Quick whistles: Staal and Necas take the plunge, Hurricanes face big test

I wrote about Jordan Staal’s miserable goalscoring drought about a month ago.

It ended up being a 35-game drought that even Martin Necas wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

The most disconcerting part was that, compared to his 2020-21 world record, his metrics were better and his results were considerably worse. The conclusion I had come to was that in no time he would end this drought and things would begin to balance out.

I didn’t expect him to bounce back like he did, though.

Over the past few weeks, Staal has been scoring goals with a consistency he hasn’t had since the second half of the 2021 regular season.

Over a span of 12 games from February 8 to March 4, the 33-year-old giant scored six goals and had ten points. For reference, he had zero goals and six points overall in the previous 34 games and two goals and 11 points in 41 games since the start of the 2021-22 season.

Overall, Staal has been the same player, as Hurricanes bench coach Rod Brind’Amour will tell you whenever you ask about his team’s captain.

“No. Do you?” Brind’Amour said in late February, when asked if there were any differences he was starting to see between Staal and his line. “It’s just a rebound here or there. It was a good line. They’ve been playing well for a while now. It’s good to see him rewarded for doing it well.

His best offensive night of the season, both in 5-on-5 metrics and offensive production, came when the team desperately needed him.

Trailing 2-0 after the first period on Friday night, the Hurricanes were in danger of losing a huge division game to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have bitten Carolina’s heels for much of the season. That’s when Staal delivered one of his patented games in beat mode.

He scored twice in regulation time, one by constant pressure around the goal and the other by a deflection from the high slot almost halfway through the third period. He carried the Canes into overtime, Andrei Svechnikov stayed hot and the team got two huge points.

With Staal back on the beam, exuding more offensive confidence with every game he plays, the Hurricanes are a more dangerous club in the lineup. Additionally, the reformation of their hard-nosed third line, with Nino Niederreiter and Jesper Fast on the flanks, gives Carolina a distinguished identity throughout their top nine.

He’s played well all season, which is hard to recognize when he’s been going through some really bad luck with the puck, but his game has never changed. His game-changing impact is finally showing on the scoresheet, and the Hurricanes are a much better team when it does.

Martin Necas drills

It’s honestly pretty amazing the Hurricanes have had so much offensive consistency despite two of their top five returning scorers of 2020-21 going through the worst offensive droughts of their careers that lasted for months.

However, this might be a pretty good explanation of how they did it:

Staal came out of his funk, and now Necas hopes to do the same.

The goalposts are undoubtedly different for Necas, though. The now 23-year-old broke out with a stellar second season, and expectations were high for him to build on that in year three.

He only found the back of the net once in 26 games, but beyond that his all-around game just wasn’t there. He lingered around the edge of the ice and didn’t hit high-danger scoring areas with the consistency he did throughout the previous season.

The tides began to take a very noticeable turn in Carolina’s shutout loss to the Washington Capitals late last week.

It was the most remarkable Necas had been on the ice for several weeks, and had it not been for a dazzling goalkeeping performance from Vitek Vanecek, his goalscoring drought would have come to an end.

Luckily, he didn’t have to wait long to finally get rid of the monkey.

Necas’ first goal in almost two months was scored while in front of the net and using his formidable puck skills and agility to retrieve a loose puck and whip it through Philipp Grubauer.

That tally ended up being the game-winning goal — his first GWG in three months — in a game the Hurricanes led by one goal twice.

That’s what Necas needs to do if he wants to continue developing his NHL game and become the player he has so often shown us he could be. He needs to be part of Carolina’s heavy forechecking and goaltending practice.

The goal, coupled with his timing, is an encouraging sign from a player who is still very young and has a lot of work to do in this league.

“I was trying not to count the games I didn’t score,” Necas said after the game. “But it takes your mind a bit. I don’t think in my career I’ve ever waited that long for a goal, but it happens. In the last games I started to feel a bit better and to have more chances. Today he finally entered. It’s a good feeling. Big win. Let’s just bring more.

Necas needs to be an integral part of Carolina’s top six if they are to push for the big trophy. There is no doubting his ability to perform on big stages. He brought Carolina back from the brink of a first-round disaster in Game 5 against the Nashville Predators last April.

The Canes will need more big moments from him moving forward.

Thursday night rumble

I recently watched the new adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, so allow me to be painfully lame and compare the rumble of the Carolina Hurricanes against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday in the ice warehouse at the rumble of the Jets against the Sharks in the salt warehouse.

And yes, I know it’s confusing, given that those West Side Story gang names also happen to be the names of two NHL teams. Also, no one has ever referred to a hockey rink as an ‘ice warehouse’, with the possible exception of the Ice House in Wake Forest, but that’s not where they’ll be playing.

Alright, I’m just gonna drop that idea completely.

It’s still a big game.

The Hurricanes have spent most of the season so far atop the NHL standings, but a few tough times have allowed the Avalanche to take over as the league’s number one seed, and they will retain that position when they face the second-placed Canes.

Both clubs will enter Thursday’s game on a roll as winners of seven of their last ten games. It’s their first of two meetings this season, and it will be a game-breaking game for the Hurricanes.

Although they were able to continue winning at a steady pace, the last two months presented the team with a variety of challenges. A handful of essential skaters have struggled to get their games started, Anthony DeAngelo is out for at least a few more weeks and the trade deadline is fast approaching towards the end of the month.

Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said he doesn’t intend to have a huge delay, although they are still considering bringing in another defender.

From this game against Colorado, the Hurricanes enter their most difficult streak of the season. Ten of their next 11 opponents are currently in the playoffs, and teams like Colorado and Tampa Bay are betting on favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

Are the Hurricanes really in the same category as these proven powerhouses?

I’m inclined to say they are, as they’ve given us very little reason to think they aren’t, but this is going to be a real test of what this team is capable of.

According to Hockey Reference, the Hurricanes have the fourth toughest schedule for the remainder of the regular season. By their same metrics, they list the rods as having the fifth easiest schedule strength at this point.

Is something read? Maybe not, but there’s no denying they’ll be tasked with an increasingly tricky roster of opponents in March.

Will the Hurricanes have their day on Thursday night? When the Avalanche starts to rumble, will the Hurricanes rumble them, won’t they?

These are important questions that will probably not be answered by song.

*Update: It looks like the Hurricanes have found their defender.

About Mildred B.

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