Jonathan Quick and Cam Ward stood at opposite ends of 200 feet of ice. Sunday afternoon’s showdown between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Los Angeles Kings was about to begin. Quick was going through his usual ritual of skating back and forth over the goal mouth; Ward was skating around beside the net. Both were stretching in ways that hurt just to watch. The question loomed large as the opposing teams gathered at center ice for the drop of the puck. Would Cam Ward put on a performance equal to his shutout performance less than 24 hours ago? Would Jonathan Quick further cement his gloss by many as currently the best goalie in the NHL? Frankly, as a member of the media, and as a hockey fan, I was pumped.
The defending Stanley Cup Champions rolled into Raleigh coming off a 5-2 Friday against loss against the Detroit Red Wings. The loss was their third in a row on their current road trip. In fact, the Kings are without a road victory this season. The Hurricanes were in the exuberant throes of their first win of the season, reality hitting fast that the champs were in town. ‘Canes Coach Bill Peters was reminded in Saturday night’s post-game media chat that the defending Stanley Cup Champions were coming to town. What was his reply? “Perfect, I think it’s great.” There is that old adage about getting what one wishes for. Would it truly be perfect for the coach and his team?
Apparently it was “Perfect.”
Perfection is obviously elusive when describing hockey contests. Mistakes are made, shots are missed, and pucks get by goalies, etc. But for 60 minutes on Sunday evening, Coach Peters’ team executed signs of moving together to execute perfectly his system of play. All four lines worked as cohesive units in a way that has not been seen by fans at Raleigh’s PNC arena in several years. From the opening faceoff to the final horn, the Carolina Hurricanes played with speed, tenacity, and hockey intelligence that are becoming hallmarks of Coach Peters’ system. They came away with the win, 3-2.
The previous two games have looked nothing like any of the games that the Hurricanes played in October. Is there a reason? Most notably it can be attributed to the return of previously injured players, Eric Staal, Nathan Gerbe, and Patrick Dwyer. Also, the play of the “Checkers” guys has been outstanding.
Zach Boychuk has made a strong case for validating his presence on the ice.
On at least three separate occasions Boychuk, the 25-year old Canadian was all-in at the net with determination and speed that only a goalie of Jonathan Quick’s caliber could have stopped. In the beginning of the 2nd period, however, a Boychuk led surge got past even Quick, and resulted in Victor Rask netting his 1st NHL goal.
The boys from Charlotte have been a huge part of the ‘Canes recent two game success. When asked about their recent play, Coach Peters said after the game,
“Well by trade they’re goal-scorers we know right? So they scored at the American League level. They have skills – Chuk is a former first-round pick. And they’re coming into their own…”
Coach Peters announced today that Alexander Semin will return to the roster after a two-game stint in the cheap seats.
Coach Peters said he expects to have Semin back in the lineup playing with Staal and Tlusty as he did at #Canes practice today.
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) November 3, 2014
The question is, “Which one of the eighteen guys who played their guts out, did everything they were asked, and helped this team get into the win column will either be scratched or sent back down to Charlotte?” The consensus Sunday night on the Hurricanes’ post-game radio show with Mike Maniscalco, from him, ‘Canes TV voice John Forslund, and the fans, was that these guys
should get to keep playing. Only when someone starts to fall off should Semin be brought back. They admitted that Semin would and should be brought back, but it seems odd that Coach Peters would pull the trigger so quickly in light of how this team has meshed in the past two games. Will Semin play with the pace and foot movement that Coach Peters demands? We will get a chance to find out in Columbus.
Jonathan was quick but Cam Ward was quicker
The game between the pipes was everything hoped for and more. The elite of the game and a veteran returning to form went at it for the full 60 minutes. Jonathan Quick was everywhere, sprawling, swatting, and guarding his goal with grace and apparent ease. Cam Ward at the opposite end was not to be outdone, making save after save with pads, stick, and glove. It was a great display by two great goaltenders.
In the end, Ward was one goal better. As he did Saturday night versus the Arizona Coyotes, Cam Ward was quicker when it counted, at the end of the game when the pressure was greatest. He maintained his poise and preserved the 3-2 Hurricanes victory. Coach Peters has not yet glossed Ward as the “stud” but he is going to keep him in-goal Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) November 3, 2014
Cam Ward is still a good goalie. His play has been sporadic over the past couple of seasons. He has dealt with injuries and the resulting mental challenges that go along with recovering and getting back to form. He played okay in October, but not great. His play thus far in November has been nothing short of spectacular.
If these Carolina Hurricanes continue to believe in Coach Peters’ system, and can implement it the way they did this weekend, and if Cam Ward continues to play the way he has in the past two games, the possibilities will be vast as the season progresses. Of course the talk of Conner McDavid will die down, but that could be a worthwhile trade-off. We won’t get carried away yet, as the team still only has 6 points. But that’s three times as many as they had Friday.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.