended their perfect night with a garbage-time tally with less than a second left in a 5-2 game, but Buffalo’s top-ten power play failed to get into scoring areas and was forced to settle for long-range, low-danger shots on Raanta.
Some of Carolina’s special teams success can be attributed to their dominant effort in the faceoff circle. They won 61% of their draws in all situations, but on the power play, they won all seven of their offensive zone draws. They also went four-for-seven in defensive zone faceoffs on the penalty kill.
Kotkaniemi had a great faceoff night, but more importantly, he finally got his first goal of the season on the Necas spin pass. He’s played well, albeit unspectacularly compared to his flashy linemates, but it was nice to see him get on the scoresheet.
He also had a bit of an altercation with Dahlin after the defenseman got whistled for an offensive zone interference penalty and fired the puck toward the end boards out of frustration.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Rasmus Dahlin got into it alright pic.twitter.com/UZ1FezkDKD— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 4, 2022
Kotkaniemi landed a pretty clean gloved punch, but they were served matching roughing minors.
It was a fun night for Carolina’s top six, and their efforts were enough for the Hurricanes to escape with a home-ice win. Next, the Hurricanes will host the Toronto Maple Leafs for a late afternoon tilt on Sunday.