I’m no expert on hockey. I’m trying to learn — I’ll be manning this corner of the Raleigh Co. website moving forward — but I’m still a novice.
I know the basics, of course. I know (most of) the rules, and I can tell when a team looks good or when a team looks bad. I just can’t yet tell you what changed within the Xs and Os for the Hurricanes to finally get their first win nine games into the season Saturday night. I can’t tell you who was a sharper skater all of a sudden, or who provided better spacing in the offense, or who ramped up his aggression to just the right point.
It’s not that I don’t know what’s going on, it’s just that I can’t write with any sort of conviction when I cover Hurricanes games.
All I can tell you is what I think I saw in Carolina’s 3-0 win against Arizona.
I think I saw a young prospect emerge for a team that desperately needed one to. Elias Lindholm, Carolina’s first-round pick in 2013, scored twice in the first period, giving the Hurricanes a punch of confidence right off the bat. With an injured Jordan Staal and a struggling first line, the Hurricanes had to have one of their investments start contributing. Lindholm proved he can find the net.
I think I saw a team play with pride, perhaps for the first time this season. Despite a measly home crowd of 10,870, and despite a healthy scratch for highly paid star Alexander Semin, Carolina found toughness. Cam Ward made a handful of clutch saves to kill a pair of penalties in the first period. The Hurricanes manufactured scoring chances with hustle, racing up the ice and battling for position near the net. “You saw how hard they worked tonight,” coach Bill Peters said after securing his first win on the Hurricanes’ bench. “When you win, you pay a price, and the guys did it tonight.”
I think I saw a team that got a bit lucky, too. An Arizona player once dove headfirst and deflected a Cam Ward pass back toward the Hurricanes’ net. The puck skipped just to the right of the wide-open net, leaving the scoreline at 1-0 instead of tying it early. Those are the types of breaks the Hurricanes weren’t getting during their 0-6-2 start. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
I think I saw a team that had its eyes opened by Semin’s benching. “I think that sent a message to everybody,” captain Eric Staal said. “Obviously, Bill’s looking for certain things out of people in our lineup, and if he doesn’t feel you’re delivering that — he’s the coach.’’ I think I saw a team that struck chemistry gold in relief of its first win, as noted by the cheery demeanor in the locker room and the Player of the Game fireman’s hat that Peters introduced (he gave it to Ward). I think I saw the Hurricanes finally shake off that dreadful monkey they were wearing on their backs for weeks, and now a new season can begin.
Mostly, I think I saw a Hurricanes bunch that just might not be the worst team in the NHL. And that’s more than we could have said Saturday morning.