Faced with a deficit during an intermission for the first time this young season, the Hurricanes on Monday handled the adversity the way most people following the team the past few years would expect.
Chip implanted firmly on their shoulders, the Canes exploded in the second period to erase — nay, eradicate — that deficit, added some breathing room, and finished off a team many expect to be firmly entrenched in the Stanley Cup championship discussion come May.
In doing so, the Canes stirred some memories of success — many of those very recent memories. The question on many people’s minds, after Carolina’s torrid start, might be: Is this the best early-season Canes team ever?
Depends on who you ask, and how you define “best,” as with all things subjective.
Record-wise, no, 5-0-0 is not the best five-game start in the team’s 25 years (and 24 seasons) in North Carolina. It’s close, though.
And it’s safe to say, as solid starts to a season go, the Canes’ 2021-22 debut is among the best. And almost all of the team’s hot starts have come in the past five years.
In 2018-19, the Canes started 4-0-1; that loss was the first game of the season. In 2019-20, the team started 5-0, but one of those wins was in a shootout, so in a past NHL life, that would have been a tie.
And last year, the Canes started the condensed season 4-1 (ultimately 6-1).
Even in 2005-06, the Canes didn’t start this quickly. Yes, they ultimately started the season 12-2-1 through 15 games, but they actually began a bit more slowly, going 2-2 through four and 3-2-1 through six games before running off nine in a row.
Steven Lorentz off the schneid
Going into Monday night’s game, the Canes had just three players who’d played in a game, but who hadn’t registered a point.
Make that two.
Not that Steven Lorentz is known for, or asked to provide, high octane offense — the second-year grinder had a pair of goals and six helpers in last year’s abbreviated season — but it took just five games to get his first of the 2021-22 campaign, and it was a beauty.
Lining up on the left wing for a defensive zone faceoff, Lorentz shot out toward the point after Jordan Martinook won the puck forward off the draw. Lorentz poked the puck past Toronto defender Rasmus Sandin and then battled him hand-to-hand through the neutral zone and into the Leafs end, finally spinning away from the 178-pound Swedish defenseman and whacking the puck toward — and through — keeper Jack Campbell.
Perhaps looking for a spark in the first period after falling behind 1-0, Brind’Amour reunited a popular line combination from a year ago, slotting Andrei Svechnikov back in with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen while moving Jesperi Kotkaniemi onto a line with Vincent Trocheck and Martin Necas.
That line, dubbed the “SAT” line for the initials (first or last) of the three players on it, represents the Canes’ top scoring forwards so far this season. The three, working separately, combined for 19 points through four games.
Monday, working together, Svechnikov was nearly an early beneficiary of the move, sliding into the Leafs zone and firing a laser past Toronto keeper Jack Campbell. The shot beat Campbell, but rang off the crossbar and left post before ricocheting to the boards.
That same line, in the second, accounted for the team’s first goal, when Aho tipped a shot past Campbell after a long shot by defender Ethan Bear from the right point. Svechnikov had sent the puck to Bear after digging for it deep along the right half wall.
Dangerous hits still a problem
It’s impossible to eliminate all danger from hockey. Inherently there will always be risk, but in recent years the league has paid lip service to — and in some cases put into practice — measures intended to more strictly enforce plays that could result in serious injury, particularly to the head and neck.
Calls for such infractions have varied greatly from officiating crew to officiating crew, and fines and reviews across the league have varied from case to case, which has left many fans bewildered.
Add a hit in the first period Monday to the list of head-scratchers.
Just past the midway point of the opening frame, Canes defenseman Brett Pesce retrieved the puck behind the goal line, to the glove side of keeper Frederik Andersen. As he wheeled to his left, toward the back of the cage, he went down nearly to a knee as he was playing the puck. Toronto forward Nick Ritchie barreled into Pesce, with his hip appearing to drive the defender’s head into the end boards. Pesce at first crumbled to the ice with his head in his hands, and defensive partner Brady Skjei immediately fell on Ritchie to subdue him.
Officials blew the play dead, but did not assess a penalty, leading to a cascade of boos from the Canes faithful.
Powerful penalty kill
One of the key statistics that has helped the Canes to start well this season is the team’s penalty efficiency on the penalty kill. Through five games, Carolina has allowed two goals while shorthanded on 20 tries, a success rate of 90 percent, which ranks them in the top 5 in the NHL.
The first opportunity Toronto had with the power play Monday came early in the second period, and the Leafs had trouble establishing themselves in the offensive zone.
Later in the second, the Leafs had a second chance with an extra skater, and they again sputtered. Toronto only had two total shots on goal on the power play.
In the third, still trailing by a pair of goals, the Leafs had an abbreviated power play after a pair of penalties — one to each team — just 34 seconds apart.