Tonight's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs provided the Hurricanes with a chance to get back to .500 and give the team some positive vibes as they continue this long road trip. It looked like they could be in for another long game as Carolina got off to the worst start imaginable in the first 20 minutes. The Canes were stuck in their own zone for about 60% of the frame, couldn't generate any offense and were constantly surrendering odd-man rushes to the Maple Leafs. Thankfully for them, they went into the first intermission only down 1-0 thanks to the goaltending of Cam Ward, who regained his form tonight and bailed the Canes out of a lot of bad situations.
Ward gave the Hurricanes a chance to win tonight and they took full advantage of it in the next two periods by giving one of their strongest efforts of the season. They were helped a little bit in the start of the second period when Jordan Staal was left all alone in front of the net and received a gift of a goal to tie the game up at one. They followed this up by simply taking it to the Leafs, hemming them in their own zone and allowing only five total shots on goal after allowing 18 in the first period. They would eventually go onto take the lead after another lucky bounce where Eric Staal's centering pass deflected off Michael Koskta's skate and into the net. After that, Carolina continued to keep their foot on the pedal and scored two more unanswered goals to give the Hurricanes a 4-1 victory. I should also add that they scored twice on the powerplay while blanking Toronto on five opportunities.
It was strange seeing this team take over this game after playing some of their worst hockey of the season, but great goaltending can keep you in games on some nights and allow you to regroup after a bad period. I'm not sure what Muller said to the team after the first intermission but it clearly worked.
Corey's Ten Thoughts
– There were a lot of guys who played well tonight, but the Hurricanes wouldn't have had a chance in this game if it wasn't for the play of Cam Ward. With how bad this team looked in the first period, this could have easily been another Florida-esque outing with the team battling a 3-4 goal deficit in in the second period. Thankfully, he was able to keep them in the game for the entire time and the Canes managed to get themselves together for the next 40 minutes and get him a win.
– It was good to see both special teams units play well tonight, although I thought the powerplay was much better than the penalty kill. Muller elected to put Tim Brent back on the point of the first powerplay unit and they looked a lot more comfortable with that set-up. The Hurricanes were moving the puck around much easier and not constantly trying to force one-timers from the face-off circle like they were doing for most of the year. They only scored because of a lucky bounce off Kostka's skate, but the puck movement was still good on that particular play, or at least improved compared to what it looked like previously.
– Meanwhile, the penalty kill ended up being a perfect 5/5 on the night but they still gave up 13 shots on goal. Most of the dangerous chances came in the third period when they were protecting a 4-1 lead, but it seemed like they couldn't get the puck out of the zone at all. I have a feeling that they will continue to struggle against teams that aren't the Leafs, but at least they improved their overall percentage on the year.
– Usually, the best line for the Hurricanes is Tlusty-E. Staal-Semin. That wasn't the case tonight, as the second line featuring Jordan Staal, Patrick Dwyer and Jeff Skinner were the ones who shined tonight. They were the ones who gave the Hurricanes a spark in the second period by getting an early goal and they were doing a great job of carrying the play and creating chances for most ot he final two periods. I'm still not sure if Dwyer provides a long-term solution for this line, but he looks like a good fit now, as his speed and defensive awareness provide a nice compliment to Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner. Dwyer was the one who made the initial pass to Staal on his goal and then Jordan returned the favor in the third period by providing the assist on Dwyer's third goal of the season.
– Jeff Skinner played what might have been his best game of the season tonight. Not only did have three assists, but he looked much better in all three zones than he has all year. He also showed some great hustle to beat out an icing call, which eventually led to J. Staal's goal and made a beautiful pass to Justin Faulk on his powerplay goal. Also worth pointing out is his great forechecking in the third period that forced a Cody Franson turnover and eventually Dwyer's goal. I haven't been impressed with Skinner's play away from the puck this year but he definitely played well in that aspect tonight.
– Overall, I did not think Tim Wallace and Kevin Westgarth added much to the lineup tonight. Westgarth fought Frazer McLaren in the first period, but it didn't do much to "energize" the team and the most noteworthy thing he did outside of that was take a bad tripping penalty later in the period. Wallace was unnoticeable aside from one instance when he nearly had a transition chance with Jeff Skinner but failed to get a shot off. Would have been Skinner's fourth assist of the game if he converted but alas.
– Once again, the top-three defenders were heavily leaned on in this game with Justin Faulk, Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason logging over 20 minutes of ice-time. Faulk ended up playing over 29 minutes total, which has to be a career high for him unless there's some other game I'm forgetting about. Aside from some bad plays by Pitkanen in the first period, these three played well but I wouldn't be surprised if another defender gets added to the mix to take some pressure off these three. Faulk's development has been amazing but he is still only 20 years old while McBain and Harrison can't seem to log "big minutes" without some kind of trouble.
– Speaking of ice-time, Jordan Staal played over 20 minutes tonight and a little over 17 at even strength while his older brother, Eric, played a little over 18 minutes and only 12:38 at even strength. Perhaps Jordan got more ice time in the third period because the Hurricanes were protecting a lead? Wouldn't surprise me. One of the reasons why Jordan was brought in was to take some pressure off his brother to do everything for this team and this could be an example of that.
– I've been pretty hard on Bobby Sanguinetti this year and he ended up getting a minus on the Matt Frattin goal, but that wasn't completely on him. Jay Harrison made a bad pinch earlier in the sequence and it led to a two-on-one the other way, which the Leafs took full advantage of. There wasn't much Sanguinetti could do in this situation aside from maybe doing a better job at fending off Frattin in front of the net.
– Tim Brent is great to have on the team because he's a versatile player. He did a fine job filing in for Jussi Jokinen on the third line while he was getting repaired and did some solid work on the powerplay, as well. The only thing he struggled at was face-offs, going 1/12 on the night.
Carolina had no business being in this game after the first 20 minutes, but they did a nice job to rally back, turn in a respectable performance and more importantly pick up their fourth win of the season. The team is now back at .500 going into their game against Ottawa on Thursday and something tells me they will need to get off to a better start than they did tonight to give themselves a winning record. Bad starts have plagued this team all season long and while they managed to battle back from it tonight, they will not get this fortunate every game.