Hurricanes slow high-powered Oilers, grind out 2-1 win

Rookie Aho scores game-winner for the second straight game

James Guillory—USA TODAY Sports
Hurricanes defensemen Brett Pesce chips the puck away from Oilers captain Connor McDavid during the third period at PNC Arena. Carolina defeated Edmonton 2-1.

RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes welcomed Connor McDavid — the soon-to-be greatest player in the world — to PNC Arena for the first time Friday, but it was the home team’s young emerging star that got the game-winning goal.Sebastian Aho scored a power play goal 1:48 into the third period to push Carolina ahead of Edmonton for a 2-1 win, their second straight victory after the All-Star break.”It looked like he really leaned into that one,” Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, who made 24 saves, said of Aho’s goal. “He’s playing with such poise and confidence, and we’re feeding off of it. It’s hard to believe that he’s only, what, 19 years old? And making this big of an impact. We’re going to need him moving forward just like everybody else, but he’s oozing that confidence and it’s rubbing off on everybody.”The one goal Ward did allow was to the game’s other young offensive phenom, the 20-year-old McDavid.The NHL’s leading scorer tied the game at 8:04 of the second period when he received a pass from defenseman Oscar Klefbof while the Hurricanes were changing lines, getting a step on Elias Lindholm and beating Ward with a backhand to tie it.But that was the only time McDavid or the Oilers got one past Carolina, with defensemen Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce leading the way in slowing the Oilers’ No. 97.”Outstanding job by those guys,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said of the job Slavin and Pesce did on McDavid. “Both guys skate really well and did a real good job. Some tough one-on-one battles. Then you see [McDavid’s] lateral mobility, and we stayed right with him. The forwards did a good job coming back to help out. It was a dogfight out there.”Slavin, who played a team-high 24:55 and shadowed McDavid most of the night, said he relishes the chance to match up with the NHL’s best.”I look forward to playing these kind of guys, so it’s definitely a fun time out there,” Slavin said. “You try to contain him the best that you can and try to match his speed, but it’s definitely hard to do that.”Oilers coach Todd McLellan was happy with his team — who played with five defenseman after losing Matt Benning in the first period after a collision with Carolina’s Viktor Stalberg — despite the loss.”I thought it was a good game on their behalf,” McLellan said. “I have no complaints in not getting a win.”The Oilers carried the play early, earning a power play and outshooting Carolina 5-1 in the game’s first 10 minutes. But it was the Hurricanes who scored first.After a clean zone entry, Slavin faked a shot and passed it to Lindholm below the red line. Lindholm quickly found Jordan Staal, who slid the puck through Oilers goalie Cam Talbot’s five hole for his 11th goal of the season to make it 1-0 at 11:36 of the first. “His compete level right now is very high and his skill is coming, too,” Peters said of Lindholm. “Like he’s making plays in tight, he’s doing a hell of a job.”The Oilers had the first three power plays of the game, but Carolina’s No. 1-ranked penalty kill kept them off the board. It took 40:14 for Edmonton to take their first — and only — penalty, but Carolina made them pay when the did. With Jordan Eberle in the box following an offensive zone tripping infraction just seconds into the third period, Carolina had maybe their best power pay — and arguably one of their most important — of the season.The Hurricanes (23-20-7) held the puck in the Oilers zone for more than 90 seconds, with two shots at open nets going high and Justin Faulk hitting the post once. But their perseverance paid off, and Faulk — who earlier knocked a puck out of midair to keep the puck in the zone — found Aho for a one-timer that beat Talbot and gave Carolina the lead back.”To me the difference was the specialty teams,” Peters said. “We’re 3-for-3 [on the penalty kill] and 1-for-1 [on the power play], and game winner’s on the power play. So I’m glad we got an opportunity on it. I think we deserved an opportunity on it, and we capitalized.”With a one-goal lead and more than 18 minutes remaining in the game, the Hurricanes slowed down the fast-paced Oilers (28-18-8) in third, holding them to just six shots and spending a lot of time in the Edmonton end.”It’s always the plan to play in their end, especially if you have a lead, that’s always a good thing,” Staal said. “We did a lot of good things, especially in that third period to, like I said, play with a solid lead and we found a way to finish it off.”The Hurricanes travel to Brooklyn tonight and will play the Islanders — who, like the Hurricanes, have 53 points in the standings — at Barclays Center at 7 p.m. Saturday.Notes: Brock McGinn finished with a game-high six shots, setting a new personal best after registering four shots three times in December. … On the front end of a back-to-back, Carolina managed to play every player at least 10:58 (Joakim Nordstrom). … Derek Ryan was tops in the faceoff circle on the night, finishing 8 of 11. … Pesce and Slavin each registered three blocked shots, while noted shot blocker extraordinaire Kris Russell had just two for Edmonton. Klembom led all players with four. … Ron Hainsey was on the ice for 5:28 of Edmonton’s six power play minutes.