The Hurricanes lost a second straight game for the first time this season, dropping a 3-0 decision in Tampa Bay on Wednesday. The Lightning scored twice in the opening period and stifled Carolina’s offense to move back into first place in the Central Division at 12-4-1 after Florida lost Wednesday to drop to 12-4-2. The Hurricanes are just behind at 12-5-1.
1. Any talks of Jaccob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton or really any NHL defenseman being mentioned for the Norris Trophy should begin with a comparison to Victor Hedman. Throughout the first three games of this four-game “series,” Hedman has been the best player on the ice overall in the first three games, triggering the Lightning’s offense on both Monday and Wednesday in their two wins.
In Wednesday’s 3-0 decision, Hedman created the first goal by circling the Carolina net and setting up Ross Colton for his first NHL goal in his league debut. From there, he and Andrei Vasilevskiy (25 saves) were impenetrable. The Hurricanes had their chances, but every time either Hedman was there to stifle Carolina’s attack or Vasilevskiy was making another show-stopping save.
That’s a tough combination to overcome.
2. Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour was visibly disappointed after the game but said, “We may be off and have some off nights, but it’s never lack of effort.”
Captain Jordan Staal said the team’s “starts are killing us,” and Brind’Amour had already pinpointed the trouble in the last two games.
“Well, the Tampa Bay Lightning.”
And that is probably the cause for Brind’Amour’s curtness following the game. He knows that the road to the Stanley Cup goes through Tampa Bay, and while his team is now 2-2 against the Lightning this season, he’ll surely be looking for a bounce-back effort Thursday in the final game of the four-game set.
3. The Hurricanes announced Wednesday that they will be welcoming fans back to PNC Arena starting with their March 4 home game against Detroit. Per Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest executive order, large indoor venues will be allowed to operate at 15% capacity. A normal sellout at PNC Arena for Hurricanes games is 18,680, so the team would be permitted to host 2,802 fans based on those numbers.
Don Waddell, the Hurricanes GM and team president, said the team might make “a little bit of money” off that number of fans but that the Hurricanes’ priority will be safety and giving their fans an opportunity to see the team in-person for the first time in nearly a year.
“It’s very important that we do this right,” Waddell said. “I’m not worried about the cost of doing it right, I’m worried about doing it right because once we prove that we do it right, then we have the opportunity to expand our capacity. And that’s what we all want to get to.”
Masks, social distancing, one-way concourses, limited concessions and more hand sanitizing stations are just some of the restrictions, protocols and amenities that will be in place when fans return.
Number To Know
6-4-1 — The Hurricanes’ record this season with one day off between games. Comparatively, Carolina is 2-0-0 with four days off between games, 2-0-0 with two days off between games, and 2-1-0 with no days’ rest.
They Said It
“When you play that many games, sometimes it can be mundane and it can make it that much more difficult to be on edge and be ready to go. As a group, including myself, we have to be better than that.”
— Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal on managing the mental aspect of the condensed schedule
Alex Nedeljkovic, Hurricanes goalie — Coming off his first career shutout, Nedeljkovic was even better Wednesday despite being saddled with a loss. There wasn’t much he could have done on either of Tampa Bay’s goals, and he gave the Hurricanes a puncher’s chance in the third. Carolina, however, couldn’t figure out Vasilevskiy.
“He was great,” Brind’Amour said,” kept us in there. … Too bad we kind of wasted it.”
Dougie Hamilton, Hurricanes defenseman — The pressure is on Hamilton, who has 11 points this season but just one goal in a contract year. As mentioned following Monday’s loss to the Lightning, the emergence of Jake Bean and this offseason’s expansion draft make for a dicey negotiation with Hamilton. Toss in a flat salary cap and a needed contract extension for Andrei Svechnikov, and there are no guarantees a deal will get done.
If Hamilton can’t turn a corner on his season soon — and the numbers indicate he could since he currently has just a 1.8% shooting percentage — the pressure will increase even more as the trade deadline approaches.