With the Toronto Maple Leafs wearing green and the Carolina Hurricanes wearing red on the road, it was the team dressed for the occasion that came away with the St. Patrick’s Day win Thursday night in Scotiabank Arena.
The Leafs beat the Canes 3-2, as rookie netminder Erik Kallgren made 34 saves in just his second NHL start to help push Toronto past Carolina. The Leafs scored in each of the first two periods to open up a 2-0 lead, and then scored quickly after Ethan Bear made it 2-1 in the third period to extend the lead to two once again.
Vincent Trocheck added a meaningless tally in the game’s final seconds, as Carolina lost its second straight contest.
Here are some takeaways from Thursday’s loss:
Costly Mistakes and Missed Opportunities
On paper, Thursday night’s loss was a game the Carolina Hurricanes probably should have won.
For starters, Toronto had a rookie goalie in net against one of the NHL’s best teams. And the Canes played pretty well, dominating the CF% at 61.21% while also outshooting and out-chancing the Maple Leafs fairly comfortably.
That stuff, of course, doesn’t matter.
What matters is that the Hurricanes weren’t able to find that finishing touch and convert on their chances, and on the other end of the ice the Maple Leafs took advantage of a couple critical Carolina mistakes and made the Canes pay with tallies in the goal column.
“I think there was a lot of similarities in the way both teams played,” Trocheck said. “The systems are similar. We both played very hard. I think it was just a matter of those couple mistakes on very simple plays that we know and practice all the time.”
Toronto’s first goal came after Carolina couldn’t keep the puck in its offensive zone, as the Leafs won a battle in the corner and got off on the break. Some lackluster defending let the Leafs convert to make it 1-0 thanks to Ilya Mikheyev.
The Maple Leafs’ second goal came off a poorly misplayed puck in the neutral zone from Jaccob Slavin, which allowed Mitch Marner to get in alone on net. And when Marner gets in on net, he doesn’t often fail to convert.
And the third Toronto goal, which was a dagger in the Canes just three minutes after Bear gave Carolina life, came off an awful pass out of the defensive zone from Ian Cole, who gave the puck right to Toronto with the odd-man rush.
Those little mistakes, and Toronto’s ability to convert on them, were the difference in the game.
The Canes, who had tons of chances, couldn’t muster enough in the way of finishing. And they got no points because of it.
“I thought we played hard,” said Rod Brind’Amour. “Give the guys credit. We always play hard, which is good, but we need to capitalize on our chances, which we didn’t. That magnifies the mistakes we made. You’re going to make mistakes, but give them credit. They capitalized. They obviously got the win out of it.”
And speaking of not capitalizing on opportunities, the Hurricanes went 0 for 3 on the power play Thursday in a game they ended up losing by one goal.
The Canes man advantage has hit a really bad funk. Carolina is 0 for its last 10 on the power play, a four-game stretch where the Canes have failed to score on the man advantage. And Carolina, of course, has lost two of those games.
Thursday night, the power play was horrendously bad. In six minutes of the man advantage, Carolina mustered exactly 0 scoring chances. Not one. The Maple Leafs, down a man, had three scoring chances during those six minutes.
The Hurricanes mustered a whopping five shots during those six minutes, and those shots were of the lowest danger imaginable. The Maple Leafs matched that total with five shorthanded shots.
So, what is wrong with the power play? What needs to be done better?
“I don’t know if we even know,” Trocheck said. “I think we’re just trying to figure that out right now. I think it’s a matter of us getting more pucks to the net and maybe playing a little bit simpler. It’s something that we really need to figure out here shortly before the playoffs start.”
As for the head coach:
“I’d like to see a little better execution with our plan,” Brind’Amour said. “We got away from what we wanted to do. Give them credit. They were aggressive and they did what we thought they would do, we just didn’t execute it the right way.”
The power play has been bad, but it may be about to get the jumpstart that brings it back to life.
Tony DeAngelo, who hasn’t played since Feb. 21, is likely to return to the Canes’ lineup Friday night, as Carolina is about to get its QB of PP1 back. DeAngelo, despite the missed games, is second on the team with 15 power-play assists.
Getting DeAngelo back should help the power play a lot, but it won’t make all the difference. Carolina needs to get that part of its game figured out soon, with the playoffs bearing down on it.