The Carolina Hurricanes blanked the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second straight night, winning 2-0 Wednesday at PNC on goals by Steven Lorentz and Clark Bishop and a combined shutout from Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic.
Category 1: Julien Gauthier was the lone Hurricanes player to suit up Tuesday in Tampa Bay and then play again Wednesday. Skating with Bishop and Lorentz on the least experienced of Carolina’s four forward lines, Gauthier built on his three-shot performance from the night before.
Following a Carolina power play, Gauthier drove the net for a chance and collected his own rebound. He quickly threw the puck back in front, and Lorentz banged it in for the first goal of the game.
“He’s a bull out there, and he has good hands around the net, not afraid to take it to the net,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said of Gauthier. “He’s that power forward, and if we can work on some other things that help him get to this level, then that’s obviously the goal.”
Gauthier then got power play time on the second unit and played up with Jordan Staal and Andrei Svechnikov after Erik Haula left the bench near the game’s midway point (more on that later). That’s nearly 650 pounds up front, the kind of size that is reminiscent of Brind’Amour’s old Legion of Doom teammates.
“Nobody knows who that is anymore,” Brind’Amour joked of the similarly bulky line that featured Flyers Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Mikael Renberg. “That’d be nice if it were to happen.”
Category 2: The game featured all the players expected to play a part in the Hurricanes’ power play. But one player missing from the two units was Justin Faulk, the subject of trade rumors. Faulk has long been a mainstay on Carolina’s top unit, but he was noticeably absent Wednesday, with newcomer Jake Gardiner the lone defenseman on the top unit and Dougie Hamilton on the second.
Brind’Amour said after the game the units would be a work in progress with lots of moving parts, so it might be early to see the decision as a shot across Faulk’s — or his agent’s — bow. But it’s hard not to read something into the decision.
Category 3: Speaking of Gardiner, Brind’Amour had said earlier in the week the longtime Maple Leaf had some catching up to do with Carolina’s systems. But Gardiner looked right at home running the Hurricanes’ top power play unit. While the PP struggled at times, it wasn’t because of No. 51, who looked decisive and on target with his passes.
“That’s what he’s here for,” Brind’Amour said. “Hopefully (he’ll) help in that area.
Category 4: Mrazek handled the first half of the game and was then replaced by Nedeljkovic, and their performances were similar to the ones by James Reimer and Anton Forsberg on Tuesday. There weren’t a ton of chances for the Lightning, and Carolina carried play much of the night. That meant limited chances for the goalies — Nedeljkovic, in particular — to make an impression on the coaching staff.
“We love him, right?” Brind’Amour said of Nedeljkovic, the AHL’s Goaltender of the Year last season. “He’s done nothing but win. So that’s what it’s all about at this level. He did his job.”
One job he didn’t get assigned? Scoring into the empty net.
Down 2-0, the Lightning pulled their goalie late, and Carolina had endless chances to add an insurance goal — but just couldn’t get the puck into the empty cage.
After a flurry of errant and blocked shots, the puck finally trickled out of the zone. Was Nedeljkovic calling for it?
“Oh, absolutely,” said Nedeljkovic, who scored into an empty net for the Checkers two seasons ago and in the ECHL the year before. “When it squeaked out there in the neutral zone, I was trying to yell for Faulker to get it back to me. Maybe next game.”
His coach seemed OK with the idea.
“They should’ve, the way that was looking,” Brind’Amour joked.
Category 5: Haula left the game with a lower-body injury during the second period and did not return. The center played just 15 games with Vegas last season after suffering a gruesome knee injury.
“It was precautionary, and so we’re not going to take any chances, certainly at this time of the season or any time,” Brind’Amour said. “A kind of twinge, not knee-related or anything, so that’s good.”
Losing Haula would obviously be a big blow. Lucas Wallmark, as he showed last year, is capable of playing up on the third line, and Bishop is a proven option at the 4C, but neither have the 25-goal potential of Haula.
For now, it’s something just to keep an eye on and not worth panicking about.