After an eventful 2018, Canes look to better things in the new year

The Carolina Hurricanes celebrate a goal by Andrei Svechnikov as Philadelphia Flyers’ Radko Gudas (3) skates by during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
The Carolina Hurricanes celebrate a goal by Andrei Svechnikov as Philadelphia Flyers’ Radko Gudas (3) skates by during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker) AP

As 2018 came to an end, the Carolina Hurricanes had much to reflect on from a most eventful year.

The Canes gained a new owner, Tom Dundon.

They said goodbye to two franchise icons and Hockey Hall of Famers, Ron Francis and Chuck Kaiton.

They had one head coach, Bill Peters, leave and another, Rod Brind’Amour, get his first chance as a head coach in the NHL.

They traded away forward Jeff Skinner, a fan favorite and a proven goal scorer in his eight years with the team.

Finally, they missed the Stanley Cup playoffs, again, for a ninth straight year.

But as the Canes look to a new year, to 2019, they will do it coming off a satisfying victory, beating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 at PNC Arena. Captain Justin Williams played his 1,200th career game, the Canes in control and goalie Curtis McElhinney poised in net.

Canes fans in the crowd of 16,643 enjoyed it, especially the postgame celebration. That has been something new in 2018 after wins on home ice this season, creating considerable conversation around the league.

The players formed two lines leading to the north goal, then had rookie forward Andrei Svechnikov skate up and go sliding down the lane like a bowling ball and into the net.

Call it the ‘”Svech Strike.”

“I didn’t know before,” Svechnikov said, smiling. “They just said, ‘Go slide, go slide.’ So I go slide.”

It was the second time Svechninkov had visited the net on New Year’s Eve. His second-period score, his 11th goal of the season, gave the Canes a 3-0 lead.

It also was the net that goalie Curtis McElhinney manned in 40 of the 60 minutes Monday and did well. He did allow a goal to the Flyers’ Jakub Voracek in the third period but was steady and solid for all three periods in an important victory after back-to-back road losses to Washington and New Jersey.

“It’s huge,” McElhinney said. “Obviously we were home for the New Year’s Eve game and we’re trying to get on a run here and make some things happen in the second half (of the season).”

The Canes (16-17-5) were nine points out of wild-card playoff position in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday. Asked before Monday’s game if his team was approaching a danger zone in the season, Brind’Amour said, “We may already be there, who knows? It’s hard to come back from when you’re this far back.

“But we’ve talked about it. We don’t look at the big picture now. You can’t. You have to go one day at a time, one game at a time. In two months we’re going to look at the big picture and see where we’re at -- are we back in the race? That’s the only way to approach it..

And speaking of eventful years ...

McElhinney ended the 2017-18 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a solid backup goalie, was beaten out by Garret Sparks in preseason training camp in September and placed on waivers in early October by the Leafs.

The Leafs were hoping he’d clear waivers and go to the Toronto Marlies, their AHL team. The Canes, with goalie Scott Darling injured, needed him, claimed him and quickly started him.

Philadelphia Flyers’ Sean Couturier (14) shoots the puck toward Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Curtis McElhinney (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker) Karl B DeBlaker AP

And what a pickup the veteran goalie has been, going 8-5-1 in his 14 starts with a 2.22 goals-against average and .924 save percentage, and teaming well with Petr Mrazek.

Another key addition this season has been forward Jordan Martinook. The Canes made a trade with the Arizona Coyotes, bringing in a gritty player who has some skill and can be used on any line. He’s also good with the guys, so to speak, acting as something of a mentor for Svechnikov.

Martinook caught the Flyers and nearly everyone by surprise in the first few moments of the second period. The Flyers’ Claude Giroux got his stick on the puck to win the face-off at center ice but Martinook soon had it and headed toward the net, firing a wrister past Flyers goalie Carter Hart.

In six seconds, it was 2-0, Canes. They’ve never scored a goal quicker to start a period in their franchise history.

“That was probably the goal of the game,” Brind’Amour said. “We caught them sleeping.”

After Svechnikov rifled his shot past Hart, the rookie goalie’s night was done. So were the Flyers, although they showed some spunk in the third.

The Canes were 0-2 on the power play and now 0-25 in the past seven games, but did have better organization and had five shots. That’s a start.

Seeing center Lucas Wallmark score in the first period appeared to lift everyone’s spirits along the bench. The hard-working Swede has done everything asked of him but score -- he was 2-79 shooting (2.5 percent) before Monday.

To make a push in their final 44 games, the Canes will need the power play contributing. They will need secondary scoring, from Wallmark and others. They will need consistent goaltending. They will need their best players to consistently play well.

“We haven’t gotten hot, we haven’t had a good streak put together even though I think our game has been pretty solid,” Brind’Amour said. “But we can talk about it all we want. We just have to find ways to get it donw.”

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.