Takeaways From Hurricanes’ 4-3 Overtime Loss in Detroit – 3/1/22

The Carolina Hurricanes dropped a tough one to kick off their busiest month of the season, as March will see the team play a whopping 16 games in 31 days. After largely getting outplayed for the first 45-ish minutes of the game and seeing themselves down 2-1 early in the third period, two quick goals from the third line looked to have them positioned for a comeback win. Jesper Fast and Jordan Staal scored the goals to tie things up and put them ahead, respectively, and with under four minutes to play following the latter, all they needed was a solid defensive effort down the stretch to kick things off with a solid road win. Alas, it was not to be, as they eventually fell to the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 in overtime.

The tying goal was a tough one to swallow, in fairness though, Brett Pesce looked to have taken a high hit in the neutral zone that very easily could have drawn an elbowing call. He was taken out of the play, but Brady Skjei still had a chance to move the puck safely up the ice. Instead, he fanned on his clearing attempt, setting Dylan Larkin up all alone for a breakaway on Hurricanes goalie Antti Raanta. The Detroit captain made a beautiful backhand move and finished top shelf, just 38 seconds after the Staal go-ahead goal.

The Hurricanes still sit at 37-11-5 on the year, and have a five-point lead over the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins, with two games in hand. There shouldn’t be too much overreaction to a tough road loss against a young, determined team with a lot of talent like Detroit, especially when they’re coming off allowing 10 goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They may still be a “bottom-feeder” currently, but their young core looks destined to make quite a bit of noise in the near future behind players like Larkin and two leading Calder Trophy candidates in Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider. Still, there are some crucial takeaways that could play a huge role in this tough month for Carolina, so let’s talk about them.

Is the Captain Back?

Tuesday night was far from a banner game from just about anyone in the Hurricanes’ forward core. The SAT line of Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen were their usual, dangerous selves while carrying the play heavily when on the ice, but other than that, the team got very little from the rest of the lineup. Having said that, the Staal-led line with Jesper Fast and Nino Niederreiter nearly did enough to pull off the win anyway.

Jordan Staal
Jordan Staal #11 of the Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

It’s well-documented that this season hasn’t gone according to plan for Staal, especially coming off what was arguably the best all-around season of his career in 2020-21. He’s largely been his defensively-dominant self in his own end, so it’s not like he hasn’t been a vital part of the team’s success, but still, many hoped for more coming off a season in which he played at nearly a 60-point pace. However, we may finally be seeing the tides turn over the last few weeks, as the formerly-snakebitten 33-year-old seems to be finally returning to form.

It all started with a harmless point shot in Boston, at the tail end of a game that had an outcome long since determined. Staal put the finishing touches on that 6-0 beating with a deflection goal off a faceoff. Don’t try to say it was meaningless though, as one little break, no matter how or when it comes, may be all it takes to get the monkey off your back in this league. The captain’s stat line at that point in time was a measly two goals and nine assists in 40 games. In the last 10 games (including Boston) he has put up eight points, including tripling that goal total.

A point I have considered on my podcast multiple times is that as good as Carolina has been, there have been quite a few players underperforming to some degree. Between Staal’s offensive struggles, Vincent Trocheck’s inconsistency, Seth Jarvis’s rookie wall, and especially the next guy we’re going to talk about’s slump; plenty of players have had seasons they should be a bit disappointed in. The thing is, it’s obvious all of those guys have that next gear in them, so there’s always the potential for things to turn around. If even one of those guys starts playing at their best, not to mention two or three or four of them, suddenly this team’s ceiling gets even more formidable. Long story short, it’s a really good sign for the Hurricanes, and if Staal can continue to be counted upon for secondary scoring, this team will be even tougher to beat.

Hurricanes Need More From Necas

Many times this season I’ve likened the regression in Martin Necas’ game to what Svechnikov went through last season. It’s his third year in the league, just as last season was for his Russian teammate; the dreaded “sophomore slump” never really hit for either player in year two, but both players breaking into the NHL as teenagers perhaps provides a decent explanation for the phenomenon. As every scout’s favorite saying goes, development is not linear, so perhaps it just came a year later than expected.

