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3 Takeaways From Hurricanes’ Exorcising of Scoring Demons vs. Sabres

Jacob Scott

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After the recent run of games the Carolina Hurricanes have played, a game against the lowly Buffalo Sabres was anything but a given. With how poor their puck luck and finishing has suddenly been, the opponent could have been a high school team — getting a scoring outburst still probably would have felt like the weight of the world lifting on their shoulders.

Luckily, it didn’t come to having to face-off against a team outside their weight class to get that monkey off their collective backs. The puck finally started to find some twine, and the team will jet off on yet another Western Conference road trip with some badly needed confidence after demolishing the Buffalo Sabres by a score of 6-2.

The funny thing is, I’m relatively confident head coach Rod Brind’Amour won’t be as happy with the “process” as he was in some of their recent games, in which the Hurricanes did everything but finish. They out-shot their last two opponents, the Dallas Stars and Ottawa Senators, by a count of 89-37, yet were out-scored 7-3 in the two games.

The Sabres actually carried play for long stretches and out-shot the Hurricanes 34-29, but Carolina got back to their formula that led to a franchise-record 9-0-0 start: skilled play and timely saves from the goaltending. Those things can win a lot of games when the team has the talent this ‘Canes roster does.

Sometimes, the bounces just don’t go your way, and sometimes they do; it’s really that simple. But let’s dig a little deeper than that in tonight’s takeaways.

The Return of the Tro (And a Tough Sequence For Him, Too)

This season hasn’t gone according to plan for unrestricted free agent-to-be Vincent Trocheck.

I mentioned it in my last takeaways piece after the Dallas game — he simply hasn’t looked like the same dynamic player that was such a key part of the Hurricanes’ run during the 2020-21 season. However, Trocheck did provide a reminder that he’s still that same player on Saturday, registering three points on a goal and two helpers in the process.

Vincent Trocheck, Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

Confidence is a funny thing, and many times it just seemed like Trocheck was lacking it in recent games. His decision making was uncharacteristically poor, then it seemed like he was hesitating or overthinking plays that are usually second-nature to him.

The speedy, physical center checked those boxes off against Buffalo, though, and got rewarded in the process. With all the absences currently from the lineup (more on that soon), the Hurricanes needed this player to show up, and he did.

Unfortunately, his night was also cut short after a heavy hit on Sabres’ breakout star Tage Thompson late in the second period. Although it was initially ruled a major penalty and game misconduct, I expected the call to be overturned after the referees viewed the replay in concert with the situation room in Toronto. The 6-foot-7 Buffalo center clearly turned at the last second, well after Trocehck was committed to the hit.

If you watch the play at full speed, especially, how can one deduce that there was any malicious intent there, or that the fault was anyone but Thompson’s? There was never an opportunity for Trocheck to read that he was turning, and therefore de-commit from playing through the body.

#Canes forward Vincent Trocheck ejected (5 mins + game misconduct) for boarding #Sabres forward Tage Thompson. #LetsGoCanes #LetsGoBuffalo https://t.co/Ze1MUJBLOX

The numbers were only facing Trocheck when he’s about a foot from making contact, not to mention that Thompson is stopping and therefore basically turning into the Hurricanes’ forward. It was an unfortunate outcome, absolutely, and at the end of the day I’m just glad Thompson was ok. The play was scary. But this seemed more like a case of policing the outcome rather than the act itself.

Despite his ejection, if this is the version of Trocheck that the Hurricanes are going to get again moving forward, and assuming they’re going to get some players back on this road trip, the team ought to be able to get some rhythm going again offensively. When he’s this feisty, aggressive player that backs down from nobody (including players nearly a foot taller than him, obviously), Carolina is an extremely difficult team to handle.

Still Missing Key Players, but Chatfield, Replacements Stepping up Big

The Hurricanes should more or less be used to being down multiple players by now. The team has played the last two games without Tony DeAngelo and Brett Pesce, they missed Nino Niederreiter for five games earlier in the season, and have been down Martin Necas and Ethan Bear at points throughout the season as well.

Now, on top of DeAngelo and Pesce still being in COVID protocol, the Hurricanes’ broadcast noted during the game that another illness was sweeping through the Hurricanes locker room. Frederik Andersen, expected to start the game, was absent from the starter’s crease — or even the bench — for the game. More concerning for an offense that hasn’t been able find it’s footing recently, star winger Andrei Svechnikov was listed as day-to-day seemingly out of nowhere with an upper-body injury.

Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

And, to the surprise of very few who saw the Ottawa game, alternate captain and resident team hype man Jordan Martinook was also out with a lower-body injury (seems to be the ankle area based on the way he went down and struggled to put weight on it).

