The Carolina Hurricanes are in Tampa Bay on Tuesday to face the Lightning, and it’s a new situation for coach Rod Brind’Amour and his team — they’re coming off a loss.
1. It was just a matter of time before the Carolina Hurricanes finally lost a game — in fact, the team that beat them Saturday, Florida, suffered its first regulation loss Monday night.
One positive was the way the Hurricanes attempted to claw their way back into Saturday’s game despite a 4-0 deficit after the first period.
“We kept coming. And to me, that’s a big thing,” said defenseman Brendan Smith, who played his first game of the season with Brett Pesce out with an injury. “I keep talking about this leadership, that Roddy’s kind of preached it, and I was impressed to be a part of that.”
It’s easy to lose sight of just how unique and imperative that mindset is to Carolina’s success.
Alternate captain Jordan Martinook summarized the way the Hurricanes have been able to maintain the team’s never-say-die attitude and initiate new players into the culture.
“I think when you get that taste of winning or you feel like you kind of have a winning culture, you never feel like you’re out of a game,” he said. “I think that’s something that you definitely have to build, and we have done that. … The guys that have come in, it’s just seamless that they’ve just kind of picked up what’s built here.”
2. The Hurricanes never showed signs of over-confidence during their nine-game winning streak to open the season, and there’s certainly no panic after one loss.
“I don’t think anyone was disillusioned to the fact that we’re gonna win every game of the season, go 82-0 — that’s just not realistic,” defenseman Ian Cole said Tuesday. “We knew we were gonna lose some games, but good teams don’t lose two games in a row; good teams don’t lose three games in a row. So we need to stop this right now and get back on the right side of things.”
As always, Brind’Amour is all about the task at hand.
“It’s boring to say, but we literally just, every day, just a new day,” he said. “OK, how are we going to get better today? … The result really isn’t the issue. You know, you don’t really focus on the results.”
I asked Brind’Amour what’s more important: sustained winning streaks or avoiding a skid?
“They’re both important,” he said. “But yeah, you definitely don’t want to trend in the wrong direction.”
3. It doesn’t get any easier Tuesday with the visit to the two-time defending champion Lightning. There are new faces in the Tampa Bay lineup, and Jon Cooper’s team will be without injured winger Nikita Kucherov and suspended defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. Former Hurricanes defenseman Frederik Claesson will play in place of Sergachev for the second straight game.
Even with the omissions, the Hurricanes know how dangerous the Lightning can be.
“They’ve been up there for the last two years,” said Hurricanes forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who played Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup Final last season when he was with the Canadiens.
Tampa Bay has points in five straight (4-0-1) and its power play has scored in three of the last four games after not scoring in six of the season’s first seven.
Carolina’s penalty kill imploded against the Panthers, allowing three goals on four power plays in the first period of the 5-2 loss.
“The PK is very fickle in the sense that your reads need to be spot on and your decision-making needs to be spot on,” Cole said. “If it’s not, you usually get scored on. It needs to be spot on every single time.”
Pesce is normally a key part of that unit, and he will miss his second straight game Tuesday in Tampa.
“Everyone needs to step up,” Cole said. “Everyone needs to fill those holes. No one’s going to step up and be Brett Pesce, but we need to step up and take his minutes and play his role and do a good job and win hockey games.
“Injuries aren’t an excuse to start losing hockey games. We obviously miss him, but we also need to win.”
It’s also worth watching the Lightning’s penalty kill, specifically emerging shorthanded threat Mathieu Joseph.
One final thing on the Lightning’s special teams: No player plays more of his team’s shorthanded ice time than Tampa Bay defenseman Ryan McDonagh. He has been on the ice for 67.7% of the Lightning’s PK time — 4% more than any other player in the league. Comparatively, Jaccob Slavin leads Carolina at 55%. The Lightning’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — whom Cole played with in Colorado and called “a very passionate, emotional Frenchman. And I say that in the best way possible” — is first among the league’s forwards at 54.4%.
4. The Lightning are one of just three teams against which Frederik Andersen has a losing record in his career. The Carolina goalie is 5-10-1 in 16 regular season starts against Tampa Bay with an .880 save percentage and 3.74 goals-against average — all his worst numbers against any team.
One small sliver of positivity: Andersen has won two of his last three against the Bolts.
Andersen also has a losing record against San Jose (6-8-1) and St. Louis (5-6-3). He beat the Maple Leafs, his former team, earlier this season to improve to 2-2-1 against Toronto.
5. Speaking of goalies, Antti Raanta returned to Raleigh after being hurt following a collision with Panthers forward Ryan Lomberg in Saturday’s loss to Florida, and Carolina recalled journeyman Alex Lyon.
Lyon, a former Yale goaltender, had spent his entire five-year professional career in the Philadelphia organization, playing 22 games with the Flyers over the last four seasons. Whereas the Hurricanes went to rookie Alex Nedeljkovic last year when injuries struck — with a lot of success — Lyon, 28, has been a No. 3 goalie during much of his career.
“I remember when he was coming out of college, we were trying to get him,” Brind’Amour said of his familiarity with Lyon. “But I haven’t seen him play much. So, I guess, a lot of unknowns when it comes to that. I know his personality. He’s been around this year for training camp, and he’s a perfect fit for what we do. He works really hard. He’s been around, so he gets that role, understands it.”
If Raanta remains out — Brind’Amour did not have an update on his status Monday — Lyon could very well get a start on Friday or Saturday when Carolina plays home games on back-to-back nights. One of those opponents? The Flyers on Friday.
Brind’Amour has started Andersen in nine of his team’s 10 games so far, so playing him on consecutive nights — even with two off days on either side of the set — seems unlikely. The coach has not been concerned with overworking Andersen, who came into this season averaging more than 49 games in his previous eight NHL seasons and has played more than 60 games in a season three times in his career. The injury to Raanta hasn’t altered Brind’Amour’s thinking on Andersen’s workload.
“It doesn’t really change, to be honest,” Brind’Amour said. “I think we have a plan. When we need Freddie to get a rest, regardless of who our other goalie is. I don’t think it’s going to change at all.”