The similarities don’t end there, though. Last season was a snowball of regression for Svechnikov, as he started off the year looking like an absolute superstar, leading to many to claim him fully “arrived” (myself very much included) and simply ready to take over the entire league. That obviously didn’t happen, as between disagreements with the refs, bad puck luck leading to him simply gripping the stick too tight, missing chances he usually wouldn’t and finally, being demoted from the top line, his game seemed to deteriorate more and more as the season went along. It was a perfect storm of unfortunate outcomes that culminated in a bad year, at least compared to the standard the former second-overall pick set for himself.

Martin Necas Carolina Hurricanes
Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

Necas’ downfall hasn’t been so pronounced, but that’s probably only because he wasn’t quite playing at a dominant level to begin the year. In fact, he got off to a relatively slow start to the season, with zero goals and just two assists in his first seven games. He quickly turned it around, though, and was still showcasing his speed, playmaking, and sweet hands on a regular basis. After that rough first month, he finished December producing at what I would consider a rock-solid second-line pace, with 19 points in 28 games. However, since the calendar flipped to 2022, things have not gone well for the Czech forward. His last goal came on Jan. 15, and, in fact, that’s the only goal he’s scored since the new year.

Necas does have 10 assists in the span, so his point totals haven’t fallen off too severely – at least not severe enough that a few big games or a hot streak can’t bring his totals to a more respectable level. Regardless, the issues go well beyond the box score. His motor seems to waver at times, and his defensive zone play can be lackadaisical. One play stood out in particular against Detroit, where the puck skittered towards the corner for a 50-50 race. Actually, that term isn’t even accurate, as he actually had a step on the Red Wings defenseman to which he was assigned defensively, Filip Hronek. With him on his toes, Necas showed no urgency as the defenseman blew past the 23-year-old and passed to the slot to create a Grade-A chance for Robby Fabbri. Luckily for him, Antti Raanta made the save and kept the game tied.

Related: Hurricanes Trade Deadline History

You could live with that on occasion from a young forward if there’s effort, or if he’s producing offensively, but lately, Necas has simply not. He’s too talented a player to have such a negative effect on his team. It often looks like he is pressing and trying to force things, which leads to turnovers, many times while there are simple, safe passes to be made – which, in fact, we saw against Detroit at the worst possible time, in OT, when puck possession is of the highest importance. Incidentally, after the game, head coach Rod Brind’Amour mentioned that some guys “weren’t carrying their weight”. The head coach usually never calls out a specific player by name to the media, so it’s unlikely he meant just one player, but one of the easiest targets for that speculation has to be Necas.

The Hurricanes need much, much more from the former first-round pick. Perhaps he needs to just simplify or maybe catch a break. As we just talked about above, sometimes all it takes is one bounce to go your way, then suddenly the stick gets gripped a bit looser, and things fall into place. He has all the potential in the world, but if the Hurricanes are going to be at their best and compete for a Stanley Cup this year, they need Necas to be the lightning-fast playmaker regularly seen knifing through defenses and creating offense. It would be in his best interest too, after all, being due for a contract this offseason as a restricted free agent (RFA).

Incidentally, perhaps that pressure of being up for his first extension and trying to make himself a boatload of money on a nightly basis is one of the biggest things that is getting to him in the first place. Either way, it’s going to be really interesting to see how the next few months unfold for Necas, and what comes out of those negotiations in the offseason. What he gets in a contract will be telling as to what exactly the organization thinks his future holds in this league.

Raanta Proving his Worth

Quite simply, the Hurricanes never would have gotten the one point they did get if not for the stellar play of Finnish netminder Raanta. He could have let in a couple more goals after dazzling plays from the Red Wings and nobody would have blamed him. Still, time and again, he proved to be up to the task on prolonged shifts in the Carolina end, odd-man rushes, and even breakaways, save for the Larkin one late in regulation. He was far and away the Hurricanes’ best player in this game. He was under siege all game long and finished with 37 saves.

