Often times, hockey coaches will defer to inspirational quotes. Maybe verbosity isn’t their strong suit or they’re better with X’s and O’s, but it’s a thing they like to do. Carolina Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller needs to use only one quote Friday morning — and it comes from an unexpected place.
In the words of the great Han Solo, “Don’t get cocky, kid.”
While Carolina had a phenomenal night Thursday against the Metropolitan Division rival New York Islanders and actually seemed to be playing quality hockey, complacency is not something they need. Thursday was a solid win. Not only was it the third career shutout for goalie Justin Peters, but it vaulted Carolina slightly in the divisional standings, placing them between Long Island and the neighboring New York Rangers.
In addition, the team finally showed signs of gelling as a unit, communicating and using their innate hockey sense. Carolina stood their ground against the notoriously physical Islanders. Young defenseman Brett Bellemore saw fit to drop gloves with Matt Martin, and there was the absolutely inspirational scene of 5-foot-5 Nathan Gerbe making a Braveheart-esque battle charge on 6-foot-2 defenseman Travis Hamonic and backing him way down.
Moments like that beg for Gerbe’s new nickname to be “Road House.”
In addition to the physicality, Carolina was able to strike fast and early when Radek Dvorak scored midway through the first period. The goal would stand as it became a defensive battle from there on out. For a Hurricanes squad who has been struggling with controlling the momentum of games, this is a more than welcome sign.
It’s easy to give Peters the credit in this one, since he had the shoutout. However, credit needs to be shared with the defense. Carolina’s defense was breaking up passes, blocking shots and poke-checking like madmen. They were the ideal form of what an Eastern Conference defense needs to look like.
That said, heading into the rest of the home-stand, Carolina could easily sit back on this two-game winning streak and use it for swagger. This is a bad idea. With the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche coming into Raleigh next, there’s plenty of work that needs doing.
This is not a team in the basement of the Metropolitan like the Philadelphia Flyers or the middle-of-the-road Islanders. Colorado are bad men. They’re 14-12-2 and trail only the Anaheim Ducks in the insane Western Conference. There is nothing about a pair of wins over Philadelphia and Long Island that should make Carolina think the Avalanche and Wild will be walks in any sort of park anywhere.
With forward Jeff Skinner reportedly spending another two weeks on injured reserve, and goalies Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin are only just now starting to take the ice in practice again — forget about these guys. They don’t exist until they come off the injured reserve list.
As it stands, Carolina is icing a goalie who can’t seem to get rattled in PNC Arena, and defenseman Tim Gleason has skated in two consecutive practices, prompting expectations of his return. Not to mention, the defense has finally learned who they are again.
The current homestand has overtones of October’s State Fair Road Trip where Carolina rolled through the Toronto Maple Leafs and then the Islanders before imploding after a blast from the injury bug. This is not meant to throw Haterade on anyone’s good time. Rather, it is a sign that the Hurricanes must put these wins behind them and press on– as odd as that sounds.