You hear NHL coaches and players say it repeatedly, like hockey mantras:
Got to get to the dirty areas to score.
Got to get some greasy goals.
Got to get more net traffic, take away the goalie’s eyes.
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Such are the adages of the sport, and the same things were said Sunday in the Carolina Hurricanes locker room at PNC Arena after an unsatisfactory first period against the Boston Bruins.
The Canes trailed 1-0 although they had outshot the Bruins 13-8. The problem was that most of the Canes’ attempts weren’t very dangerous, and Bruins goalie Zane McIntyre, a rookie, was getting clean looks at most of the shots.
But that would change during the course of the game as the Canes won 4-3 on an overtime goal by another rookie, Sebastian Aho.
Aho scored twice in the game and the first came when he went to the front of the net in the second period. Jay McClement did the same in the third as the Canes had McIntyre scrambling.
“That’s how you score the dirty goals in this league – you’ve got to throw pucks there,” McClement said. “The goalies are very good on every team, and you have to have net traffic.
“In the first we didn’t have any of that net traffic. You’re not going to beat any guy in the league from the blue line. So we got there.”
The rookie led the way to the crease. Aho, deceptively strong at 5 feet 11 and 172 pounds, fought inside the Bruins’ Brandon Carlo, a 6-5, 203-pound defenseman, as the Canes’ Jaccob Slavin got off a shot from the point. Aho deflected the puck while being pushed into McIntyre by Carlo, the puck glancing off McIntyre’s left pad and into the net.
“I had missed a couple of opportunities in the first period, but I’m glad I got some other chances and scored,” Aho said. “I just tried to get a piece of the puck and stay out of the goalie crease.”
Boston coach Claude Julien used his coach’s challenge, saying there was goaltender interference. But the ruling after review was Carlo caused Aho to contact McIntyre before the puck crossed the goal line. Good goal.
“He’s definitely a strong kid,” Slavin said of Aho. “He’s super smart, but he has some strength to him, and he uses it to his advantage.”
Aho’s overtime winner, on a shot from the right circle, was a matter of having open ice in the three-on-three to get off a good shot and bury it. The Canes’ Derek Ryan scored in the second period off the rush, first forcing a turnover in the neutral zone, then converting on a well-executed play and pass from Jordan Staal.
McClement’s goal, which gave the Canes a brief 3-2 lead in the third, was the product of strong forechecking. Joakim Nordstrom won a board battle in the offensive zone and got the puck to Viktor Stalberg, whose pass from behind the net set up McClement from point-blank range.
“Great forecheck by ‘Nordy’ and Viktor, and he just popped it to me, and I just tried to get a stick on it,” McClement said.
McIntyre, who made some superb saves in the game, never had a chance on McClement’s goal.
More of the same will be needed Tuesday as the Columbus Blue Jackets come into PNC Arena. The Blue Jackets, facing the Canes for the first time this season, are the talk of the NHL, the best team in the league, going 12-3-3 in road games in building a 28-7-4 record.
Columbus was third in the NHL in goals per game (3.33) and goals-against per game (2.15), and had the league’s best power-play percentage (26.7) after Sunday’s games. That comes from a lot of hard work in the “dirty areas.”