This just continues a trend that isn’t particularly new, though, as especially since the calendar flipped to 2022, Raanta has given the Hurricanes a chance to win every night he’s been given the nod. Even his three-goals-allowed-on-nine-shots performance against Columbus on New Years’ Day was more on the 18 skaters ahead of him (credit to them for then scoring seven straight goals to get him off the hook for the loss) than it was poor play from the veteran goaltender.

Antti Raanta Carolina Hurricanes
Antti Raanta, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The importance of Raanta’s growing comfort shouldn’t be understated. Frederik Andersen has been absolutely stellar and is a Vezina candidate this season, but his 38 starts are second-most amongst goalies at least his age (32 or older), with only Chicago’s Marc-Andre Fleury having more. With this aforementioned busy stretch of upcoming games, the Hurricanes have no choice but to give their backup starts – and probably more than a few. There are four back-to-backs alone, and Brind’Amour has very rarely given the same goalie both ends of a back-to-back. You can probably mark him down in Sharpie for at least four starts, and probably at least one more mixed in at some point. That would leave the distribution at 10-6 (including Tuesday) and should help keep Andersen relatively fresh heading into April and beyond.

The Hurricanes ought to have the utmost confidence in Raanta at this point. Andersen has been one of the best starting goalies in the entire league this season, and it’s fully understandable to want to give him all the starts he can handle. However, his backup is giving the team reason to think that even when they give the big Dane a night off, they’re still going to have an excellent chance to win hockey games. That will in turn keep their starter fresher for the postseason, which is what this team is playing for anyway; especially with a bit of a cushion growing in the division standings. This just might be the best tandem the Hurricanes have ever had, giving fans yet another reason to feel good about this team as the season continues to inch ever closer to the end.

Other Canes Notes and a Challenging Back-to-Back Up Next

Entering Tuesday’s game, the Hurricanes were a perfect 17-0-0 when Aho scored a goal. While they are no longer unbeaten in those games, you can still say “Carolina has a point every time Aho finds the back of the net”. I would say 35 of a possible 36 points isn’t too bad. He’s been red hot lately, and as much as he finds the twine, it was probably unrealistic to expect the Hurricanes to win all the games he scored in, all year long. Incidentally, he and Teravainen are both on lengthy point streaks, with both factoring in on the first-period power-play goal against the Red Wings.

As for the other member of the line, Svechnikov, this was the second time in three games he was held off the scoresheet but still has 11 points in the last nine. Against Detroit, he was probably the Hurricanes’ best forward. His battle level is unwavering, as he was highly disruptive on the forecheck, constantly harassing the Red Wings’ defenders. It was also fun to see him and Tyler Bertuzzi go at it a couple of times, and I thought he really got the better of the back-and-forth, including a few heavy hits. He’s really turned into a complete player at both ends of the ice, as not only has his defensive game grown exponentially, but it seems like he’s gained a step or two as a skater too. The way that line is going, if I were Brind’Amour, I’d probably keep the SAT line intact moving forward.

Andrei Svechnikov Carolina Hurricanes
Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

The Hurricanes may have a bit of a sour taste in their mouths after this one, both with their lack of a complete, 60-minute effort, and failing to hold a late lead, then falling in overtime. However, the team has a massive opportunity to turn the tides very quickly starting on Thursday with a back-to-back in Washington and then at home against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. That’s a hell of a 24-hour period. Though, if the Hurricanes find a way to win both, not only would the Detroit game be a distant memory, but they would make a very loud statement thus asserting themselves as the leader of the Metropolitan Division pack. Those “four-point games” are of the highest importance at this juncture of the season, and I’m excited to see what are sure to be two playoff-like atmospheres. Carolina needs to bring its A-game in all of them.

Beyond seeing how the Hurricanes respond to being the top dog that everyone else is gunning for, we’ve finally reached the real dog days of the season. Fortunately, they aren’t the only ones dealing with this condensed schedule, but it’s going to be telling to see what teams make it through this month the strongest. It’s going to prove a lot of mental and physical fortitude, and perhaps will paint a picture of what teams are the most prepared for the grind of the playoffs. If nothing else, it could give them some internal belief if they can keep pace and come through with 10 or 11 wins over the stretch.

Regardless, we have a lot to figure out over the next month, and while the Hurricanes got off on the wrong foot, the race has only just begun.

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