Tuesday night the Carolina Hurricanes dominated the Ottawa Senators, almost. In a game that was hard-fought from the opening face off, the ‘Canes asserted their will over the Sens. While there may be other observations one could make as to why Carolina ascended to near dominance against their Northern opponent, for the 13,469 in attendance, three stand out as obvious.
First, the play of Hurricanes goalie, Anton Khudobin. While the last time I wrote about Khudobin was on the heels of a game that he would just as soon forget, Tuesday night was altogether different. Doby was extremely focused in the crease, with superb vision and reflexes. Here he shut down Ottawa’s Patrick Wiercioch in the first period:
Khudobin was not perfect and did not record a shutout. But, he elevated his play to a level that has been mostly absent this season, and that was a compelling reason for Carolina’s decisive almost victory.
— Mary Ann Adams (@maryannadams07) March 18, 2015
Khudobin struggled early in the season to find his groove, not the least of which was due to his team not scoring, as he tried and often did keep games close. There is little doubt that if he were afforded a reasonable offensive output on a consistent basis, his record would confirm his prowess in between the pipes. Tuesday night was exemplary of this.
Early speed and energy
Reason number two for the Hurricanes’ near assertion of their will against the Senators was team speed right out of the gate. This has been the single most frustrating part of the season for the fans of the ‘Canes, repeated laments of “not starting on time” after their plenteous losses.
Against the Sens, their was no lack of energy across all four lines, as the team started on time and with great verve. Carolina’s first goal of the evening was evident of this energy:
Elias Lindholm slapped it past Senators goalie Andrew Hammond after an excellent push up the ice and targeted pass from Jeff Skinner. It was goal number 15 on the season for the “Swedish Beast” and the arena’s energy rose to match that of both teams.
It is important to note that the Ottawa Senators came into the match on a three-game road winning streak, working feverishly to catch the Boston Bruins in the playoff chase. They remain four points behind the Bruins.
It was to be correctly assumed that they would play hard and with urgency, as did the Dallas Stars a few nights ago who were in a similar place of playoff urgency at that time. That game saw Carolina play with no energy or apparent desire to win. The game against Ottawa was visibly different, as the Hurricanes brought all they could muster.
The Hamburglar = “Almost”
Andrew Hammond is unconscious. He is the reason for the Hurricanes’ “almost” dominating the Senators. Hammond has allowed 2 or fewer goals in each of his first 12 NHL starts, tying Frank Brimsek’s 1938 record. Ironically, Brimsek played with the Bruins who the Sens are chasing when he set the record.
— Jeremy Silburt (@JeremySilburt) March 18, 2015
Hammond is 27 years old, and a rookie. He has made his presence known in the NHL in a huge way, going 11-0-1 in 13 games played. He has a sick GAA of 1.35 and a save percentage of .956. He was no less stellar against the Hurricanes:
If not for Andrew Hammond, the Carolina Hurricanes very likely would have dominated the Ottawa Senators. Both teams played hard and it may have been the best hockey game I have watched this season in Raleigh. It was very disappointing that in the end the ‘Canes lost in overtime on this phenomenal play featuring nasty puck movement by Kyle Turris:
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) March 18, 2015
The bottom line for me is that the Hurricanes showed what kind of team they have the potential of being when they play with speed and energy. I’m starting to wonder if talent is not the overarching missing ingredient, but rather motivation within each player individually, and as a team.
It’s on you guys
Unless the lottery smiles on Carolina in a big way, Connor McDavid is not likely to sweep into Raleigh and don a Hurricanes sweater.
Who could they not compete with if they played each game like they did Tuesday night?
Sure it would be nice if the owner had gotten off some cash and brought in some stronger players this season. I’m still fuming that the Hurricanes were nowhere near the Johnny Boychuk trade. Why don’t we ever get in the middle of team-changing trades anymore? Anyone remember when Ron Francis was brought to Raleigh? Anyone remember 2006?
But, I am convinced that neither Johnny Boychuk nor the next Ron Francis is the primary element that the Carolina Hurricanes need to make the playoffs. The one thing they need more than any other is to figure out how to be mentally tough, and want to win bad enough that they bring what they brought against Ottawa every night.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.