Despite once again missing five lineup regulars, the Hurricanes kept it rolling Saturday night, topping the previously unbeaten Dallas Stars 4-1 for their third straight win.
There was a lot to like, including big nights offensively for Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Vincent Trocheck and others, and a great game on special teams. The win came at a cost, however, as the team suffered a pair of injuries in the first period.
Let’s take a look at some key takeaways from Carolina’s fourth victory of the season:
Injury bug bites
The factor every team must deal with this season is COVID-19, and the Canes have already faced their fair share of issues there, with six different regulars being forced to miss time already.
But that doesn’t mean normal injuries slow down, as the Canes found out Saturday night with several players getting dinged up. Most returned, but two didn’t.
Forward Max McCormick was boarded (though no penalty was called) by Blake Comeau in the first period on a scary-looking play and did not return.
Earlier in the game, in the more troubling of the two injuries, McCormick collided with goalie Petr Mrazek, who left the game with what looked like an injury to his blocker hand. James Reimer came into the game and did what was needed, and has proven himself more than capable in his time in Carolina.
However, especially in this compressed schedule, Mrazek, who’s been superb to start the year, missing a significant amount of time would be devastating for the Canes.
Brind’Amour said after the game that while Mrazek’s injury looked worse than it was, it’s still “not good,” and he can’t say how long he’ll be out. McCormick’s injury “Looked bad, was bad,” and Brind’Amour said he’ll be out “a lot longer.”
Special teams stay hot
The Canes’ special teams units were phenomenal in this one, and one of the biggest reasons for their emphatic victory.
We’ll start with the unit that’s been just about flawless in two games since returning: the penalty kill. One would figure that, with five key penalty killers out in Jaccob Slavin, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Martinook, Jesper Fast and Warren Foegele, it would behoove the Canes to stay out of the box against two of the best offensive teams in the league.
Despite that, the Canes have gone shorthanded nine times over the two games against the Lightning and Stars. Despite that, the penalty kill has been lights out, going 8 for 9 over the two games and starting 7 for 7, only allowing a goal with the game already in hand against a Dallas team that came in leading the NHL with a 53% success rate on the power play. Different players, such as rookie Steven Lorentz and Martin Necas, normally known for his offensive prowess, have been forced to contribute on the penalty kill, and excelled.
Now for the power play.
Despite the Canes going 0 for 3 on the power play against Tampa Bay, Brind’Amour said Saturday morning he thought the power play was good, and generated grade-A chances without the results.
The results were there Saturday. The Canes tickled the twine three times in five opportunities up a man, starting with the second of two Trocheck (more on him in a bit) goals in the first period, as the center knocked in a rebound off a net-mouth scramble.
Then, in the second period, the Canes scored back-to-back power-play goals to go up 4-0 and completely take over the game.
On the first, Andrei Svechnikov took a slick feed from Sebastian Aho, who had two assists cut to the net and beat Anton Khudobin on a gorgeous feed. Dallas took a penalty on that sequence that put the Canes right back up a man, and they rolled out their second power-play unit.
That group followed up an excellent shift featuring strong puck movement and looks with a beautiful cross-ice pass from Martin Necas (the second of two primary assists for him) to Ryan Dzingel, who roofed a shot.
Carolina currently ranks sixth on the season in penalty-kill success rate and ninth on the power play. If the Canes can get this kind of play from their special teams all season, look out.
“I’ve thought our power play has been good this whole start to the season,” Trocheck said. “We move the puck really well, getting our looks. Like you said, it was just a matter of time before they started going in. If you keep getting chances, they are eventually going to fall. It was no different tonight. [Andrei Svechnikov], [Sebastian Aho] and [Dougie Hamilton] moving the puck really well. Me and [Jordan Staal] are just trying to cement ourselves in front of the net and look for loose pucks.”
Trocheck continues great start
Coming into the season, one of the biggest X factors that would determine if the Canes would be a good or great team was the play of Trocheck. If he could start getting back to the level of play he showed a couple years ago in Florida before injuries derailed him and be an effective top-six center, it would give the Canes another dependable scoring line behind the Aho line and make the forward group that much more dangerous.
So far so good on that front. Trocheck finished tonight’s game with two goals, both coming early in the first period, and has four on the season. Beyond that, he’s looked like a good fit, contributed at both ends of the ice, on both special teams and played like the player the Canes thought they were getting at last year’s trade deadline.
“He’s been great,” Brind’Amour said. “We had those games where Jordo was out and he had to step up there. And then now with all those guys out on our penalty kill, he’s been doing that. You can’t say enough about him. That center position, obviously, is so important. And then being able to play all the special roles, it’s huge for us. He’s been great. That’s one of the reasons we got the win tonight. He was really good again.”
Trocheck said Friday morning he’s starting to feel comfortable in Carolina, and he looks it. If he can keep this up, the Canes will be that much harder to defend.
Without their best defensive defenseman in Jaccob Slavin, the Hurricanes faced off against one of the best offensive teams in the league and... completely stymied them.
Carolina outshot Dallas 26-11, and held the Stars to just five shots combined over the final two periods (just one in the second). Reimer wasn’t asked to do much, and really didn’t face anything in the way of a high-danger chance, especially at even strength.
Dallas’ lone goal came on the power play, and the Hurricanes allowed just five 5-on-5 shots.
The last 5-on-5 shot on goal that the Stars got was with 5:47 to go in the first period. The Hurricanes didn't allow a single 5-on-5 shot on goal in the final 45:47 of the game. https://t.co/wlGiPu11zL— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) January 31, 2021
The results the Canes have been able to achieve without some of their best players have been something to behold, and should inspire a lot of hope for what this team can accomplish at full strength.
Through 5 games, the Hurricanes have allowed a league-low 22.2 shots on goal per game. They're also tied for 4th in the league with a +7 goal differential.— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) January 31, 2021