Hurricanes’ Takeaways From Falling Short Against Toronto – 2/7/22

After a week-long break for the All-Star festivities in Las Vegas, Monday night saw the Carolina Hurricanes get back on the horse for the second half, beginning with a tough road game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a hotly contested, back-and-forth affair that saw the Hurricanes twice take one-goal leads, but some sloppy play and a few too many mistakes led to a 4-3 overtime win for the home team.

Despite it not being the Hurricanes’ best game, there were some positive takeaways from the game and some potential areas for the coaching staff and management to look at in the film room and consider as the trade deadline looms at the end of next month. The team obviously remains in a fantastic position at 31-9-3 and continues to prove that even when they don’t play their best, they can still compete with some of the best teams in the league.

It’s always painful to lose a game you lead in the third period, especially when you lead late in the final frame, as the Hurricanes did tonight. Toronto’s Mitch Marner tied the game with under six minutes to play and then won it in overtime to give the Maple Leafs the win in Carolina’s first return to Scotiabank Arena since the legendary David Ayres game. While there may not have been anything quite so dramatic in this matchup, here are three nonetheless-important takeaways from the Hurricanes’ overtime loss to the Leafs.

Absences of Teravainen, Kotkaniemi Hurt, but Depth Still Showing Strong

The Hurricanes hoped that the week off (along with the two games he missed before the break) would be enough to get Teuvo Teravainen back into the lineup. He was a game-time decision for Monday’s tilt. However, he did not play, and former Maple Leaf Josh Leivo was called up before puck drop. Additionally, Jesperi Kotkaniemi entered COVID protocol on Sunday, meaning the Hurricanes were without two important forwards against the high-flying Leafs’ offense.

These absences led to some line juggling. The top line recently had been Sebastian Aho at center, flanked by Teravainen and Seth Jarvis, with Vincent Trocheck centering Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov on the second line. Against Toronto, Necas and Jarvis flipped, and instead of moving up red-hot Nino Niederreiter (or just Svechnikov), fourth-liner Jordan Martinook was moved onto the top line alongside Aho. Now, I’ve been a detractor of this particular move for a while, but head coach Rod Brind’Amour seems determined to do it seemingly every time an injury occurs in the top six. Martinook is a great fourth line, grinding winger, but his flaws are exposed being asked to play this type of featured offensive role.

Jordan Martinook, Carolina Hurricanes
Jordan Martinook, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Additionally, Trocheck has had an extremely weird year; he’d actually finished the stretch leading up to the All-Star break strong, but this game was a real struggle for the veteran center. Inconsistency has been the only consistent part of the pending unrestricted free agent’s season. The Hurricanes know he has another gear, and having him get to it more frequently in the last few months of the season would be a huge storyline for the Stanley Cup hopefuls.

Put it all together, the mixed-and-matched lineup led to an all-around struggle for the top six. Aho and Svechnikov, the team’s two leading scorers, were uncharacteristically quiet, which especially hurts in a game this close. One big play from one of them could have meant the additional point in the standings, but it seemed like the chemistry with their linemates was lacking. Instead, it was the Leafs’ stars who stepped up in the big moments, with Marner and Auston Matthews each lighting the lamp twice.

Getting Kotkaniemi and Teravainen back as soon as possible goes a long way towards cleaning the lines up and getting the Carolina forwards into positions they’re able to best succeed in. Still, for the optimistic way of looking at things on Monday, even without two key contributors and with the Hurricanes top six struggling a good bit, the Hurricanes were right there in the game – against one of the best teams in the league. And on the road, after a long break that could have easily led to sloppy play, no less.

This just speaks to the depth of the team, a theme we’ve talked about endlessly all season. Nino Niederreiter is on pace for nearly 30 goals. Derek Stepan has been one of the most under-appreciated depth signings of the year. Bottom-six players like Jesper Fast and Steven Lorentz made their presences felt, too, at both ends of the rink. It was really those guys, not the usual suspects, who kept the Hurricanes in a tough game against a real Stanley Cup contender. This is just another reason to feel good about this team’s ability to win games in many different ways (even if they didn’t get this particular win).

Andersen, Mrazek Present Fun Former Goalie Battle

One of the biggest storylines before the game was the matchup between two goalies that were wearing the opposite sweater a year ago. Petr Mrazek and Frederik Andersen were effectively swapped over the off-season, with Andersen heading from Toronto to Carolina, and Mrazek the opposite, Carolina to Toronto. For much of the game, that headlining matchup played out like a heavyweight fight, with Andersen stealing the show for the first half of the game, and Mrazek, after allowing a beautiful opening goal on a deflection he had no chance of stopping, keeping the Leafs within one goal with some spectacular play of his own.

