Hurricanes Forecheck Floods Sharks

The Carolina Hurricanes and San Jose Sharks, two teams with identical records this season but vastly different in their recent histories, squared off in Raleigh Friday night. Both teams started the night 5-3-1 on the season and ranked second in their division.

By the end of the contest, Brock McGinn won the game in a shootout for the Hurricanes but not before the Sharks landed some blows and the Hurricanes came roaring back with a relentless attack that has become their signature. Being tied 3-3 at the end of regulation was not really a surprise, these two teams are that even. But, getting the two points even this early in the season was huge for the Hurricanes, and McGinn’s two-goal night played a big part.

Hurricanes Punched in the Face

Unfortunately for the home team, the Sharks came ready to play and shoot, and they did so effectively. Early in the first period, it was clear that the Sharks were bringing it and the Hurricanes were not. I’ve noted that the Hurricanes are not likely to say they didn’t start on time with the new culture that head coach Rod Brind’Amour has fostered. But, if there was a moment to use that comment this season, it was Friday night after the first period. The Sharks held the edge in shots on goal, 11-8, a rare sight this season for the ‘Canes.

Hurricanes television sideline reporter Mike Maniscalco said he asked Brind’Amour about the first period and he replied that his team didn’t have their legs and that, “We got punched in the face.” Maybe ‘not starting on time’ is now ‘not having one’s legs’ or ‘getting punched in the face’.

In any event what the Hurricanes brought to the ice when the puck dropped a little past 7:30 Friday night was not what they’ve been bringing so far this season. Strangely enough, there was not the same sense of doom after the first period that has hung over the team in recent years.

What was Van Riemsdyk Doing?

When Brent Burns of the Sharks found Timo Meier who loaded up and fired at the Hurricanes’ goal at 8:16, defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk was sliding in front of Meier’s shot and pulled up short. At first, it looked as if he was afraid of getting hit with the puck.

Trevor van Riemsdyk Hurricanes
Trevor van Riemsdyk, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In reality, Van Riemsdyk might have been trying not to obscure the line of sight of Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrázek. As a rule, NHL goalies like their defensemen to get low or get thin so they can see a shot coming. The play was so fast that it appears that Van Riemsdyk simply reacted with his reflexes and stopped.

Whether he was avoiding getting blasted by Meier from eight feet away or had the presence of mind to try to get out of the way for Mrázek to make the save is unknown. In either case, it shows that Van Riemsdyk was fully engaged in the play and that is a good thing.

Hurricanes Punched Back and Then Some

The second and third periods saw a different Hurricanes team than what had shown up (or not) in the first period. They began to shoot and punch back and the Sharks eventually had no answer. The Hurricanes’ forecheck was smothering as they flooded the Sharks’ zone over and over with a relentless attack on goaltender Aaron Dell.

Aaron Dell - Sharks
Aaron Dell, San Jose Sharks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Dell made multiple saves but the ‘Canes attack kept coming. In the shootout he let one by that turned out to be one too many, as Mrázek did not allow a goal.

The USA Today quoted Erik Karlsson, who said after the game, “Once we got the lead, we got a little too comfortable and laid off the gas, and they hit it. And once they did, we couldn’t find a way to get back. We were on our heels for pretty much half the game. We were a little lucky to scrape out a 3-3 score, and once it gets to a shootout, it’s a coin-toss.”

The Hurricanes wound up with 41 shots on goal to the Sharks’ 23. Teams may as well get ready because this is the 2018-19 Hurricanes model:  a relentless, attacking forecheck that floods the opponent’s zone until the final horn sounds. The Hurricanes came back, tied the game and eventually won in the shootout. The outcome was a direct result of their refusal to stop attacking.

McGinn put the game in perspective afterwards when he said:

We were doing a good job getting behind their D, a lot of their D played very high minutes. If we can make it taxing on them, definitely wear them out and help us at the end of the game and I think that really showed in the third period we did a good job of hemming them in and we were getting a lot of chances off of that.

McGinn described the game perfectly, especially as it wound down. The Sharks were visibly worn down and the Hurricanes just kept coming. Are there parts of the Hurricanes’ game that need improvement? Absolutely. But, this team is developing a no-quit attitude with each game. They are relentless and they are having fun.

Next up for the Hurricanes is the New York Islanders Sunday evening. If the ‘Canes bring what they brought against the Sharks in periods two and three, it will be a long night for the Islanders.