Analysis from Raleigh
→ In their first game back from the All-Star break, the Carolina Hurricanes snapped their five-game losing skid in convincing fashion with a 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, a Metropolitan Division opponent the Hurricanes are pursuing for a playoff spot. Sebastian Aho netted his first career hat trick in a four-point effort.
"It was a great night for us," Aho said. "I really enjoyed it."
"We all knew how big this game was for us and how tight the standings are," Elias Lindholm said. "I think we did a real good job of coming out on time. We played really well the whole game. We've got to keep building on this."
Video: Aho's hat trick leads Hurricanes past Flyers, 5-1
→ Twice in the first period Jordan Staal's line forced turnovers as the Flyers attempted to clear their own zone. Staal was the first to strip a puck, and he fed a streaking Aho, who had just hopped over the boards on a line change. Aho turned his body to accept the pass, his back to the defender, and he dangled around Steve Mason to score a beauty of a goal to give the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead.
"We haven't scored much lately, so when you get one on the board early, it definitely helps the confidence," Lindholm said.
Aho made it a 2-0 game when picked the puck at the blue line and dished off to Lindholm. Lindholm then fed Aho with a cross-ice saucer pass, and Aho one-timed it through Mason.
Frustration began to get the better of the Flyers as the game progressed, as evidenced in one instance by captain Claude Giroux checking Derek Ryan into the end boards, a legal play, and then punching him in the back of the head a couple times while laying on top of him, an obviously illegal play. The Hurricanes made the Flyers pay on the ensuing power play, as Aho picked the far corner for his third goal of the game.
"It was fun to see him play that well," Lindholm said. "We all know how skilled he is. He's just got to play his game like he did today. It's fun to watch him out there."
"He's a good player," head coach Bill Peters said. "He's a good player, a smart player and a competitive kid. He's got a real good skillset and can play multiple positions."
Aho became the first rookie to net a hat trick for the Hurricanes since Erik Cole did it on Dec. 21, 2001 in a 5-4 overtime win against the Atlanta Thrashers.
Funnily enough, Cole was in town on Monday. Maybe he blessed Aho's stick?
"I don't know," Aho smiled. "Maybe."
Video: Hear from Aho, Skinner, Lindholm and Peters Postgame
→ Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk added goals for the Hurricanes, who scored as many goals tonight as they had in their last five games combined. Skinner scored in the slot, his team-leading 18th of the season, late in the second period to stretch his team's lead to three goals. All-Star Justin Faulk took advantage of more Philadelphia frustration, hammering home a one-timer on a 5-on-3 power play in the third period.
Perhaps the line tweaks Peters and his coaching staff made prior to tonight's game paid dividends.
"When you lose five in a row, something's got to happen," Lindholm said.
"We'd not gotten results recently when the lines were fairly consistent. It happens all the time. They just go stale for whatever reason," Peters said. "[Changes] freshen you up for a little while."
→ Cam Ward wasn't too busy tonight. He had faced just six shots through 40 minutes, including just a pair in the second alone. Of those six saves he made in his first 40 minutes of work, two from the first period stand out as potential game-changers. Right after Aho scored to give the Hurricanes an early lead, Ward slid across the crease to stone Michael Raffl, who was open on the backdoor.
"That's huge," Peter said. "The timing of that save was big."
With his team up 2-0 late in the period, he came up big again on Andy MacDonald with a nice glove save.
"I thought we all played really well. We worked hard and cut people off," Lindholm said. "We were five tight all over the place and didn't give them much room."
"I thought our good defense, the ability to defend and not spend too much time in our zone, led to the offense," Peters said.
→ The Hurricanes host Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers on Friday before heading to Brooklyn to face the Islanders in the second half of a back-to-back set.
"I thought the break came at a good time for us," Lindholm said. "We didn't play that well before the break, so it was good to get some rest and the body healed up."