Frederik Andersen Carolina Hurricanes
Frederik Andersen Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by Gregg Forwerck /NHLI via Getty Images)

The end-of-game box score may not scream “goalie duel,” but both netminders gave their teams a chance to win and made a multitude of impressive, timely saves. From the Hurricanes perspective, the loss falls far more upon sloppy defensive breakdowns, elite talent on the other side, and the lack of finishing their own chances than anything. But, in Toronto’s case, Mrazek is certainly a big story. Especially when the score was 1-0, it seemed the Hurricanes threatened time and again to go ahead by two, only to have the Czech goalie come up with the answer each time.

Ultimately, everyone in Carolina wants to see Mrazek succeed in his new home. He’ll always be remembered for his legendary “We’re in! Yes!” moment in a postgame interview after the Hurricanes had clinched a playoff spot for the first time in a decade. His infectious, colorful personality and electric style between the pipes made him a fan favorite in his time in Raleigh. He can be inconsistent, but when he’s on, he’s nigh-unbeatable.

The Leafs have their starter in Campbell, but it was great to see Mrazek secure a big win for his new team. With that tandem serving as the team’s backbone, they’ve got a chance to go a long way come the playoffs. Obviously, the way Andersen has played all year has the Hurricanes feeling very similarly, so it’s safe to say the offseason “swap” has worked out well for both teams.

DeAngelo Continues to Pay Off

In a game, the Hurricanes struggled to capitalize as much as they would have liked despite a pretty steady flow of chances, once again, it was defenseman Tony DeAngelo right in the middle of the production. Trailing 2-1 at the second intermission, just eight seconds into the third period, he took a beautiful chip-pass from Fast, flew down the wing, and rifled a shot that cleanly beat Mrazek to the far, blocker side to even the score.

About halfway through the frame, once again, it was DeAngelo activating on the rush, leading to a goal. This time Lorentz made a beautiful move to get to the slot before laying a drop pass off to the swift defender. DeAngelo’s shot basically beat Mrazek again, and Stepan was in the right place to bang in the rebound laying in the crease.

All season long, DeAngelo has seemed to step up and create when the Hurricanes need it, and he continues to look like fantastic bargain addition from over the offseason. He has yet to have any issues in the locker room or off the ice, which was obviously the biggest concern when the signing was announced, and has produced in a huge way with eight goals and 35 points on the year. He’s tied for seventh amongst defensemen in goals and sits eighth in points.

Related: Klingberg Trade Would Make Hurricanes’ Blue Line Lethal

Still, I think the Hurricanes could stand to add a defensive upgrade and believe DeAngelo would be well-suited to move down the lineup a bit. Yes, he constantly creates offense and has been a huge part of the team’s production this year, but he was also largely at fault, again, on an opponent’s goal in this game. There has to be a way to maximize his strengths – creating offense – while also sheltering him more at even strength so that he doesn’t get victimized defensively so often. Constantly being asked to defend opponent’s top threats alongside star defender Jaccob Slavin probably isn’t the best way to use him, ultimately.

Tony DeAngelo Carolina Hurricanes
Tony DeAngelo, Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

Regardless, the Hurricanes are nothing short of thrilled with the play they’ve gotten from the 26-year-old blueliner, and his continued production will be a huge part of their success as they head into the back half of the season.

A Chance to Turn the Page Quickly

The Hurricanes will stay in Ontario for one of many upcoming back-to-backs Tuesday evening, visiting an Ottawa Senators squad that has been quite a pain in their prior meetings this season. By now, the ‘Canes ought to know that the young, talented Sens are no pushover, with the two previous meetings ending in tightly contested affairs that saw each side take home a win.

Carolina has had a tendency to struggle in games after a bit of a layoff. It makes some sense considering their style of play, with their aggressive, forechecking style potentially being tough to quickly turn back on after a few days off. So, perhaps after a hard-fought loss, they’ll come out with some urgency, get to their game early on, and can grab an early lead against a young team on the second leg of the back-to-back.

All eyes now will be on the missing players, as Teravainen’s day-to-day status and Kotkaniemi’s COVID absence will loom large on this tough road trip. After the Senators game, the Hurricanes will see two more excellent hockey teams in Boston – who will surely be looking to exact a little revenge after the 7-1 drubbing the Hurricanes gave them a few weeks ago – and the high-flying Minnesota Wild after that.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi Carolina Hurricanes
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Those showdowns are sure to be a lot of fun, and Monday night’s game was a great first course with the display of star power, goalie play, and special teams excellence. These two teams have it all, and both look primed for deep runs come the postseason. And with that said, after watching that entertaining, high-tempo affair, I’m just going to throw this out there: I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing a seven-game series come May or June between these teams.

Anyone opposed? Didn’t think so.

Morning Skate newsletter Click To Subscribe