The Hurricanes have been bleeding bodies for a while now, but this just goes to show how important depth of a hockey team is. One of Derek Stepan and Steven Lorentz has been in the press box almost every game (when the team has been healthy), even though neither has ever truly deserved to sit. Both have been excellent in their fourth-line roles, providing energy, forechecking, good defensive play, and even chipping in a bit offensively.

Both of those players checked into the lineup against Buffalo, and, yet, the Hurricanes were forced to roll with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. This left Brendan Smith (who has plenty of experience at forward in the NHL) to serve as basically a “wherever needed” piece, be it on the wing on the fourth line, stepping in to give a defenseman a breather, or on a penalty-killing shift.

Related: Hurricanes Offseason Additions Assisting in Record Start to Season

Bear made his return to the lineup from COVID protocol, but played under 13 minutes as he works to get back into game shape. The virus has been known to sap a player’s energy and stamina, and it seemed as though Brind’Amour tried to keep his minutes to a minimum. Still, as good as the former Edmonton Oiler has been, it was a welcome sight to see him back in the lineup. The Hurricanes will need him on the upcoming road trip.

On the flip side, Jalen Chatfield seems to be pushing for a spot, and not just of the fill-in variety, He has certainly looked like he belongs, as has his co-call-up, Max Lajoie.

Jalen Chatfield, Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It’ll be interesting to see how the Hurricanes handle this situation as their defensemen return to the lineup. Chatfield provides some real thump and energy from the blue line, and he played the second-most minutes of anyone on the team against Buffalo at 19:20, trailing only Jaccob Slavin.

Smith is a fine seventh defenseman, so his spot with the big club is safe. They’ll probably want Chatfield to continue playing if and when the blue line gets back to full health, anyway, so there’s a good chance he heads back to Chicago.

But, in terms of pecking order, there’s a real case to be made that Chatfield has outplayed Smith, and perhaps deserves an extended look moving forward. At this point, next time there’s an injury, it wouldn’t be especially surprising to see the Michigan native get the call and get inserted into the lineup ahead of Smith — especially if one of the right-shot defensemen goes down. Three games is a small sample, but the 25-year-old looks like a legit piece and great under-the-radar find from the Hurricanes’ front office.

Raanta’s Best Game as a Hurricane

As I mentioned in the opening, good goaltending can win you a lot of hockey games. That may seem silly to say about a game with a 6-2 final score, but without Antti Raanta stepping up in some very big moments, this game could have looked much different.

For example, early in the second period with the score 2-1, the Finnish netminder had to make two great stops on a breakaway from Buffalo’s Brett Murray. Just about 90 seconds later, Ian Cole blasted home a slap shot off a faceoff to make the score 3-1. And 24 seconds after that? Trocheck roofed his goal to make it a 4-1 count.

Antti Raanta, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Raanta has had his share of struggles in his time with the Hurricanes, though not all of them really deserve to be placed on his shoulders, such as last game against Ottawa when two of their goals were off of Hurricanes players (much like the first one tonight was, deflecting off the shoulder of his defenseman, Cole). Nothing he truly could have done on those. Still, he has allowed some goals he certainly would like back, and many of them very poorly timed, too. A large number of them seemed to be “new team, little playing time”-type jitters that will dissipate as he gets comfortable in his new system with his new teammates.

With Andersen’s unexpected absence, perhaps these back-to-back starts were just what the doctor ordered. Raanta was phenomenal against Buffalo, making 32 saves on 34 shots. The .941 save percentage (SV%) was his highest of the season (not including the four-save relief appearance against Florida), and the good ‘ol, irrefutable eye test backed up the stat sheet.

Adding to the impressiveness, Hurricanes color analyst Tripp Tracy noted that, in regards to that same “bug” sweeping the locker room, Raanta is not 100% himself right now, either. Maybe he had his own version of Michael Jordan’s legendary “Flu Game”?

Raanta has been a better-than-serviceable backup for a majority of his career. Despite the early struggles, we know there is plenty more in the tank for the veteran goalie. If he starts to look like his old self again, the goalie who posted a SV% of .919 or better in five of six seasons between 2014 and 2020, the Hurricanes will feel really good about a tandem that has mostly been carried by Andersen so far.

Hurricanes Headed Back on the Road

This trio of storylines were far from the only ones worth talking about. Sebastian Aho was his usual, stellar self in dishing out three beautiful assists. Incidentally, two of them were almost identical from-below-the-goal-line centering feeds to his countryman Teuvo Teravainen, who, after some struggles of his own, is suddenly shooting the puck like crazy. As good as his shot is, it is therefore no surprise that “Turbo” is suddenly finding twine regularly. After searching for his 100th goal for what felt like forever, once he got it, numbers 101 and 102 came in the very next game.

