Connor McDavid was not in Raleigh’s PNC Arena Sunday afternoon, but he was certainly top of mind as the Carolina Hurricanes and the Edmonton Oilers faced off in essentially an audition to prove which team is more deserving of his franchise-changing skills. Translation: Two teams that have played poorly all season met in Raleigh. It can be challenging at times to watch struggling teams, but it’s the NHL, and matinée hockey on the weekend, even if it’s bad hockey, is far better than no hockey.
I received a text after the first period from a friend who is an avid ‘Canes fan. He asked, “Did we start on time?” Of course this was a question spawned by the fury that Coach Bill Peters had voiced after Friday night’s glaring lack of preparation and effort by his team. “We didn’t start on time is a common refrain after ‘Canes’ losses and Friday night was no exception.
I responded to the text that it was “hard to tell as both teams look like a rec soccer team chasing the ball.” I saw pucks in the air, pucks bouncing on the ice, pucks rolling on their side, and a nice big whiff at an open shot. It was not a pretty start for either side.
The Oilers were the first to strike in this battle at the bottom. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins took advantage of a turnover by Rasmus Rissanen and went straight to the goal and put the puck easily past Cam Ward.
Coach Bill Peters did not chastise Rissanen for the slow pass intercepted by Jordan Eberle that led to the goal. This is time to see what the ‘Canes have in the way of rookie talent, and Rissanen even found himself on the heretofore NHL-best penalty kill unit even after that rookie mistake.
Nugent-Hopkins would end up with a hat trick and an assist giving him a four-point night. He was not on the “we deserve McDavid” page.
At 6:25 in the second period, Jordan Eberle did exactly what the Hurricanes have not been able to do of late – be in position for a rebound, grab it, and smack it into the goal. Eberle scored on the power play, as Alexander Semin was in the penalty box for hooking. The vaunted ‘Canes penalty kill was penetrated and the Oilers went up 2-0.
The Hurricanes were doing so well proving to the assembled fans that they are well-deserving of Connor McDavid, they reasoned; why not add an exclamation point? A minute and a half or so later, with Eric Staal warming the penalty box seat for yet another Carolina penalty, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored his second goal of the game. Another blow to the ‘Canes penalty kill percentage, as Nugent-Hopkins demonstrated the aforementioned “being in front of the net” and flipped the puck over a sprawling Cam Ward.
Interestingly, the Hurricanes had not given up two power-play goals in a game since doing so way back on October 11, 2014 in a game against the New York Islanders. They did so then against what is now a very strong Islanders team, and Sunday afternoon against a very poor Oilers team. This was an excellent way for them to validate to the hockey world their real need for McDavid, by showing that they can hang with the worst when it comes to penalty killing.
Oilers wake up
Whether it was Edmonton waking up to the realization that they were playing too well and quickly fading from McDavid’s focus, or just an outstanding play, Alexander Semin scored at 9:22 to make it 3-1.
It was quite the remarkable goal, as he was face-down on the ice, found the puck in front of the net, and sliced it in through a bevy of skate blades. Look for that goal to be on a lot of highlight reels.
Semin’s goal was really not a reflection on Edmonton or goalie Richard Bachman. It was simply an incredible goal. It sparked the turnaround that the McDavid-hungry Oilers needed.
Another “we are bad enough to deserve McDavid” moment occurred seconds later, when Elias Lindholm found the back of the net. The game had suddenly gotten interesting and entertaining.
Down 3-2, the Hurricanes got the man advantage on an Edmonton penalty. This turned into a two-man advantage on yet another infraction, and Jeff Skinner tied the game 3-3 at 15:23. The Oilers were not about to leave the contest without at least proving that they are equally as bad as the ‘Canes. This is the type of encouragement that Oilers fans are hanging onto as the season winds down:
— Oil In My Veins (@OilInMyVeins) March 8, 2015
Edmonton goalie Richard Bachman was battered and bruised by the end of the game.
As noted, Semin’s goal was not only a spark for the Hurricanes, but it was the beginning of an onslaught that Bachman will soon love to forget. The ‘Canes would score six unanswered goals in an 18-minute-span, out shooting Edmonton 20-1 during that time.
Elias Lindholm would get his first career hat trick Sunday afternoon and notch 5 points.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 8, 2015
It was a huge milestone for the young “Swedish beast” and part of what will surely be part of a bad dream for Bachman. (Individually a bad dream, of course, as it couldn’t have worked out better for the Oilers.)
Edmonton blew a 3-goal lead and skated off knowing that they are still deserving of their spot as the second worst team in the NHL, and closer to Connor McDavid after their trip to Raleigh and the 7-4 loss to the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes were the better of the bad Sunday afternoon. Maybe they just don’t want Connor McDavid.
Sunday was military appreciation day and it was awesome. Members of the armed forces were honored throughout the game.
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) March 8, 2015
A group from the 82nd Airborne sang the Star Spangled Banner. Coach Bill Peters agreed with everyone in attendance about their rendition:
“They were great. They nailed it. They hit it out of the park.”
Thank you to all who have served and are serving in our armed forces. Your sacrifice is acknowledged and appreciated more than words can adequately say.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.