RALEIGH — The Hurricanes play the first of three home games in four nights when Boston visits PNC Arena on Thursday. Coach Rod Brind’Amour called a visit from the Bruins a “big test.” Boston, which twice bounced Carolina from the playoffs (in the 2019 Eastern Conference and in the bubble in 2020), is coming off a 4-1 loss in Florida on Wednesday and sits at 3-2-0 on the young season.
1. The reason the Bruins are always a threat? Start with The Perfection Line, made up of center Patrice Bergeron and wingers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
“They’re a great group, and they have been for a long time,” Brind’Amour said. “And it’s not just the talent that they have — that’s the obvious stuff. It’s they work at it. You watch how they play. Talk about doing it right, they do it right. But it’s that commitment to how hard they do it, and that’s why they’ve had success for a long time.”
Defenseman Brett Pesce said slowing down the trio comes down to being fundamentally sound.
“That’s a good line,” he said. “Do what you can to challenge and just have good gaps on them. Minimize their time and space — any of those guys get a little time they’re gonna make plays, so you got to be in their face all night.”
Chances are the forward line of Jordan Staal centering Jesper Fast and Nino Niederreiter will see their fair share of Boston’s No. 1 line on Thursday.
“I think the biggest thing is just outwork them and play smart and do the little things right,” Niederreiter said.
2. It’s a new role for Niederreiter, who has spent much of his career with high-scoring linemates. He said playing with Staal means being more responsible.
“Sometimes it’s good to simplify your game,” Niederreiter said, “and I think that’s what’s been working very well. Sometimes you look for an extra play when you play with some very high-end skill guys like (Teuvo Teravainen) or (Sebastian Aho). With Jordan, you play simply, get pucks in deep and you outwork them.”
It’s worked for the line this season. The trio has combined for five even-strength goals — three for Fast and two for Niederreiter, including his Monday — while helping Carolina to allow just eight total goals through five wins.
What could have been a tough spot for Niederreiter, who is in a contract year, has instead showcased that he’s more than just a finisher who needs to play top minutes to be effective.
“That just says we trust him to be able to do that,” Brind’Amour said of putting Niederreiter on Staal’s wing. “But he’s still — Nino’s got to do what he’s got to do, like he did the other night. That’s what he’s on that line to do.”
3. Don’t ever make the mistake of using the word “checking” in the same sentence as mentioning Staal. In asking Brind’Amour on Wednesday about Niederreiter playing alongside the Carolina captain, I said, “I don’t want to say it’s a checking role” when trying to ask the coach about how Niederreiter has adapted to his new assignment.
All Brind’Amour heard was “Staal” and “checking.”
“That’s your perception of Jordan Staal,” Brind’Amour said. “You just said, ‘more of a checking man,’ I’m like, ‘No.’ He gets tougher matchups because he’s a better player than maybe other guys to defend. But I view that as an offensive situation to play with a guy like that. Creating … turnovers and doing it right, I think anybody wants to play with him. So I get your point, but I guess I don’t agree with it.”
Niederreiter did say he thinks a bit differently in his new spot.
“Playing with Jordo, most of the time we play against the best player on the other team and try to shut them down and, at the same time, try to create offense,” Niederreiter said. “So it’s been working very well. Obviously, it’s been a little bit different, but it’s been fun. … Sometimes you want to try to do a little more of a risky play,” Niederreiter said, “and then you know who’s on the opposite (side). So sometimes you kind of take the safer route out.”
4. Niederreiter has also been on Carolina’s second power play unit, which is seeing approximately 100 seconds of action a game — compared to about 280 seconds for the top unit.
“You gotta take care of business with the time you have,” Niederreiter said. “I think that’s what’s been our biggest thing for our unit. I think once we get out there, you got to make sure we’re being solid, making good plays, good decisions with the puck, and hopefully we can get a couple goals that way.”
So far, it’s worked. The Hurricanes’ fourth-ranked power play is converting at a 31.6% clip early in the year, with five goals coming from the top unit (that includes an Aho empty-netter in Montreal) and Staal getting one with PP2.
Pesce earned an assist on that Staal goal, and he’s enjoying another chance at running the point on the second group.
“It’s fun. It’s exciting,” he said.
The thing he likes most?
“You get to play offense,” he said. “It’s always fun when you don’t have to block a shot. That’s a little different.”
He’s also using what he’s learned as a top penalty killer and applied it to trying to be successful on the power play.
“Just get pucks to the net,” he said. “I’ve been killing for a while, and when they throw pucks on the net, it just creates havoc and chaos. And at the end of the day, they have an extra guy, so they’re gonna outman you in front until it takes a bounce and it’s in the back of your net. So I think that’s the key to breaking down kills.”
5. A quick moment to acknowledge Kyle Beach. The strength and vulnerability he showed in revealing himself as the John Doe of the Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal show immeasurable courage, as does his initial efforts to have the decade-old incident investigated.
There’s a reckoning coming — more than what’s already happened with the resignations of Chicago executives Stan Bowman and Al MacIsaac — and it doesn’t happen without Beach putting himself front and center.
“It adds more when someone can stand up in front of it and say this is what happened, makes it more personal for sure,” Brind’Amour said Thursday morning. “And to home, right? It hits home a lot harder. You’ve gotta give him credit for that. And then the people that are also stepping up to validate it, I think that says a lot.”
The fallout will certainly continue. The fates of Florida coach Joel Quenneville and Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, who were both executives with Blackhawks at the time and have made conflicting statements about their knowledge of the assault, are still up in the air, and others will surely be entangled.
The two biggest things we can hope for: 1) That Kyle Beach finds some peace in taking this step in his recovery; and 2) That when this happens again — as it unfortunately will — the lessons learned from the collective failure of the hockey community will result in swift justice.