Oh, and Necas did this, again, and it is just about becoming his signature move; the explosive, fast-as-lightning shot fake, to wraparound tuck (it’s actually impressive that Malcolm Subban even came close to stopping it):

The Hurricanes desperately needed this confidence boost after dropping five of their last six, and can now head to Winnipeg feeling like themselves again. This swing through Western Canada won’t be easy, as Calgary and Edmonton especially have been very successful this season. The 10-day trip will also take them through Minnesota before they return to PNC Arena for a game on Dec. 16.

The Hurricanes just completed a stellar 4-1-1 road trip about a week ago. If they can build off this game against Buffalo, the COVID situation clears up, and Svechnikov’s injury is as minor as it currently seems, perhaps they are truly ready to burst out of this offensive funk and show that the Buffalo game was not a one-off.

Every team goes through slumps over the course of an NHL season. The breaks simply wouldn’t go the Hurricanes’ way over their last few weeks. With the sticks likely to be gripped a little more loosely after this six-goal barrage, it feels like many more could be on their way now that the puck luck is turning a bit. That ought to make the next few teams on the schedule nervous; the Hurricanes just might be back.

What’s goin’ on folks, my name is Brandon Stanley. I cover the Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings here at THW. I was born and raised in Raleigh, NC and have played hockey since about the time I could stand. I traveled all over North America with the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes organization in my youth days, and the game has simply always been my biggest passion. I also have a podcast with two other writers (one of which, Alex Ohari, is also a writer here at THW) called Tracking the Storm. The pod covers everything Carolina Hurricanes, from prospects, to game recaps, and everything in between. I’m always available to chat anything hockey related, so don’t hesitate to shoot me a tweet or DM anytime on Twitter @bwstanley26!

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‘Moon Knight’ Took Marvel in a Different Orbit, but It Didn’t Rise to the Occasion

Jacob Scott

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Before anyone writes that off as an anomaly, “Eternals” tackled a similar introduction of a dense mythology on the bigger screen, with equally mixed results. It’s a reminder that while film-goers have had more than a decade to get to know characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, introducing some of these lesser-known heroes can pose a more formidable challenge beyond catering to the most ardent fans.
For Marvel, there are warning signs in that, since “Moon Knight” will be followed by several series based on second-tier characters, although the next two on the horizon, “Ms. Marvel” (which is due in June) and “She-Hulk,” at least have the benefit of sharing franchises and name recognition with existing Avengers.
Ultimately, “Moon Knight’s” murky storytelling appeared to squander its principal assets, which included the cool look of the character — a costume that was too seldom used — and the presence of Isaac, who possesses additional genre credentials via the “Star Wars” sequels.

Taking its time in peeling back the layers of the character’s complicated backstory, “Moon Knight” took a weird plunge into the Egyptian mythology behind it, in ways that became increasingly confounding and surreal.

By the time the protagonist’s two halves, Steven Grant and Marc Spector, wound up in a psychiatric hospital talking to an anthropomorphic hippo in the penultimate chapter, the question wasn’t so much being able to keep up with the story as whether bothering to do so was worth the effort.

The sixth and final episode brought the plot to a messy close, seeking to stop the goddess Ammit from proceeding to “purify the souls of Cairo, and then the world.” In the customary credit sequence, the producers capped that off by introducing a third personality, Jake Lockley, also rooted in the comics. While that seemingly spelled the end for the show’s villain (Ethan Hawke), the finish — giving the god Khonshu the protégé he sought — paved the way for further adventures should Marvel so choose.

That last twist might be cause for celebration in narrower confines of the Marvel fan universe, but “Moon Knight” too often felt like it was one long Easter-egg sequence, conspicuously preaching to that choir.

Granted, Marvel has made clear that Disney+ offers the chance to explore different kinds of stories, but “Moon Knight” feels at best like a quirky showcase for Isaac and at worst a failed experiment in terms of execution and tone.

That doesn’t mean this “Moon” won’t somehow rise again, if the closely held streaming data justifies it. But the promise that surrounded this property has faded, providing further evidence that even Marvel isn’t immune from setbacks as it moves into its next phase.

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Start-up Pony.ai says it’s the first self-driving company to get a taxi license in China

Jacob Scott

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Autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai can collect fares for robotaxi rides in parts of two major Chinese cities as of Sunday.

Pony.ai handout

BEIJING — Self-driving start-up Pony.ai announced Sunday it received a taxi license, the first of its kind in China.

The license allows Pony.ai to operate 100 self-driving cars as traditional taxis in the Nansha district of the southern city of Guangzhou, the company said.

