Last night’s 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars brought the curtain down on a four-game road trip for the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes went 2-2 on the trip, surrendering three or more goals in each of the four games.
Although they hadn’t played since Saturday, the Canes seemed to have nothing in the tank last night. They were outshot 7-1 to start the game and were fortunate to trail by only one after the first period.
So what — if any — positives can be taken away from the defeat? Let’s sort through the rubble to see.
The Top Line
It’s fitting that the Canes were just in Las Vegas. Why? Well, head coach Rod Brind’Amour has put Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen on the same line, the hockey equivalent to “going all-in.”
Aho, Svech, and Turbo are the top three point-getters on the team, with 158 points between them — 32.4% of the team’s points for the entire year. The next closest group of forwards are Ryan Dzingel, Martin Necas, and Warren Foegele, who have combined for 83 points.
To say that the Canes lack balance is an understatement.
And when you lack balance, your opponents will focus on the line that poses the most significant risk, which is what the Stars did last night. Aho, Svech, and Turbo were treated to plenty of hits last night from a variety of big bodies. They’re big boys and can take it, but it does wear you out. And by the end of the game, when the Canes were trailing and needed a goal from the top line, they looked winded.
However, this line isn’t going away. Aho did score, after all, his 31st of the year. Svechnikov had a breakaway opportunity that nearly pulled the Canes within one. And in the big picture, all three remain at virtually a point per game pace.
They’re the best the Canes have to offer, and they’ll need to carry the team down the stretch.
What’s Happened to the Defense?
When Dougie Hamilton broke his leg on January 16th against the Columbus Blue Jackets, everyone knew that things were going to change.
Yet, for the first three games after Hamilton’s injury, all seemed well on the back end. The Canes held the Anaheim Ducks, New York Islanders, and Winnipeg Jets to a combined four goals (one of which was an overtime winner for the Ducks). It seemed like the defense had rallied to the occasion.
Then came the All-Star break. And since then, the Canes have failed to hold an opponent to fewer than three goals.
The biggest reason why? The defense isn’t as good.
Every one of the defensemen is being asked to do more, but no one is being asked to do as much as Jaccob Slavin.
The coaching staff has leaned hard on Slavin over the last month, and you have to wonder how long he can endure.
His minutes, always high, are pushing the bounds of what you can ask of a defenseman. In December, Slavin played 23 minutes or more in a game only five times (there were 13 games that month). Since Hamilton’s injury, Slavin has played 23 minutes or more in every game except one (he played 22:28 against Vegas on January 31st).
And while Slavin is somehow still carrying the load — he has points in six of his last seven games and is a plus-2 since Hamilton’s injury — other players aren’t handling the extra minutes as well.
As recently as December, Jake Gardiner went through a three-game stretch where he averaged 13 minutes of ice-time. Since Hamilton’s injury, he’s playing close to 20 minutes a game. He’s a minus-4 since the injury and was minus-2 last night. For whatever reason, the partnership with Brett Pesce continues to struggle. Pesce, who finished third in the entire league last year in plus/minus rating, hasn’t recorded a game with a positive plus/minus rating since before the All-Star break.
Last night, each of the three pairings gave up odd-man breaks or committed turnovers in their own zone that led to scoring chances.
We all knew how vital Hamilton’s offense was. Now, it’s becoming clear how important his defense was too.
Yes, I know I haven’t exactly been a cheerleader for Petr Mrazek recently. In fact, I’ve made it clear that he should be considered the number two goalie.
That said, Mrazek was the reason the Canes had any chance last night. As I’ve noted, the defense is not what it was before Hamilton’s injury, and it’s not only the d-mens’ fault. Many of the reliable defensive forwards are not playing well. Pucks that should be chipped out are not being chipped out. Pinches from the defensemen are not being covered.
And who is left holding the bag when this happens? Petr Mrazek.
Last night, Mrazek stood on his head for the first period while the Stars peppered his goal with shots from multiple garden-spot locations. He did an incredible job of keeping the Canes in the game going into the second period.
And his reward? Nothing. The Canes struggled to exit their own zone most of the night, and Mrazek couldn’t even come to the bench until close to the two-minute mark.
He has nothing to hang his head about in last night’s mess of a game.
To Wrap It Up
Yes, last night was a bust. But, the road trip was not as bad. Two up and two down is not all that horrible.
However, .500 hockey will not get it done. The Canes now sit two points out of a playoff spot, with 26 games left. Five of their next seven games are at home. They need to sort out their mistakes, or the next road trip might be a desperate one.