The Carolina Hurricanes needed to come up big on a statement win in order to stay relevant in the early conversations on the NHL Metropolitan Division. They nailed it with last night’s regulation defeat of the Washington Capitals.
While the points value in the standings are the same as any other divisional win, taking down Washington in regulation is of a higher intrinsic value to the Hurricanes’ position in the division as well as the Eastern Conference as a whole. They’ve been struggling in this young season so far to find their place and niche on the ice. There’s been great moments, and some cringe-worthy ones.
However, the only thing coaches and fans can really ask for is for the team to show signs of progress. This was achieved in Washington.
Beating the Capitals on the road wasn’t the big deal here — it was the style in which they got this win. Showing that they could handle incursions to the defensive zone when the need arose, players coming up in the clutch when they needed to, and gelling as a team — these are all promising signs.
Moving forward, this bigger-than-you-think win over Washington actually raises a few unintended questions, and none more prominent than the starting goaltender situation.
Nobody is mincing words; Cam Ward isn’t getting it done. It would be ill advised to write him off this early in the season. Actually, it would be disastrous. Calling for Ward’s benching might feel good in the short term, and is compounded by backup goalie Anton Khudobin playing completely out of his mind and dominating in net.
Early reports from the team hint at head coach Kirk Muller moving to a more “rotation” system, as opposed to starter/backup. This is a good thing.
Khudobin was brought in to back up Ward, plain and simple. “Backing up” doesn’t only mean “fill in when the starter is hurt or tired.” It also means you step in and pick up slack when the starter gets shaky. Khudobin is doing this, and well. If you find yourself calling for Ward’s benching … stop and breathe. Let the rotation idea play out before you condemn a Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
Defense was another problem that needed solving. Based on the Washington game, it got solved and Muller needs to tell the defensive corps “Keep doing that.” Complacency is the enemy of success, however. It would still be wise to play with the pairings some more and find the most dialed-in combinations. One game of success does not mean everything is perfect.
Moving forward into tonight’s game against Western Conference visitors Los Angeles Kings, the most important thing is preserving momentum. The Hurricanes are flying high off of the Washington win. Winning feels good, and they need to take that good feeling with them.
Keeping an eye on the Kings’ starting goaltender will be huge. Should Jonathan Quick still be in net, this is good news and bad news. On the upside, Quick is coming into this game with a 3.13 GAA. Three goals is right in the the Hurricanes’ wheelhouse based on their two wins so far this year.
On the other hand, this isn’t Quick’s first rodeo. He’s a level-headed goalie that doesn’t take shooters’ bait very often. If the Hurricanes can get traffic in front of him and play the numbers, solving Quick shouldn’t be hard.
Look for a weird matchup on the first lines from both Carolina and Los Angeles. Should the Hurricanes go with the Alexander Semin-Eric Staal-Jiri Tlusty top line they had in Washington, this could prove fascinating. The Kings have been playing Justin Williams-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown on their top line. Kopitar and Brown have been rolling hot, but they’ve been dragging the dead weight of Williams.
Semin, Staal, and Tlusty all seem to be hitting their stride. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.
The most important thing in any sport, not just hockey, is momentum. Capitalizing on this momentum is the only way the Hurricanes can surf into the playoffs. Taking down Washington was a good move; making another statement against Los Angeles will solidify the upward direction of mid-October.