Friday night was an outlier.
When Teuvo Teravainen sniped a second-period power play goal past Braden Holtby to give the Canes a 4-1 lead less than halfway through the second period, it looked like the hockey game could turn into a route. Carolina was dominating, their top players were producing, they had scored two power play goal in just over two minutes, and the home crowd was having a splendid time.
Tom Wilson netted a rebound goal with 7:23 to go in the second period, but it was fine. The Canes let up a bit, but they were still in control.
Until they weren’t. And when Carolina lost control of Friday’s game, they really lost control.
It took less than six minutes for the Capitals to totally erase their three-goal deficit. If it weren’t for an early Christmas present delivered to captain Justin Williams by Holtby, the game likely would’ve ended in regulation time. Instead, we went to overtime. Then, shootout.
Rod Brind’Amour’s shootout lineup:
Phil Di Giuseppe
Not even the most pessimistic person could’ve predicted that hodgepodge of a shootout lineup. Fellow Canes Country senior writer Andrew Schnittker and I looked at each other, astonished, on press row. We couldn’t believe it.
You know how the story ends: Caps win the shootout in six rounds.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t put a lot of thought into it,” Brind’Amour said to the media. “I just kinda went with the flow on that one.”
Probably not the best words to use after that game. He went on to say that it was a “feel” thing. He makes shootout decisions based on how they do in practice and their career shootout numbers. Even with all of that in mind, it was puzzling to say the very least.
As expected, he was crucified for his shootout lineup. I mean, how can you use Di Giuseppe and Williams and McGinn while leaving Sebastian Aho (who had a four-point night) on the bench? Aho even scored a breakaway goal earlier in the game.
The easy comparison here is a pitcher in baseball. When you’re unsure of what pitch to throw, throw your best one. You live and die by it. For Brind’Amour, his best pitch is Sebastian Aho. And his second-best pitch is Andrei Svechnikov.
Instead, he threw a hanging cement-mixer slider and it got walloped out of the stadium.
In times like this, it’s important to remember that Rod Brind’Amour is a rookie head coach. He is just as much of a rookie in his job as Svechnikov and Warren Foegele are. Yes, he was an assistant for a long time and he had an illustrious NHL career, but let’s not ignore how huge of a step it is to become an NHL head coach. Especially when you’ve never been a head coach at any level of hockey.
Like his young players, this head coach is allowed to make mistakes, but also like his young players, he has to show improvement. If he doesn’t someone will take his job. That’s just how it works in sports and in every other profession. Sports are a results-driven business. You either win or lose. That’s it.
Honestly, I don’t know why such a huge deal is being made out of the shootout decision. Yes, it made no sense, but they blew a 4-1 lead. It shouldn’t have ever gotten to a shootout. The game should’ve been over before then. That was the most frustrating thing, at least for me.
After RB’A decided that an off-day on Saturday would be more productive than practicing, the Canes bounced back and had one of their most complete efforts of the season in their 3-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday.
So, it wasn’t all bad for Brind’Amour over the weekend. The Canes secured three out of a possible four points and are off to a strong start on a home stand that they desperately need to dominate in order to stay in the playoff picture.
Taking off the Training Wheels
Andrei Svechnikov is in the process of breaking out in a big way.
Over his last three games, the 18-year-old Russian has netted three goals and four total points, including this cold-blooded laser-beam on Sunday:
Hurricanes: we need a top-6 sniper— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) December 17, 2018
Andrei Svechnikov: hold my borscht pic.twitter.com/XGEgXebuDU
We are starting to see the training wheels being taken off of the rookie. On Friday, Svechnikov logged 22:33 of ice time - 3:09 more than his previous career-high. He likely would have seen his ice time close to 19:00 or 20:00 on Sunday, as well, if he hadn’t suffered an injury that forced him out the remainder of the game.
