With all due respect to the Florida Panthers, tonight was a game that the Hurricanes should have won. They came into tonight's game still winless in Southeast division play and were taking on a Florida team that currently sits last in the Eastern Conference and has been playing some bad hockey for most of the year. Adding to that, Florida also lost their starting goalie, Jose Theodore, less than four minutes into the game forcing a cold Scott Clemmensen into action. If there was a better time for Carolina to get a win in the Southeast, tonight was a perfect opportunity. They are a better team than Florida and all the Hurricanes needed to do was play to the best of their ability and they did just that and it resulted in them winning in a blowout.
Carolina got things started early with a three quick goals in the first period and just continued to pour it on after that. Usually, you would see teams sit back a little after they establish an early lead and while the Canes did that at times, they didn't let Florida get many great opportunities. They allowed only three scoring chances to the Panthers in the second period and were able to take advantage of some miscues by their defense to add on two more goals, one of which coming from Riley Nash who played the best game of his young career tonight. Eric Staal would add on another in the third period to add salt to the wound and wrap up a 6-2 win for Carolina.
This was the type of complete team effort that fans have been waiting all season for as every line was contributing for the Hurricanes tonight. The first liners contributed to three goals, the third line had their best offensive performance of the year while the rest of the roster did their part to control play. It was a good way for the Canes to get their first divisional win of the season and get some revenge for being embarrassed by this Florida team on opening night. Now they just need to bring the same level intensity tomorrow in the second game of this back-to-back. If they play like they did tonight, then there shouldn't be much of a problem.
Corey's Ten Thoughts
– The Hurricanes definitely put together one of their strongest efforts of the season, but I don't think it's possible to play as poorly as Florida did for the first two periods. Granted, things were pretty tough for them since they had to force a cold goalie into action but most of the goals Clemmensen allowed weren't on him. Florida's defense committed numerous bad turnovers in their own zone and kept allowing the Hurricanes forwards to get into prime scoring areas, leaving no chance for Clemmensen on most of them. The only soft one on his part was Eric Staal's second goal which trickled in off his pads. The Panthers allowed Carolina to do almost anything they wanted in the neutral and offensive zones tonight and all the Canes had to do was solve the goaltender, which they did.
– If you've read the work I've done on zone exits, you'll know that I'm not a huge fan of dump-and-chase hockey because it usually doesn't lead to much offense. However, four of Carolina's five goals tonight came off uncontrolled zone entries and turnovers by Florida's defense. Carolina did an excellent job on the forecheck tonight by forcing Florida's defense to turn the puck over and manufacturing them into shots and scoring chances. It's true that dump-and-chase play usually doesn't result in much offense but a different standard applies when the opposing defense is completely careless in their own zone like Florida was tonight.
– Alex Semin may have only four goals on the season, one of which being an empty-netter, but he had three primary assists tonight to give him 15 on the season. The best part? All of them were beauties and the result of hard work on the part of Sasha. Take Jiri Tlusty's goal for example. Tlusty doesn't even get an opportunity to score there if Semin doesn't hunt down a loose puck and deliver a perfect back-hand pass to him. I don't know how Semin was able to find Tlusty open in the slot despite looking in the opposite direction but that's just one example of how good of a play-maker he is. That was also displayed on Eric Staal's first goal of the night where Semin kept in a clearing attempt and found Eric wide open in front of the net to score his 11th of the season. Semin was brought in to be a goal-scorer but his play-making skills have been way more of a help to the Hurricanes.
– We finally saw some results from the Hurricanes third line tonight as they produced three goals and rookie Riley Nash played a key role in all of them. He recorded the primary assist on both of Jussi Jokinen's goals and scored his first NHL goal in the second period to complete a three point night. Most will notice how he finished off a play with Patrick Dwyer for the goal, but Nash also made a great play in his own zone before that. Jokinen made a poor clearing attempt that could have easily ended poorly for Carolina, but Nash quickly broke it up and went the other way and it resulted in an odd-man rush. I thought Nash's defensive game would make him a dark horse for the third line center spot and the job might be his for awhile now that we're starting to see some results coupled with good play.
– I can't think of a player on the Hurricanes who has had worse luck this season than Jussi Jokinen, which is why it was great to see him finally get a couple goals tonight. Jokinen started the season poorly but he has been playing better ever since moving over to the wing but he just wasn't burying his chances. That changed tonight with Nash setting him up for his third and fourth goals of the season. They were put on a silver platter for him thanks to Florida turning the puck over, leaving him wide open but those are chances Jokinen needs to finish to stay in the top-nine.
– After getting pummeled by Washington on Tuesday night, Carolina has won the battle at even strength in their last two games. They dominated Florida for the first two periods tonight and ended up Corsing them 50-44 at even strength while outchancing them 24-14 overall. Florida has been a bad team at even strength this season while Carolina has been winning their battles there for most of the season, so it was great to see them play up to their ability tonight. The only time Flordia was creating consistent chances was when they were down by three or more goals while the Canes were playing more conservative.
– The one negative thing about Carolina's performance was their powerplay, which went 0 for 4 on the night. They did some good things on their first opportunity but it all quickly dissipated after that. Most of it was due to them playing with a big lead but losing Joni Pitkanen in the first period also hurt their powerplay a lot. He is the team's best puck-moving defensemen by a mile and not having him hurts how they enter the zone and set up plays with the man advantage. When the shining moment of a powerplay is a good back-check to deny a short-handed chance then you know there is an issue.
– Stephen Weiss is normally a player I respect but I don't know what he was trying to accomplish by taking cheap shots and late hits at Justin Faulk. Carolina's young defenseman delivered a good, clean hit to Weiss in the second period, which was met with some retaliation from Tomas Kopecky but Weiss decided to take matters into his own hands and go after Faulk for the rest of the game. It resulted in them fighting in the third period after Weiss hit Faulk high with an elbow. Faulk handled himself well in the fight, nailing him with a good right hand to end the bout, but it was odd to see Weiss resort ot cheap shots like he did tonight. It'll be interesting to see how this boils over tomorrow.
– When Joe Corvo is on the ice, the Hurricanes had 21 shot attempts to only 8 of Florida's. When he doesn't get on the scoresheet, a good game from Corvo is one where you don't notice him much and this was definitely a solid outing for him and Tim Gleason tonight. These two were matched up against Weiss, Fleischmann and Kopecky for most of the game and that trio ended up recording zero shots on goal at even strength. A sign that the defense did their job.
– The only line that was able to create a lot of shots through for Florida was their fourth line and Shawn Matthias did most of the work with six shots on goal, all of them were scoring chances. Florida had 14 total scoring chances on the night, so that says a lot about how well Matthias played, taking advantage of whenever Carolina's fourth line was on the ice. It also speaks to how great the Canes top players performed since no one else on the Panthers were able to do much offensively.
Florida is going to be an angry team tomorrow, so I would expect a scrappy game when these two teams meet then. Carolina has a chance to get a real lead in the divisional race by getting all four points from the Panthers on the weekend and if they play like they did tonight, it shouldn't be much of an issue. Whether or not it happens is another story but if anything the Canes confidence has to be a lot higher after putting up six goals tonight.