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Preseason Recap: Canes Topped by Capitals

Aho scores twice in 4-3 loss to Washington

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / CarolinaHurricanes.com

Sebastian Aho scored a pair of goals for the Carolina Hurricanes in a 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon at PNC Arena.

T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana each tallied twice for the Capitals, who the Hurricanes will meet in the second game of the regular season on Saturday.

Here are five takeaways from the Canes' preseason finale.

1. Pipe It Up

To a casual observer, Sunday afternoon's game at PNC Arena resembled anything but a meaningless exhibition contest. From the noise and energy supplied from the capacity crowd to the somewhat chippy play and intensity on the ice, it was much more reminiscent of a mid-April playoff game.

"It was pretty intense and pretty physical," Jaccob Slavin said. "Emotions were flying."

An epic, seven-game first-round series - the first postseason meeting between the two clubs - stoked the flames of the regional rivalry between the Capitals and Hurricanes. Even in the preseason, this looks to be the new norm.

Video: Martinook: "Thursday night, it's go time"

"It was an intense game," Jordan Martinook said. "Just because of the history between us two, I think every game this season will probably be like that. Those are fun to play. Those are the ones you get up for."

All the right ingredients mixed into the bubbly cauldron that was Sunday's game. It might have been preseason, but you wouldn't have guessed it at first glance.

"It was good for the fans," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "That was an entertaining preseason game."

2. Identity

Of the six games the Hurricanes have played over the last couple of weeks, this was the most impressive of the bunch, the one in which the team's identity was most noticeable.

Perhaps that's a credit to the raucous atmosphere in the building. Perhaps it's because the lineup was very near what you'll see on Opening Night. Perhaps it's because some fringe players were attempting to make one last impression as final training camp cuts loom.

In any case, if the Hurricanes take that game - at least, that work ethic and that compete - into the regular season, they'll be just fine more often than not.

Video: Brind'Amour: "Tough decisions coming up"

"You could see that's the way we need to play. That's our team," Martinook said. "Just working hard all over the ice. That's how close this league is. It was a good game, but everybody knows there's room for improvement. We'll go to work this week and get it dialed in for Thursday."

"The result's not great, but overall from start to finish there weren't really any lulls in there," Brind'Amour said. "A couple mistakes cost us the game, but overall I liked the effort. The compete was there."

3. Scorers Score

October proved a troubling month for Sebastian Aho in the first two years of his career. The Finn recorded five assists in eight October games in 2016 followed by another five assists in 10 October games in 2017. Goals would come in November, but questions of slow starts clouded the young forward.

Then, October 2018 happened, in which Aho broke through for a massive 17 points (4g, 13a) in 12 games, at least a point in every game to begin the season.

Video: WSH@CAR: Aho goes five-hole on the rush

The Hurricanes are hoping to see that October Aho reemerge this year. Perhaps he got a head-start on Sunday with a two-goal performance, beating Braden Holtby five-hole in transition in the first period and then banging in a bouncing puck in the slot on the power play in the third.

Video: WSH@CAR: Aho taps home puck in front for PPG

"We're banking on it, right? That's kind of literal," Brind'Amour joked of Aho's five-year contract extension. "He's our best offensive player. We need him to be on the scoresheet every night."

Nino Niederreiter also marked on the scoresheet for the Hurricanes with an absolute snipe of a shot that beat Holtby glove side. Niederreiter's ability to contribute offensively helped propel the club in the second half of the 2018-19 season, and the Canes will again be reliant on him to find the back of the net with regularity.

Video: WSH@CAR: Niederreiter nets wrist shot from the circle

"You want to make sure the guys feel confident coming into the regular season," Brind'Amour said.

4. Decisions, Decisions

The Hurricanes, who assigned defenseman Chase Priskie to Charlotte shortly after the game, now have 28 players on their training camp roster. That number will have to get down to at least 23 by end of business on Oct. 1.

A few injuries might make trimming the roster somewhat simpler, but tough decisions are still ahead.

Take Roland McKeown, for instance, who dropped the gloves with Garnet Hathaway today.

"I appreciate the fact that he's standing up for his teammates. That's not his game, but he's willing to do that," Brind'Amour said. "He's trying to make a case for himself. He's had a good camp. He's making it a tough decision for us."

Jake Gardiner, Ryan Dzingel, Martin Necas and Trevor van Riemsdyk, to name a few, are unfortunately battling through various injury concerns, the Canes a bit more dinged up than they'd like to be with puck drop for a new season just around the corner.

"Injuries are going to dictate a little bit who sticks around," Brind'Amour said. "A lot of guys did their job this camp. It makes it tough. Tough decisions coming up."

5. Next Time, It Counts

When the puck is dropped next, it counts for real.

As far as final tune-ups go, Sunday's game - result aside - was ideal to finish on.

Video: Aho: "I thought our effort was there all night"

"It was like the regular season. It was intense. It was everything you wanted it to be," Martinook said. "I thought the effort was really good. Just a couple mistakes here and there. We've got three days to clean that up and get ready to go on Thursday."

"It was a good one to end on to get everyone in the right mindset heading into the regular season," Slavin said. "There are some things we've got to clean up as a team, but I think the effort is there. … When Thursday comes, I think we'll be ready to go."

"That's a good way to end it," Brind'Amour said. "I think the guys understand that that's how we have to play every night. You're not always going to get the results, but if you play like that … and have that intensity to your game, we're going to be fine. That's the positive."

Up Next

Yes, it is very nearly October yet. Aho and the Hurricanes open the 2019-20 regular season on Thursday at home against Aho and the Montreal Canadiens.

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