Luke DeCock

Canes making opponents pay for backup plan – DeCock

The Canes' Joakim Nordstrom (42) watches his shot go into the net past the San Jose Sharks' Matt Nieto (83), Brenden Dillon (4) and goalie Aaron Dell during the third period at PNC Arena in Raleigh.
The Canes' Joakim Nordstrom (42) watches his shot go into the net past the San Jose Sharks' Matt Nieto (83), Brenden Dillon (4) and goalie Aaron Dell during the third period at PNC Arena in Raleigh. cseward@newsobserver.com

t's not even Thanksgiving and the Carolina Hurricanes are already avoiding their opponents' No. 1 goalies. That sounds like a good thing, and it can be. But it's also a statement of what the rest of the NHL thinks of the Hurricanes, which is not enough to make sure their best goalie is in net.

Saturday, the Washington Capitals started Philipp Grubauer instead of Braden Holtby. Tuesday, Aaron Dell got the start instead of Martin Jones for the San Jose Sharks. And Friday night, expect to see Al Montoya in net for the Montreal Canadiens instead of Carey Price, with the Canadiens playing the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

So far, the Hurricanes' own No. 1 is two-for-two outdueling his lesser counterpart in the past week, with Cam Ward posting a 22-save shutout, his first of the season and 24th of his career, in a 1-0 win over the Sharks. He has given up more than two goals only once in his past six starts, posting a 1.62 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.

“It's exciting to get the ice time and I think you've got to earn that,” Ward said. “You never want to take it for granted or get too comfortable. If you want to play you have to perform, but the more you play it becomes easier.”

Ward is still only 3-1-2 over that span, which underlines how a lack of offense has become the Hurricanes' bigger problem. That's how it goes for the Hurricanes right now, 27th in the NHL in goals per 60 minutes going into Tuesday. Teams see them as toothless, a chance to rest their main guy. It's up to the Hurricanes to prove they're more dangerous than that.

(Although, as Paul Maurice loved to say when the Hurricanes were shut down by some guy who was never heard from before or again, sometimes the backup is even tougher because he doesn't get many chances to play and he's always on top of his game and so on. The Hurricanes often made it look that way under Maurice, anyway.)

Coach Bill Peters talks about the Carolina Hurricanes 1-0 win over the San Jose Sharks in an NHL hockey game played at PNC Arena in Raleigh on Tuesday Nov. 15, 2016.

Saturday was a good start, hanging four goals on Grubauer as the newly assembled TSA line of Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal and Sebastian Aho pounded the Caps in a 5-1 win. Which isn't to say the Hurricanes couldn't have done it against Holtby, only that they had a better chance against Grubauer, statistically and apocryphally.

It took them a little longer to break through against Dell on Tuesday, with Joakim Nordstrom shoveling his own rebound past Dell with 9:12 to play in the third to break a scoreless tie on the Hurricanes' 29th shot of the night.

Dell held strong even through a seemingly endless offensive-zone possession by the TSA line in the first period that saw the Hurricanes control the puck for a stunning 2:13 and pepper Dell fruitlessly with five shots, although none of them were great scoring chances.

If the Hurricanes do see Montoya on Friday, they'll face a goalie who has given up 13 goals on the past 75 shots he has faced in a pair of losses, thanks in part to a 10-0 drubbing by the Columbus Blue Jackets last week. That's a little different than what teams see from Price, who has been far and away the NHL's best goalie in the early going.

The Hurricanes don't have that problem right now. With three weeks between back-to-backs, the Hurricanes can run Ward while he's feeling good and don't have to roll the dice with Eddie Lack.

“What happens now is our schedule allows us to run the hot goalie and we'll continue to do that here for the foreseeable future,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. “That's the nature of the beast. We want to get some points in the bank.”

This run of games against No. 2 goalies has a chance to do that. If teams are going to overlook you, making them pay for it is a good way to start the long, improbable climb up the standings the Hurricanes would require to get back into the postseason conversation.

It's a double-edged sword: If they start putting a run together, they'll start to see the No. 1 guys again. Given where the Hurricanes stand now, that would be a great problem to have.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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