Tonight's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs had the makings of being one of those old fashioned, high scoring run-and-gun style contests where the winner would be determined by who had the last shot on net. The Hurricanes, who haven't been good defensively this year, were missing two top-four defensemen in Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason while the Leafs have injuries all across the board and are currently icing two AHL-ers in their top-four. It ended up being somewhat of a low-scoring affair with the Hurricanes putting together one of their best defensive efforts of the season.
The Canes gave up only 18 shots at even strength and 23 overall, which is pretty amazing when you consider who they were dressing in their defense corps. They managed to do this by employing the same strategy as they had in the New Jersey game, which was forecheck hard, force turnovers and trap the Leafs in their own zone for most of the game. I thought it would be difficult for the Canes to do this with a depleted defense, but they really suffocated the Leafs tonight and did everything they could to keep the puck out of their own zone. A large part of this was due to the excellent play fo the top-line, who forced a lot of turnovers to disrupt Toronto's breakout attempts, and the makeshift #2 defense pairing of Jamie McBain and Joe Corvo. If you told anyone that this particular d-corps gave the Hurricanes their best defensive effort of the season, they would think that you were lying but that's what happened tonight.
Some people say that the first game home after a long road trip is tough because there is a lot of pressure on the home team to perform well in front of their fans. Even if that is true, it didn't look like that affected the Canes tonight as they took home a very impressive win against a hot Toronto team and now have a well-deserved few days off. Let's hope that they don't lose much steam when they hit the road again for Monday's game against the Montreal Canadiens.
Corey's Ten Thoughts
– The Hurricanes were able to take a lot of pressure off their defense tonight by bottling up the Leafs in the neutral zone and not allowing them to get much of a breakout game going. The first line deserves a lot of credit for this, as they looked better than they have all season for most of this game. Staal, Semin and Tlusty were able to keep the puck in the Toronto zone for long periods of time and constantly pressured their defensemen to force turnovers and create offense the other way. Semin was especially good at doing this and he ended the night with six shots on goal and 12 total shot attempts. Somehow he didn't get on the scoresheet otherwise but he could have easily scored at least once.
– The first line's hard work and terrific forechecking is what set-up Joe Corvo's opening goal. They had the Leafs pinned into their own zone for at least a minute, crashed the net to create a few shots on goal and it eventually led to a bad clearing attempt by Dion Phaneuf which Corvo was able to put home. It was great awareness by Corvo to take advantage of that, but the hard work by the first line is what made it all happen.
– Speaking of Corvo, he may have been Carolina's best defenseman tonight and it's not only because he had two points. Corvo's offensive instincts are still good and he helped off-set the loss of Pitkanen tonight by pinching at the right time and keeping the puck deep on multiple occasions. This allowed the Hurricanes to continue applying pressure on Toronto's defensemen and force bad plays. Corvo also made a great keep-in at the line earlier in the shift that he scored on and made the initial breakout pass on Jordan Staal's goal.
– Michal Jordan and Bobby Sanguinetti looked pretty good tonight and did just about everything you could ask from a third defense pairing. Neither player made any glaring mistakes and Jordan actually looked pretty comfortable for someone who was playing his first NHL game. The Leafs bottom-six doesn't exactly offer a huge test, but I think they played well regardless. I was hoping they would get to play more minutes since the Leafs had nothing going for them in the third period, but I guess Muller was just being extra cautious since the score was somewhat close.
– Phil Kessel's line was held off the scoresheet, but they definitely had their share of chances. In fact, I think Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak were essentially half of Toronto's offense if not more. They produced a combined 11 shots on goal tonight and Van Riemsdyk had Toronto's best even strength chance of the game which came early in the second period after Kadri's powerplay goal. Had that gone in, this may have been a different game but Dan Ellis came up big.
– I thought Jordan Staal's line had another good game and they spent more time in the Toronto zone than not, which was the main thing I took away from the way they played tonight. Kessel's line generating so much offense could mean they had a poor night scoring-chance wise but we'll see how that looks tomorrow. In the end, they got the job done and produced a goal late in the second period to give Carolina a 3-1 lead.
– Nazem Kadri's line has played well this year, but they got tagged with a negative rating on the Jordan Staal goal although, it was partially due to a bad read by defenseman John-Michael Liles. He decided to be aggressive and jump up into the play. This doesn't sound like an awful thing to do, but the guy with the puck, Clarke Macarthur, lost an edge and Corvo was there to pick up the loose change. Liles being so deep in the offensive zone gave Jeff Skinner a ton of open space and I'll just let the highlight clip do the rest of the talking. This line usually gets matched up against other team's top units, so it was good to see them take advantage of a slight mismatch there.
– The Hurricanes played some of their best hockey all season in the third period, where they outshot Toronto 12-5 despite having a 3-1 lead heading into the frame. It was great to see the Canes not sit back on the lead and keep their foot on the gas pedal in order to preserve a win. We've been seeing more of this lately ever since the Boston game where they did the exact opposite and it's a refreshing change.
– Faulk and Harrison each logged over 25 minutes a piece with Faulk playing almost 28 total minutes. This was expected with the Canes defense corps in the shape that it is but I thought these two both played well even with the extra mileage. They weren't exactly a factor offensively, but they did not allow Toronto much room to work with in their own end and did their job as the shutdown defense pairing for this game. They seemed to be the pairing that was in their own zone more times than not but I suspect that they also got the shaft in terms of where they started their shifts and who they were matched up against. Harrison certainly spent a lot of time in his own zone blocking eight Toronto shots.
– Jussi Jokinen now has two goals in as many games after having no goals for the entire year. His goal was a bit of a gift on the part of Ben Scrivens and Korbinian Holzer, but Jokinen has had nothing go his way all season long, so it's good to see him put a couple in the back of the net even if they are on the powerplay. In addition to that, I thought his line with Tim Wallace and Drayson Bowman played well in all three zones. Muller made a bold move by scratching LaRose and promoting Wallace to the third line but it ended up having more of a positive impact because the third line looked very solid.
This is one of the few games where I can't think of any negatives about the Hurricanes. There were a few mistakes that I could point out, but none of them made a huge impact and the team put together what was a compete performance. We can only hope that there are more games like this.