After two strong outings and a 1-0-1 record by Curtis McElhinney to start the week, Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour turned to backup Petr Mrazek for his first start since the demotion of Scott Darling and for the first time since November 2 due to injury.
Mrazek was sharp and solid out of the gate. A back and forth first period saw a back and forth game net a good number of medium to high-end scoring chances for both teams. But the goalies were the story early. The period finished with the Kings holding a small 13 to 12 advantage for shots, but a scoreless tie due to strong goaltending.
Whereas the first period had both goalies leading the way, the second period in my opinion was more just two teams struggling offensively. The game was sluggish and mostly lacked dynamic play. The goalies were perfect again the second period, but I thought the story was more ineptness on offense. The Hurricanes surrendered three power plays in the second period but were not overly tested in killing them off. Especially for Caniacs pushing past midnight on the East Coast, the second period was a sluggish one.
The third period was more of the same grinding along mostly in ugly fashion. The turning point in the game was 1:31 of 5-on-3 power play time for the Hurricanes. In disheartening fashion, the Hurricanes just dialed up more of ‘let’s try even harder to beat the goalie’ without any substantive screen parked in front of Quick. When Aho half-whiffed on the best chance and the 5-on-3 ended scoreless, one had to figure that the hockey gods had what they needed to make a final decision on the outcome. Sure enough, in the waning minutes, Brock McGinn lost track of Alec Martinez streaking in from the point. That plus an empty-netter resulted in a 2-0 loss.
Player and other notes
1) Petr Mrazek
His play was quite encouraging. I am on record as being skeptical of McElhinney’s ability to log a full starter workload. To be clear, McElhinney’s limited ice time in recent years was a function of role not of him necessarily being unable to play more. But still, the odds of a 35-year old suddenly playing two or three times as many games with the same results seems unlikely. Enter Mrazek. If he can play, it becomes much easier to spread the goalie workload and make sure McElhinney stays fresh. So in that regard, Sunday’s game as a big one for Mrazek and the team’s goalie situation. He deserved better and should feel good coming out of the game despite the outcome.
2) Need more ugly goals
It is becoming increasingly clear that the team is light on pure scoring options. As such, it becomes even more critical to generate as much as possible from secondary sources. What concerns me most about the Hurricanes scoring woes right now is the propensity to just try harder to beat the goalie. It did not work against John Gibson. The only goal was an odd Svechnikov shot that seemed to fool Gibson through traffic. The same was true against Jonathan Quick on Sunday. The Hurricanes desperately need to fight for more ugly goals. Get the puck to the point and send two bodies to the net. Park someone in front of the goalie on the power play and tell that player that he is not allowed to try to score by moving to the side to try to tip shots. Just generally send more bodies to the crease whenever possible in case the puck happens to arrive.
3) Victor Rask
His all-around play has come along nicely since his return to the lineup. He is back to being solid in terms of decision-making and coverage. With the team so desperately seeking scoring right now, his play needs to come with a bit more scoring too, but the base of his game is on target.
4) TSA line
I voted in favor of the TSA line short-term but not in the long-term with Micheal out of the lineup. That line did not do much in Friday’s overtime loss. The trio was somewhat better as the game wore on Sunday. But there are a couple problems. First is that Aho seems to be just a bit off as a finisher right now. He somehow missed half of an open net early in the game and half-whiffed on what would have been a good chance during the 5-on-3. On Friday, it was Staal who seemed to get the lion’s share of the scoring chances, but he just is not a finisher. Long story short, the Hurricanes scoring line now minus Ferland is sputtering pretty much the same as the rest of the lineup.
5) Missed opportunity 5-on-3
The 1:31 of 5-on-3 power play time midway through the third period was a golden opportunity to score a single goal that had a chance to hold up for a win. The 5-on-3 was disappointing in that the team again seemed content to play ‘let’s try even harder to beat the goalie’ instead of parking someone in front of Quick and trying to score an ugly one.
6) Scoring really costing points right now
With just two goals in regulation, the Hurricanes would have four points in their last two games (eliminating the Kings’ empty-netter). Instead, the Hurricanes have only a single point.
Next up for the Hurricanes is outing two out of three in California in San Jose on Wednesday.