Over his last 16 games, Svechnikov has averaged 16:11 of ice time per game and has tallied 11 points. That’s a big step up from his first 16 games, wherein he averaged 13:18 of ice time and had just six points.
It’s been a process, but more trust is being put in the star rookie. Nothing has been given to him. He has earned a bigger role, and he is starting to get it.
Quietly, Lucas Wallmark has also seen his role grow dramatically. Over his last five games, the Swedish pivot has averaged 18:56 of ice time. I have loved this player not for his high offensive upside, but for his smarts. He makes the right play with the puck almost every single time. Svechnikov’s success has not been hindered by playing on a line centered by Wallmark. If anything, Wallmark has helped him.
We expected Svechnikov to eventually join the top-six by way of hopping on Aho’s wing, but is it possible that we are seeing him join the top-six by way of Wallmark’s impressive development? I think that’s what’s happening right now. Both players are getting better and seeing their roles expand and, so far, they’ve been able to handle everything.
Will that last forever? No. Svechnikov will eventually outgrow Wallmark and become a staple on the first line. Until then, though, that duo is working well at 5-on-5.
It will be interesting to see how the dynamic will be influenced by the return of Jordan Staal to the lineup.
An incredibly impressive fun fact:
Andrei Svechnikov has 9 goals in his first 32 NHL games. He has reached 9 NHL goals quicker than any first-year rookie in Hurricanes franchise history.— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) December 17, 2018
It took Jeff Skinner 35 games. It took Eric Staal 43 games.
While the Hurricanes have been up and down over the last couple of weeks, Petr Mrazek certainly isn’t the problem.
In 13 starts this season, Mrazek has a .899 save percentage - just .001 below the NHL’s Mendoza Line of a .900 save percentage. That’s not great. That’s not even good.
I think the save percentage can lie to us sometimes, though, and this is an example of it.
Mrazek has been an anchor for this team. He has navigated his way through some awful team performances - i.e. losses at Arizona, vs. Toronto, and at Montreal. He has also put together some stellar starts that have either won a game or kept his team in it - i.e. losses in Los Angeles and Winnipeg, and wins at Detroit and vs Arizona.
If the numbers are still worrisome for you, how about this number: .924. That is his save percentage over his last five starts. Another relevant number: 23. That is the number of shots he stopped en route to his first shutout as a Hurricane on Sunday.
Petr Mrazek with a huge save. Keeps the game scoreless. pic.twitter.com/NbJPHbzbgW— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) December 16, 2018
In the win, Carolina secured their first shutout since February 1, 2018, when Cam Ward banked the Canadiens. Mrazek is the first Hurricanes goalie not named Cam Ward to get a shutout since Eddie Lack did it on February 24, 2017.
For me, it’s pretty obvious why Mrazek has been a great fit with the Hurricanes. He is able to make big saves and stay engaged, even when he isn’t seeing consistent action.
When Mrazek faces less than 25 shots, he is 5-1-1 with a .900 save percentage. Scott Darling is 0-2-0 with an .814 save percentage when he sees less than 25 shots. Even Curtis McElhinney’s great year has been plagued by a couple of bad performances when he doesn’t see consistent action. He is 1-3-0 with an .828 save percentage when he sees less than 25 shots.
This is a big deal. This Hurricanes team loves to suppress shots. In ~40% of their games, they have allowed fewer than 25 shots on goal. Mrazek has proven that he can be successful in those games.
He makes big saves when coverage breaks down. When you can’t afford a goal against, you can have confidence that he will come through with a huge stop. To boot, seven of his eight losses this season have been one-goal games (not counting an ENG). He keeps his team in the game and there’s really no way of denying that based on how he has played through the first two and a half months of the season.
Now, will he dominate every game he starts? Nope, he won’t, but that’s not what the Hurricanes need to be successful. They need a goalie who can keep them in games and bail them out when they need it.
Look beyond the easy counting stats with Petr Mrazek. His impact can’t be evaluated accurately when you’re just looking at his overall save percentage.