The Chinese start-up, which is backed by Toyota, received approval from Beijing city late last year to charge fees to operate a commercial robotaxi business in a suburban district of the city. It is not the same as a taxi licence.

Baidu’s Apollo Go also received approval in the same Beijing district last year.

Pony.ai was valued at $8.5 billion in early March. The company said its Nansha taxi license required 24 months of autonomous driving testing in China and/or other countries, and no involvement in any active liability traffic accidents, among other factors.

The start-up said it plans to launch commercial robotaxi businesses in two other large Chinese cities next year. The company is already testing self-driving cars in those cities and in California. 

Robotaxis in China currently have a human driver present for safety.

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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How to watch Timberwolves vs. Grizzlies: TV channel, NBA live stream info, start time

Jacob Scott

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Who’s Playing

Memphis @ Minnesota

Current Records: Memphis 2-1; Minnesota 1-2

What to Know

The Memphis Grizzlies’ road trip will continue as they head to Target Center at 10 p.m. ET this past Saturday to face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Memphis will be strutting in after a win while Minnesota will be stumbling in from a loss.

The Grizzlies are hoping for another victory. They beat the Timberwolves 104-95 this past Thursday. The victory came about thanks to a strong surge after the first quarter to overcome a 39-21 deficit. Memphis’ success was spearheaded by the efforts of power forward Brandon Clarke, who had 20 points in addition to eight rebounds, and shooting guard Desmond Bane, who shot 7-for-15 from beyond the arc and finished with 26 points and six boards.

Barring any buzzer beaters, Memphis is expected to win a tight contest. They might be worth taking a chance on against the spread as they are currently on a two-game streak of ATS wins.

Memphis’ win brought them up to 2-1 while the Timberwolves’ defeat pulled them down to a reciprocal 1-2. A couple offensive stats to keep in the back of your head while watching: The Grizzlies come into the game boasting the second most points per game in the league at 115.6. But Minnesota is even better: they rank first in the league when it comes to points per game, with 115.9 on average. Tune in for what’s sure to be a high-scoring contest.

How To Watch

When: Saturday at 10 p.m. ET Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota TV: ESPN Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.) Follow: CBS Sports App Ticket Cost: $76.96

Odds

The Grizzlies are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Timberwolves, according to the latest NBA odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Grizzlies as a 3-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

See NBA picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Memphis have won 19 out of their last 28 games against Minnesota.

Apr 21, 2022 – Memphis 104 vs. Minnesota 95 Apr 19, 2022 – Memphis 124 vs. Minnesota 96 Apr 16, 2022 – Minnesota 130 vs. Memphis 117 Feb 24, 2022 – Minnesota 119 vs. Memphis 114 Jan 13, 2022 – Memphis 116 vs. Minnesota 108 Nov 20, 2021 – Minnesota 138 vs. Memphis 95 Nov 08, 2021 – Memphis 125 vs. Minnesota 118 May 05, 2021 – Memphis 139 vs. Minnesota 135 Apr 02, 2021 – Memphis 120 vs. Minnesota 108 Jan 13, 2021 – Memphis 118 vs. Minnesota 107 Jan 07, 2020 – Memphis 119 vs. Minnesota 112 Dec 01, 2019 – Memphis 115 vs. Minnesota 107 Nov 06, 2019 – Memphis 137 vs. Minnesota 121 Mar 23, 2019 – Minnesota 112 vs. Memphis 99 Feb 05, 2019 – Memphis 108 vs. Minnesota 106 Jan 30, 2019 – Minnesota 99 vs. Memphis 97 Nov 18, 2018 – Memphis 100 vs. Minnesota 87 Apr 09, 2018 – Minnesota 113 vs. Memphis 94 Mar 26, 2018 – Memphis 101 vs. Minnesota 93 Dec 04, 2017 – Memphis 95 vs. Minnesota 92 Feb 04, 2017 – Memphis 107 vs. Minnesota 99 Nov 19, 2016 – Memphis 93 vs. Minnesota 71 Nov 01, 2016 – Minnesota 116 vs. Memphis 80 Oct 26, 2016 – Memphis 102 vs. Minnesota 98 Mar 16, 2016 – Minnesota 114 vs. Memphis 108 Feb 19, 2016 – Memphis 109 vs. Minnesota 104 Jan 23, 2016 – Minnesota 106 vs. Memphis 101 Nov 15, 2015 – Memphis 114 vs. Minnesota 106

Injury Report for Minnesota

No Injury Information

Injury Report for Memphis

Dillon Brooks: Game-Time Decision (Foot) Santi Aldama: Out (Knee) Killian Tillie: Out (Knee)

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