Hurricanes come out of All-Star break refocused

Aho named NHLs First Star for week that saw Carolina win three straight

James Guillory—USA TODAY Sports
Hurricanes defensemen Brett Pesce chips the puck away from Oilers forward Connor McDavid during Carolina's 2-1 win over Edmonton on Feb. 3.

RALEIGH — Sometimes, timing is everything. For the Carolina Hurricanes, the All-Star break couldn’t have come at a better juncture.Losers of five in a row, the team returned to the ice last Tuesday with a big matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers — one of the teams they are battling for a playoff spot. More importantly, they were chasing the style of play that got them in the playoff hunt in the first place.”It will be like starting over,” coach Bill Peters said after the Hurricanes lost 3-0 at home to the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 26.It proved t be a fresh start. The Hurricanes pummeled the Flyers 5-1. They then knocked off the Oilers at PNC Arena on Friday and beat the Islanders in overtime on the road the next night for their third straight win.”Just for our team in general, I thought it was good timing for the break,” defenseman Noah Hanifin said. “We had been struggling obviously a little bit in the past few games, and I think that gave us a good reset, for everyone to go have a good weekend with family and friends and come back with a different mindset and ready to work.”Hanifin, along with fellow second-year defensemen Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin, were wide-eyed rookies last year, and the All-Star break provided them their first chance to really absorb the fact they had achieved their dream of being NHLers.Now, the trio — whose combined 62 years have them a few years shy of full retirement — are grizzled veterans when it comes to All-Star breaks.”The All-Star break’s awesome, you’ve really gotta recharge your battery,” Pesce said prior to the win over the Flyers. “You kind of learn to appreciate it more this year than last year. Your rookie year your adrenaline is going all the time. This time around you really want to rest your body and try to get as many wins as possible afterward and just try to get momentum from here on out.”No one came out of the break better than rookie Sebastian Aho. The 19-year-old winger notched his first career hat trick and added an assist in the win over Philadelphia, then got the game-winner against the Oilers. His efforts earned him recognition as the NHL’s First Star for the week.Slavin — who spent some time in Wrightsville Beach with his wife and two dogs during All-Star Weekend — also came out of the break strong, earning an assist and neutralizing Edmonton star Connor McDavid on Friday, then following it up with his second goal of the year against the Islanders.”I think we’re definitely fresh coming out of this break and we’re playing to our strengths,” Slavin said following the Edmonton win. “We’re playing a fast game and getting pucks behind their defensemen and getting on them. And so I think if we can keep that going, we’ll be good finishing this road trip out.”Forward Derek Ryan played his first six NHL games last season, but this year has been his first true taste of NHL life. But both the All-Star break and upcoming five-day “bye week” the Hurricanes have from Feb. 12-16 are old hat for the 30-year-old Ryan.”I’m used to playing pro in Europe where we have two week-long breaks every season,” said Ryan, a native of Spokane, Wash., who made his way back to North America via his dominant play in the the Austrian and Swedish leagues. “So I guess I’m kind of accustomed to having breaks in the middle of the season.”I know you have to kind of get away from hockey, but at the same time still be ready to come back and be at your highest level. I don’t really take that big sigh of relief and breath of fresh air until I’m home for the summer.”After the Washington game Tuesday, the Hurricanes travel to Dallas on Saturday before the bye week — the team is totally off, with no games or practices — and will come back for a five-game home stand that will end a few days before the NHL trade deadline on March 1.”I thought the break came at a good time for us,” forward Elias Lindholm said. “We didn’t play that well before the break, so it was good to get some rest, get everybody healed up a little bit. Now it’s fun to be back.”