Vincent Trocheck stayed red-shot against his former team, scoring for the sixth straight game against the Panthers and adding an assist on Sebastian Aho’s power play goal to lead the Carolina Hurricanes to a 3-0 win Thursday at PNC Arena.
Alex Nedeljkovic posted his third shutout of the season with 24 saves, and Martin Necas had an empty-net goal and an assist.
1. Special teams were the difference in the game. Aho’s goal, a one-timer from his knee set up by Trocheck, gave the Hurricanes a lead they’d never relinquish. The top-ranked power play did its job, and the penalty kill was even better.
Carolina limited Florida to just two shots on goal in four power plays and again blanked its opponent. The Hurricanes have allowed just one power play goal in 11 opportunities through five games in April.
“Tonight, special teams won us the game,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Our penalty kill was really sharp. Ned’s a big part of that, but I don’t know how many shots we gave up … but it wasn’t much on the penalty kill. That’s huge. They have a really good power play. That was, I think, the game.
“And then our power play, obviously, got us a nice one. So, special teams are big.”
2. Nedeljkovic rewarded Brind’Amour’s decision to give him a start, solidifying his place as one of Carolina’s top two goalies along with Petr Mrazek. While Carolina’s team defense slowed the speedy Panthers in a way they couldn’t Tuesday, there were still tough stops to be made — specifically because of the net-front traffic created by Patric Hornqvist.
“He’s a tough guy to play against,” Nedeljkovic said of Hornqvist. “He’s got a knack for finding pucks in front of the net there, and he knows how to do it. … He’s got good hand-eye, he’s tipping pucks. Power play, he’s always in front of the net. Whenever it seems like there’s a scrum or something going on, he seems to be the one involved. So he’s a hard worker and tough guy to control.”
3. The two-game sweep of the Panthers elevated Carolina to the top spot in the Central Division with 57 points in 38 games — one more than both Tampa Bay (40 games) and Florida (41 games). Only Toronto has as many points as the Hurricanes, though Carolina has one game in hand. As for point percentage, the Hurricanes are first at .731, followed by the Avalanche (.718) and the Maple Leafs (.712)
Number To Know
16:08 — Ice time for Jordan Martinook in Thursday’s win. It’s the most the forward has played since he logged 17:12 on Feb. 26, 2019, in a 6-1 Carolina win over the Kings. While that may seem like a trivial statistic, there’s a reason for it.
Martinook logged 2:11 on the penalty kill and again played on Jordan Staal’s wing with the difficult assignment of handling Florida captain Aleksander Barkov’s line. Those minutes probably aren’t available if not for the injury to Brock McGinn, and Martinook’s ability to effectively step into a bigger role— as several Hurricanes have done throughout this season — is the reason Carolina is atop the league standings.
“It’s what it’s been all year and in the entire organization ever since I stepped foot here and started playing pro,” said Nedeljkovic, someone who can surely relate to rising to an opportunity. “It’s been that next-guy-up mentality, and I think you’ve seen it a lot this year. Obviously, we’ve had some injuries and some COVID stuff going on. The next guy in has got to go out and perform. He gets put in the lineup and he’s playing, he’s not just kind of sitting on the bench.”
They Said It
“I don’t know. That word, who knows? What the expectation is, I can tell you that. I know what that is, and that’s to be the last team standing.”
— Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour when asked about his team’s potential
Vincent Trocheck, Hurricanes center — At this point, Trocheck is just toying with the Panthers. Not only did Trocheck have the pass on Aho’s icebreaking power play goal in the first, but he also scored for the sixth straight time against his former team — and he did with a little style (and some luck).
Trocheck shot from the goal line near the right sideboards and hit the post. The puck bounced in the air and hit Chris Driedger (19 saves) in the back and went in for Trocheck’s 16th goal of the season.
“Did you see the goal?” Trocheck said with a big smile. “That looked pretty lucky. The hockey gods are on my side with that one.”
Brady Skjei, Hurricanes defenseman — It’s hard to find fault anywhere when a team puts together a complete performance in a playoff-type game. But if there was one negative on the night, it was Skjei taking two penalties in the first 22 minutes of the game. Not only did the infractions put Carolina down a man, but it also deprived them of one of its top penalty killers. Fortunately for Skjei and the Hurricanes, Carolina killed off both of the penalties.