Tonight's 4-2 victory over the Devils was easily the Carolina Hurricanes biggest win of this young season. Not only does it clinch a 4-1-1 record on their road trip, but they were also able to get a win over a team that has been at the top of the Eastern Conference for most of the year. As expected, the win did not come easy as they found themselves down 1-0 in the first period again despite outplayed New Jersey in most of that frame. They managed to battle back again and tie the game early in the second period on the back of a powerplay goal by Jussi Jokinen. Patrick Dwyer would then provide the go-ahead goal in the dying minutes of the frame by deflecting a Jay Harrison shot past Brodeur.
A large reason why the Hurricanes gained this lead was because they were forechecking hard and skating circles around the Devils during the first 40 minutes of the game. They gained a big territorial advantage over New Jersey during that time and it was hard to tell that they were playing the second half of a back-to-back game. Then the third period happened. Carolina began to look tired, were getting pinned into their own end, lost one of their best defensemen in Joni Pitkanen and gave up an early goal to Ryan Carter which tied the game.
Carolina's dominance at even strength had all but faded by then, but they received some help from their special teams units, which have been rather cold as of late. First, they were able to successfully kill off Joe Corvo's penalty early in the period and would then get a huge powerplay goal from Jiri Tlusty to give the Canes a 3-2 lead. From then on, the Canes basically did the best they could to hang onto the lead by limiting the Devils scoring opportunities and they just managed to survive with some help from goaltender Cam Ward.
The Hurricanes definitely left everything all on the ice tonight and even if they just managed to get by, it was great to see them pull out a win all things considered. I'm sure many people would have been happy if they only earned a point in the standings with this being their third game in four days and the final game of a long road trip, but the Canes had their sights set higher and managed to achieve it.
Winning four out of six games in this stretch of the schedule is no easy feat at all, so this could hopefully lead to greater things down the line for this team.
Corey's Ten Thoughts
– The Hurricanes play at even strength during the first 40 minutes or so is exactly how I wanted to see them play this year. They were skating hard and forcing turnovers to pin the Devils into their own zone, similar to what New Jersey did to their opponents in the playoffs last season. They weren't producing as many chances as they probably should have, but the puck was still in the Devils' end for at least half of that first period. Being able to forecheck strong and force turnovers is a good way to make up for having a so-so defense corps like the Hurricanes and it was good to see them employ this strategy tonight, even if they kind of ran out of gas in the third period.
– A big reason why this type of scheme worked out so well is because Carolina's defensemen were playing very aggressive and pinching at the right time to keep the puck deep, which is why the loss of Joni Pitkanen will be devastating if his injury is anything serious. Pitkanen is probably the team's smartest offensive-minded defenseman and can be a hassle for opposing teams when he is on his game, and he certainly was tonight. He looked made a lot of great reads in the offensive zone and was able to force a few Devils turnovers and keep the puck deep. He also recorded an assist on Jokinen's powerplay goal in the second period. The word on the Internet is that his injury is not anything serious but he is doubtful for Thursday night's game. Not having Pitkanen in the lineup was one of the reasons why this team struggled so much last season. Let's hope he can make a speedy recovery.
– The Hurricanes managed to defeat the Islanders on Monday night despite a horrible special teams performance but tonight, their special teams were a key factor in them picking up the win. They went 2/4 on powerplays, generating six shots in a little over eight minutes of powerplay time while going 3/4 on the penalty kill and allowing only three shots. Granted, the expectations were pretty low for the penalty kill after their miserable showing last night but you can't say that they didn't step up at the right time tonight, as their PK killed off two third period powerplays, one of which came with the score tied. Hopefully this is something they can build off of because this was the best the Canes PK has looked all season.
– If there is one complaint I have with the Hurricanes performance in this game, it was their showing in the third period. They weren't playing poorly, they just looked exhausted and couldn't generate much offensive when playing at even strength. I'm willing to bet that this was due to them playing so many games on the road in a short amount of time and not having Pitkanen for the third period also played a factor. Again, special teams played a difference as Jiri Tlusty's powerplay goal ended up being the game-winner. I would have liked to see a better finish at even strength but in the end, they allowed only 23 shots during five-on-five play which isn't a bad defensive showing.
– It was really nice to see Jussi Jokinen finally get on the scoresheet with his powerplay goal in the second period but his play other than that was very forgettable. It wasn't just him, though because his line with Drayson Bowman and Chad LaRose struggled mightily even when the Hurricanes were dominating the Devils territorially. They had a terrible shift where they couldn't get the puck out of their zone which led to Jokinen taking a penalty to prevent a scoring chance by Ilya Kovalchuk. The Devils would score less than a minute later on the powerplay. These three have had maybe one good game when playing on the same line, so I think it's time switch things up a bit because it's getting frustrating to watch these three struggle so much at controlling the play at even strength.
– The first line of Jiri Tlusty, Eric Staal and Alexander Semin were kept quiet for most of the night at even strength and were held to a combined eight shots on goal, but they made up for it on the powerplay with their powerplay goal. Tlusty has really been on quite a roll now with five goals (two empty netters) in three games and it's hard to think of a player more deserving than him. He had been playing so well on the top line for most of the year but the goals just were not coming. Now he has five on the season. Tlusty might be in a good situation on the top line but I think he is starting to prove that he is more than just a passenger there.
– While the top line was quiet during five-on-five play, Jordan Staal's line made their presence known right off the bat as they were the Hurricanes best forechecking unit in the first period. Staal and Skinner were doing a fantastic job at bottling up the Devils in the neutral zone, getting the puck deep and creating a few chances on top of that. Their hard work also led to Patrick Dwyer's goal in the second period and most of it can be credited to Jeff Skinner winning a puck battle down low allowing the play to continue. That eventually led to Jay Harrison firing a slapshot past Martin Brodeur with a little help from a deflection by Dwyer.
– Justin Faulk made it happen offensively with a pair of assists, but he was also guilty of a very bad turnover in front of his net which led to an easy goal for Ryan Carter in the third period. Miscues like that have been rare for Faulk this season but they are going to happen with young defensemen eventually. Unfortunately for Faulk, it happened at the worst time possible.
– I actually like what I've seen from Tim Wallace thus far and it's not just because he tries to hit everything that moves. He is also killing penalties and playing very well defensively, something that makes him fit in perfectly in the bottom-six. He reminds me a little of Anthony Stewart, only he doesn't leak shots and scoring chances against, or at least he hasn't so far.
– How did the Hurricanes fare against the Devils big guns? I haven't uploaded the scoring chance data yet, but the Kovalchuk line produced 7 combined shots while the Henrique line had 6, so I think they did an okay job against them. At least two of those shots from Kovalchuk came during special teams play and they didn't have any goals at even strength. Ryan Carter, however, seemed to run amuk against Carolina's depth forwards as he had four shots and at least three of them were Grade A scoring chances.
The Canes third period classifies this as an "ugly win" in my book, but I think they did a fine job considering the circumstances and it will be great to see this team back home again on Thursday night. Unfortunately, they will likely have to play that game without Pitkanen and getting a win streak going will be tough if he is out for a prolonged period of time. All teams have to overcome injuries at some point, so we'll have to see how the Canes respond to this. At least they will be coming in on a strong note.