If any questions were surrounding Vincent Trocheck and Petr Mrazek coming off of the injured list, they were answered in short order.
Trocheck might have been Carolina’s best forward in the first half of the season, and he picked up right where he left off.
Since re-entering the lineup a week ago in Chicago, Trocheck has factored into the scoring on five of Carolina’s eight goals, including his perfect shot to open the scoring on Thursday. He carried a six-game point streak into his lengthy absence from the Canes lineup and has points in each of his last four games since getting healthy.
His performance against Dallas on Sunday was one of his best of the year. When he was on the ice, Carolina generated 1.38 expected goals for at 5-on-5 - his best number this season. He had a 68.75 CF%, 71.43 SCF%, and 85.71 HDCF% to go with his primary assist on Jordan Martinook’s goal in a game-high 19:13 of ice time among Canes forwards.
He’s been very active, and there’s been no hesitation in his game or in the coaching staff’s willingness to throw him right back into the fire.
And then there’s Mrazek.
His right thumb injury came at a profoundly unfortunate time as he got off to the best start of his NHL career, logging two shutouts in his first three starts.
It was a very long recovery period for the pending UFA goalie. At first, there was hope that he could return to game action in a month. He hit the practice ice again pretty quickly, but the road ended up having more turns than expected, and the wait ended up being more than two months. The Hurricanes hope that the wait will be worth it, though, and his first start against the Stars suggests that will be the case.
Mrazek saw his workload increase by the period, going from six shots on goal in the first period to 12 in the third period. Of course, he stopped all 28 shots he saw en route to Carolina’s 1-0 win. His blanking of the Stars marked his third shutout in the four starts that didn’t end early due to his own teammate skating into him and deforming his hand. The only goalies in the NHL with more shutouts than him are Philipp Grubauer (five) and Marc-Andre Fleury (four).
They’ve started 30 and 26 games, respectively.
While Mrazek wasn’t overly challenged in his return to the ice (the Hurricanes gave up just 1.45 xGA in all situations, their fifth-best game of the season in that category), he looked comfortable and confident in net, which is exactly how he looked at the onset of the season.
How to Handle the Goalie Rotation
With Mrazek back in action, the goalie rotation should be watched closely over the next week.
The Hurricanes have three goalies who, to varying degrees, deserve NHL playing time. When James Reimer got the nod as the backup for Mrazek on Sunday, there was a good deal of anger and surprise, but it ultimately doesn’t matter.
In my mind, the best way to go about this is picking two designated starters. Those two goalies should be the ones who are playing the best. Right now, those two goalies are Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic.
The backup goalie on any given night is almost entirely irrelevant.
Since Rod Brind’Amour took over as head coach ahead of the 2018-19 season, he has willingly changed goalies all of one time - October 18, 2019, against the Anaheim Ducks. Unless someone gets hurt, Carolina’s dressed backup goalie has factored into a game 0.53% of the time under Brind’Amour.
What matters is who is getting the nod as the starter. Mrazek will get the majority of the starts if he stays healthy. The schedule over the next two weeks is set up so that, if Mrazek plays well, he could play almost every night. The Hurricanes don’t have a back-to-back until April 19 and 20 in Tampa Bay. By that point, there’s a possibility that one of the goalies won’t be on the roster, given that Don Waddell has made it very public that trading a goalie by the April 12 trade deadline could be in the cards.
Jake’s Bean Changing
Looking back at it, the first few weeks of the Jake Bean experience was a wild ride. He was firmly planted in the “chaotic” category at 5-on-5. The Hurricanes were generating a huge amount of offensive chances when he was on the ice, but they also gave up way too much.
Now, it’s the exact opposite.
Over the last month, Bean has been one of the most low-event skaters on the roster. At the end of February, Carolina’s expected goals-for/60 with Bean on the ice was 3.68. As of April 6, it’s 2.271.
The flip side is that his expected goals-against has also plummeted. At one point, the Canes hovered around 3.0 xGA/60 at 5-on-5 with him on the ice. Now, it’s 2.174.
If you’re wondering if this is a good development, it depends on how you look at it and what you want to see from him.
Bean’s best asset is his ability to make plays in transition and the offensive zone. To this point in his young playing career, his offense has been what has driven his game, and it’s what got him to this point, but over his last nine games, he has just one secondary assist. This is on the heels of a 15-game stretch where he tallied 10 points.
It’s encouraging to see that his defensive game has very clearly taken steps forward, but he’s turned into a non-factor offensively both at even strength and on the man advantage. He was never going to keep being one of the most dangerous isolated drivers of offense in all of hockey as a rookie, but the drop-off has been dramatic.
If this kind of shift was to happen, I think the order in which it has happened is probably for the better. He got here, and he played a hazardous game that led to both good and bad results. Adjustments have been made to the point where he has become more reliable in his own zone, and a side effect of that has been his offense taking the back seat.
It’s less concerning to see his offense drop because we know how good he is. It was always his defense that was in question, and he has started to answer those questions. It should only be a matter of time before the offense starts to come back and he starts making more plays.
I’m under the impression that playing in the NHL is difficult. Bean has seen his game change a lot since becoming a full-time player at this level, but he has consistently held his own one way or another. That’s really all you can ask for from a 22-year-old rookie defenseman who is figuring things out on the fly on a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.