Slavin’s star shines brightest with Game 4 performance
(Ed. note: Pat Keogh, aka @pdk_hockey, is back with another guest post. Take a moment to look back at Pat’s Game 1 reflections in the #nocaps series. Want to contribute a guest post? Send us an email: mail AT section328.com and we’ll be happy to take a look.)
The Carolina Hurricanes are in the playoff, and there’s no more fooling around. The 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals leaves the series back where it started numerically, but the momentum is pushing this one up to a Category IV storm.
The Canes played a stifling defensive game, which they turned over and over into slick transitions that led to consistent offense of all kinds. They were skilled and determined. They hung in there through every up and down, including a tense final few minutes. Sure, they’re heading back to Washington without their fans there in person, but the winds are blowing.
The biggest story of the night is Jaccob Slavin’s play. Carolina got an early goal and later came back after Washington knotted it. The team mostly avoided making mistakes. When they did, they were the right kind of mistakes you quickly move on from while still putting in a full 60-minutes-worth of total hockey.
It all started with defense, despite the temporality of scoring 17 seconds in. Every single play was about control – the Canes’s game was calm, not conservative, and forced the Caps into bad plays all night, in every single zone.
The rare times the Capitals did get the puck in the zone, they were stifled, with the team perfectly in synchronization in the way they managed each shift the most dangerous plays into less profitable ones for the Caps, reducing them through guts and mutual commitment to each other. One guy would force a pass that wouldn’t work for Washington, cutting off any high-quality chance with positioning and prudence. Then the next guy would jump right in and clean up whatever mess was left over until there was nothing left to cover.
That’s when they mobilized, making efficient passes through the neutral zone (indeed, the only stupid thing that the Canes did all game got them scored on, and honestly when Alex Ovechkin winds up there’s not a lot that can be done) to generate rush chances, and scrapping away as they attempted to gain continuous possession. It was all done well enough that it seemed effortless, the genius of it all hiding just behind some sort of veil.
It was certainly in every player on the ice, but the guy running the show more than anyone else (we’ll get to the coaching later) was Jaccob Slavin. His steely, smart demeanor and near-perfect execution but the strength in the team that enables them to carry the game.
He was evident constantly, seemingly off the bench and into the play in an instant. This is the kind of guy that doesn’t win a Norris because he isn’t going to put up a million points, but if you want a guy who can carry a series it’s him.
We’re yet to find out if he’s the kind of guy who can carry an entire Cup run, but from where I’m standing the answer is yes.
Slavin wasn’t the only guy with his fingerprints all over the win, however. That’s another important thing to note in considering if this year’s Carolina team can make a real push for it all.
I’m firm in my belief that once the playoffs start, anything goes. You can be a historically significant, record-setting team and still get swept by a squad that hadn’t ever won a playoff series. Rod Brind’Amour and Justin Williams seem to be inspiring faith in that principle, with the team living up to their full potential as currently composed.
They were both on Carolina’s Cup-winning team, and they were similarly subtle in their connection but of huge consequence in the magnitude of it. The thing about this win is that so much of it was just playing really, I mean really, well. I could go on and on, but you don’t get great performances from talent alone, although being able to perform at 100% is a certain kind of talent in of itself.
Rather, the Canes’ elder statesmen (who almost feel as though they’re two representations of the same thing, just in different places once the puck drops) are showing their fans, their opponents, and the entire league what authentic Carolina hockey really tastes like.
They’re example setting in the way they put the passion and deep commitment to the entire enterprise of “non-traditional” hockey into each pass, shot, and goal. They’re proving all the traditionalists wrong, proving that this team as much as any deserves to be there, and it’s helping to change the game.
The Carolina Hurricanes have tied up the series with the Washington Capitals. Take warning.