In theory, anyway, this is how it was supposed to go for the Carolina Hurricanes. Staal brothers scoring goals. Cam Ward making saves. A timely power play and a lock-solid penalty-kill.
In theory, if all had gone well for the Hurricanes, it would have looked something like Friday's 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Of course, it came against a team in similar disarray to the Hurricanes, one that fired its coach and has already started dumping players ahead of the trade deadline, one saddled with its own inflated, never-ending contracts. (For Alexander Semin, insert David Clarkson.) Against a better opponent, this ends differently, as it has so often this season.
It was neither a particularly enthralling nor memorable game, but for one night, at least, it all went according to the original plan.
There's only so much anyone can take away from this utterly wasted season, but there's no question that Bill Peters has installed a system and a mentality that has brought the Hurricanes a modicum of success and could conceivably provide more if there were more talent on hand.
With Jordan Staal healthy, the Hurricanes are 11-6-3, a respectable 102.5-point pace – although if recent experience has taught the Hurricanes anything, it's not to read too much into the performance of a team playing without any playoff pressure. That's how the Hurricanes ended up in this predicament.
“We were losing some 2-1 games and now we've changed a bit,” Peters said. “Now we score more but we give up more. So we've got to find a way to get a little more of a happy medium where we continue to generate and score but tighten up away from the puck.”
They certainly didn't play a perfect game Friday, but it was sufficient. Eric Staal deflected a Justin Faulk shot for a power-play goal to open the scoring, his 18th as he closes in on the eighth 20-goal season of his career. Then, after Ward slid so far out of his net that Brandon Kozun had two chances to get it past net-guarding Brad Malone to tie the score, the Hurricanes answered only 16 seconds later when Jordan Staal was able to get his stick on a pass from his brother on the rush.
It's been a long and trying season for Jordan Staal, starting with the broken leg that wiped out the first half of his season and demolished whatever chances the Hurricanes had of even being moderately competitive in the Metropolitan Division and continuing into Friday, with only two goals in 20 games. He's up to three now.
And with the Hurricanes a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty-kill, and Ward stopping everything the Leafs shot at him when he was actually in the crease, that was enough to post a home win against one of the few teams in the league with a record as poor as the Hurricanes', even with Semin and Jeff Skinner doing nothing.
That may all change after the March 2 trade deadline, when Andrej Sekera and Jiri Tlusty and others are almost certainly to be playing elsewhere and without NHL-ready players arriving in their place – scouts from nine teams watched Friday.
“There are some good players here who may not be here as we get to the trade deadline,” Eric Staal said. “Mentally we have to stay strong and play the right way, do the things Bill is trying to get us to do and that will get us where we want to be.”
The Hurricanes can take some solace in the slow but steady development of a structure and identity under Peters that gives them a chance if they ever assemble players with the collective talent and character capable of pulling it off against better teams under more difficult circumstances.