Hello, and welcome to the first of many hot take installments of Carolina Hurricanes coverage here at The Queen’s Guard. I’m excited to share my passion for hockey and this team with you all in the form of game recaps, trade deadline buzz, roster transactions, etc. Without further delay, let’s get into it!
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The team plays just poorly enough to miss the playoffs by a handful of points in the standings, but isn’t bad enough to get a meaningful first round draft pick. Welcome to the past nine years of Hurricanes fandom. If we miss again this season, that makes one decade –10 years– without a playoff appearance. This forces us to once again ask, “I wonder who’s good at 11-12th overall?” Yikes. But fear not! While the Hurricanes have been stalled out over calm seas, a different storm has been brewing in the minors.
I’m talking about the Charlotte Checkers, the ‘Canes affiliate. With a tremendous record of 27-8-3, the Checkers are far and away the best team in the American Hockey League (AHL). They hold a nine-point lead over the second best team, their divisional rival Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Checkers have some serious talent down there, and a number of their current players will find themselves on the Hurricanes roster in due time.
Going forward, I plan to integrate Checkers coverage as necessary to supplement the bigger picture of the Carolina Hurricanes. The Checkers success is also indicative of great potential for the ‘Canes in the coming years because what’s a farm team for, right?
Like the NBA, the NHL has an eighty-two game season. The Hurricanes just played their 42nd game tonight and are sitting in 5th place in the Metropolitan division with a 20-17-5 record. They’re currently six points out of a playoff spot. Tonight’s 4-3 regulation victory over the New York Islanders is significant for several reasons, but mainly because the Hurricanes are chasing them in the standings.
Coming into tonight, the Hurricanes were 0-2-1 against the Islanders this season looking to avoid being swept in the season series. A win would extend their winning streak to a season-best five games and halt the Islanders win streak at six.
They got it done tonight with the help of Saku Mäenalanen’s first career NHL goal. It’s fitting that I get to mention a first goal in the first article. Greg McKegg also got on the score sheet twice with a goal and a beautiful assist on team captain Justin Williams’s tiebreaker in the third period. The laser of a pass came from the just inside the blue line to a lurking Williams in the slot who faked the one-timer and promptly roofed it on his backhand. The “slot” is the area between the offensive zone faceoff circles, and it is widely considered the scoring area.
McKegg has been outstanding since his call up, and is making a case for a full time gig with the ‘Canes the rest of the way. The same goes for Mäenalanen, whose grinding style and nice balance of size and speed has been a welcome sight on the 4th line in recent games. Generally speaking, the Hurricanes have been getting more contributions from their bottom six forwards of late, and that kind of scoring balance presents opposing teams with tough decisions on how they want to match up their lines.
The most critical point in the game came when the Islanders presumably tied the game 2-2 off Jordan Eberle’s stick. However, the Hurricanes would successfully challenge for offside on the offensive zone entry and it’d be overturned. Offside coaches challenges are high stakes in the NHL because if unsuccessful, not only does the goal stand, but also the team must subsequently serve a 2-minute bench minor for delaying the game. The Islanders tied the game 2-2 several minutes later on a shot from the point in which Hurricanes goalie, Curtis McElhinney, was screened and couldn’t fully see the shot. The “point” is the area just inside the offensive zone blue line where defensemen take most of their shots on goal.
Shortly after Justin Williams and the Hurricanes took the lead 3-2, defenseman Jaccob Slavin added a power play tally to make it 4-2, pinging a wrist shot off the left post and around the cage. This goal proved crucial because the ‘Canes would let up a goal on the ensuing face-off on a partial-breakaway making it 4-3. The Hurricanes buckled down though and secured the two points in regulation time.
By no means was it a pretty game, but a win is a win and there’s no such thing as a cakewalk for this team. In the NHL, good teams just find ways to win. They also string together 4 wins here and 5 wins there, something the ‘Canes can now say they’ve done. They’ll look to keep the ball rolling on Thursday night when they visit the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, a natural disaster to be reckoned with in their own right. To be considered a good team, you have to beat the best, and you have to do it on their home ice.