I wrote about Jordan Staal’s wretched goal-scoring drought about a month ago.
It ended up being a 35-game drought that even Martin Necas wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.
The most bewildering part was that, compared to his world-beating 2020-21, his metrics were better, and his results were drastically worse. The conclusion I reached was that, in a short time, he would end that drought, and things would start to balance back out.
I didn’t expect him to bounce back the way he has, though.
Over the last few weeks, Staal has been scoring goals with a consistency that he hadn’t reached since the second half of the 2021 regular season.
Over a 12-game span from February 8 to March 4, the 33-year-old behemoth scored six goals and accumulated ten points. For reference, he had zero goals and six total points in the 34 games prior and two goals and 11 points in 41 games dating back to the start of the 2021-22 season.
By and large, Staal has been the same player, as Hurricanes’ bench boss Rod Brind’Amour will tell you whenever you ask a question about his team’s captain.
“No. Do you?” Brind’Amour said at the end of February, when asked if there were any differences he’s started to see in Staal and his line. “It’s just getting a bounce here or there. It’s been a good line. They’ve played well for a while now. It’s nice to see him get rewarded because he does do it right.”
His best offensive night of the season, both through his 5-on-5 metrics and offensive production, came when the team desperately needed it.
Down 2-0 after the first period on Friday night, the Hurricanes were in danger of dropping a huge divisional game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have been nipping at Carolina’s heels for much of the season. That’s when Staal delivered one of his patented beat mode games.
He scored twice in regulation, one by way of constant pressure around the goal and the other by a deflection from the high slot almost halfway through the third period. He lifted the Canes to overtime, Andrei Svechnikov stayed red-hot, and the team got two massive points.
With Staal back on the beam, exuding more offensive confidence with every game he plays, the Hurricanes are a more dangerous club up and down the lineup. In addition, the reformation of his hard-nosed third line, featuring Nino Niederreiter and Jesper Fast on the flanks, gives Carolina a distinguished identity throughout their top-nine.
He’s played well all season, which is hard to recognize when he’s going through egregiously terrible stretches of puck luck, but his game never changed. His game-changing impact is finally on display on the scoresheet, and the Hurricanes are a much better team when that’s the case.
Martin Necas Breaks Through
It’s honestly pretty amazing that the Hurricanes have had so much offensive consistency despite two of their top-five returning scorers from 2020-21 going through career-worst offensive droughts that spanned months.
Though, this might be a pretty good explanation for how they’ve done it:
Since the beginning of December:— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) March 7, 2022
Aho has 14 goals & 38 points in 32 games. Teravainen has 13 goals & 32 points in 30 games.
Aho has points in 24 of 32 games. Tervainen has points in 24 of 30 games.
The Hurricanes are 17-1-3 in games where Aho & Teravainen both record points.
Staal broke out of his funk, and now Necas is hoping to do the same.
The goalposts are undoubtedly different for Necas, though. The now 23-year-old broke out with an outstanding sophomore season, and the expectations were high for him to build upon that further in year three.
He found the back of the net just once in 26 games, but beyond that, his complete game just wasn’t there. He lingered around the periphery of the ice and wasn’t getting to high-danger scoring areas with a consistency that he did throughout the previous season.
The tides started taking a very noticeable turn in Carolina’s shutout loss to the Washington Capitals late last week.
It was the most noticeable Necas had been on the ice in several weeks, and if it weren’t for a dazzling goalie performance from Vitek Vanecek, his goal drought would have come to an end.
Thankfully, he didn’t have to wait long to get the monkey off of his back finally.
Necas’s first goal in almost two months was scored through being around the front of the net and using his tremendous puck skills and agility to corral a loose puck and whip it by Philipp Grubauer.
That tally ended up being the game-winning goal - his first GWG in three months - in a game that the Hurricanes trailed by one goal on two separate occasions.
That is what Necas has to do if he’s going to keep building his NHL game and become the player that he has so frequently showed us that he can be. He has to be part of Carolina’s heavy forechecking and net-front drive.
The goal, coupled with its timing, is an encouraging sign from a player who is still very young and has a lot of work to do in this league.
“I was trying not to count the games I haven’t scored,” Necas said after the game. “But it gets a little bit in your head. I don’t think in my career I’ve ever waited that long for a goal, but it happens. In the last few games, I started feeling a little better and getting more chances. Today it finally went in. It’s a good feeling. Great win. Let’s just bring more.”
Necas needs to be an integral part of Carolina’s top-six if they’re going to make a push for the big trophy. There’s no questioning his ability to perform on big stages. He pulled Carolina back from the brink of a first-round disaster in game five against the Nashville Predators last April.
The Canes will need more big moments from him moving forward.
Thursday Night Rumble
I recently watched the new West Side Story adaptation from Steven Spielberg, so allow me to be painfully lame and compare Thursday’s Carolina Hurricanes vs. Colorado Avalanche rumble at the ice warehouse to the Jets vs. Sharks rumble at the salt warehouse.
And yes, I know that is confusing, given that those West Side Story gang names also happen to be the names of two NHL teams. Also, no one has ever referred to a hockey rink as an “ice warehouse,” except for maybe the Ice House in Wake Forest, but that’s not where they’ll be playing.
Okay, I’m just going to scrap that idea entirely.
It’s a big game, though.
The Hurricanes spent most of the season, to this point, atop the NHL standings, but a few rough stretches allowed the Avalanche to take over as the number one seed in the league, and they will hold that position when they take on the Canes, who sit in second place.
Both clubs will enter Thursday’s game on a roll as winners in seven of their last ten games. It’s their first of two meetings this season, and it will be a vital milestone game for the Hurricanes.
While they’ve been able to keep winning at a consistent clip, the last couple of months has offered the team a variety of challenges. A handful of essential skaters have struggled to get their games going, Anthony DeAngelo is out for at least a couple more weeks, and they have the trade deadline rapidly approaching near the end of the month.
Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell has stated that he doesn’t plan to have a huge deadline, though they are still pondering the idea of bringing in another defenseman.
Starting with this game against Colorado, the Hurricanes are entering their most challenging stretch of the season. Ten of their next 11 opponents are currently in a playoff spot, and teams like Colorado and Tampa Bay are betting favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
Are the Hurricanes truly in the same category as those proven powerhouses?
I’m inclined to say that they are, as they’ve given us very little reason to think that they aren’t, but this is going to be a real test of what this team is capable of.
According to Hockey Reference, the Hurricanes have the fourth-toughest schedule through the rest of the regular season. By their same metrics, they list the Canes as having the fifth-easiest strength of schedule to this point.
Is it something read into? Maybe not, but there is no denying that they will be tasked with an increasingly tricky slate of opponents in March.
Will the Hurricanes have their day on Thursday night? When the Avalanche start a rumble, will the Hurricanes rumble ‘em right?
These are important questions that likely won’t be answered through song.
*Update: It looks like the Hurricanes might have found their defenseman.