The Christmas break was much-needed for the Carolina Hurricanes. The season hasn't quite gone as expected, but the rest could prove to be a big one for the team. Their first battle was in Nashville to play the Predators for the second time in 12 days. Their meeting in Raleigh came after the Canes' long road trip and was a wild 6-5 game won in overtime by Filip Forsberg and the Predators.
While the team kept the same guys in the lineup, Rod Brind'Amour opted to shake the lines up. The SAT line was re-united, while the normal Staal line saw a minor change. Pyotr Kochetkov would get his fifth straight start, his last of which was a rough one in a 5-4 loss to the Islanders before Christmas. Nashville put superstar goalie Juuse Saros in the net after he served as the backup during the game in Raleigh.
Power plays were front and center in the first period of the game. The Canes drew the first advantage of the night less than a minute into the contest, coming up empty. Nashville would get one a few minutes later, which the Hurricanes killed. Jack Drury would draw an interference call going into the first commercial break, and Sebastian Aho broke the ice when they returned. Aho's shot from the left dot hit the inside of Luke Schenn's leg, catching Juuse Saros by surprise as Aho recorded the 500th point of his career. The Canes weren't done there. The power play would strike again about six minutes later. Aho wasted no time recording his 501st point, setting up Brent Burns for a top-shelf snipe as the Canes went into the break up 2-0.
The Predators showed signs of life in the second period. Gustav Nyquist broke Pyotr Kochetkov's shutout by depositing a rebound into the net just over a minute into the period. The response from the Hurricanes was swift. Sebastian Aho picked up his third point of the night by finding Andrei Svechnikov at the front of the net. Svechnikov made a great play to himself before beating Juuse Saros to his blocker side to re-establish the two-goal lead. Nashville found another quick goal, this time with Ryan O'Reilly scoring on the power play to shrink the lead to 3-2. It quickly started to feel like the game in Raleigh less than two weeks ago.
The fourth line put that to rest just before the halfway point in the period. Jesper Fast and Stefan Noesen did a great job of fighting in the crease for a loose puck, allowing Jack Drury to trickle a backhander over the line. Juuse Saros was immediately up trying to argue for goalie interference, but Fast was clearly pushed into the crease, allowing the goal to stand without a review. A double-minor for high-sticking allowed the Canes to cash in one more time late in the period. Michael Bunting mis-hit his shot, but the puck went right to Seth Jarvis for a redirection. It was the third goal of the night for the power play and Sebastian Aho's fourth point after picking up the secondary assist as the Canes led 5-2 after 40 minutes.
The Predators sent rookie Yaroslav Askarov out for the third period, ending Juuse Saros' night early. Juuso Parssinen nearly scored another early-period goal, but Jaccob Slavin got back to deny the wrap chance. From there, the defense suffocated Nashville. Pyotr Kochetkov made a few timely saves to keep the game out of reach. The Predators pulled Askarov with over five minutes left, and while the Canes didn't score into the empty net, Nashville didn't beat Kochetkov, either. The Canes' defense kept the hammer down, finishing the night with a big 5-2 win after Christmas.
When looking at the two games against Nashville side-by-side, the script was looking eerily familiar early in the second period. After Nashville scored on the power play to make it 3-2, things could've easily gone downhill. Instead, we saw the team we expect to see on a nightly basis. The final shot margin looks a bit lopsided, and Nashville had plenty of excellent chances, but Pyotr Kochetkov erased the two goals quickly. Both of Nashville's goals were the result of poor rebound control by Kochetkov. He started to become a magnet, limiting Nashville's second chances. He closed the door with the help of some excellent defense from the team in front of him.
As has become customary in December, the Canes held the overwhelming edge on special teams. The power play added three more goals, all of which Sebastian Aho contributed to. The penalty kill allowed just its second goal this month, both of which have been to Ryan O'Reilly. Otherwise, they did a good job of bending without breaking. It's not every day a team sends Juuse Saros to the bench to watch the rest of a game. He tends to be very good against the Canes, so this was an encouraging sign.
Sebastian Aho will get all the praise for his four-point performance and major milestone, as he should. This was a big game for Brent Burns. He's been well off his usual pace this season, so seeing him play a vintage Burns game was great to see. It's also nice to see Andrei Svechnikov finding the net. He has scored twice since returning from his most recent injury, recording another multi-point night in Nashville. Seth Jarvis also had a multi-point game, scoring both his points on the power play.
The Canes will fly home to face the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night to complete the back-to-back. In what has been a budding "rivalry" for the last few years, there is a good chance we see some fireworks. While nothing has been confirmed, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Antti Raanta get the start after being waived before Christmas. The team will close out 2023 in Toronto the night before New Year's Eve, beginning a three-game road trip.