The Hurricanes play the second game of a five-game road trip Thursday when they visit the Pacific Division-leading Calgary Flames. The Flames will be playing in just their 10th home game of the season, having built their 15-6-5 record primarily with success on the road. While Calgary is just 4-2-3 at the Saddledome this year, the team is 11-4-2 away from home.
News from the infirmary: The Hurricanes officially have all their players out of the NHL’s COVID protocols after defensemen Brett Pesce and Tony DeAngelo were released on Wednesday.
The bad news is Carolina is playing in Canada and that places stricter requirements for border crossing. So Pesce and DeAngelo, who have already missed four games while in the protocol, will also skip tonight’s game along with the next two in Edmonton and Vancouver.
The plan is to have them join the team for the final game of the road trip in Minnesota on Tuesday.
“They’re able to skate and not just sit on the couch and then come into a game,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Wednesday. “The bad news is they should be playing. They’re free to play, but we can’t get them here.
“I think from their standpoint it’s frustrating, but I think it’s good that they’ll at least have been on the ice. You’re not worried about that major rust from not skating for a long, long time.”
Ethan Bear, who has only been back two games from his stay in the COVID protocol, did not take the morning skate Thursday because he was feeling ill, likely with a non-COVID-related bug tat has circulated through the team.
Now for the good news: the Hurricanes’ defensive call-ups have performed admirably. When Pesce and DeAngelo were first shelved, Carolina was also without Bear — who was patient zero of the Hurricanes’ outbreak. That meant Brind’Amour went from dressing seventh defenseman Brendan Smith to needing two more blueliners with all three of the team’s normal right-handed D out.
Enter Jalen Chatfield and Max Lajoie.
The Hurricanes and their followers had some familiarity with Lajoie, who was acquired in January from the Senators in exchange for Clark Bishop and pressed into duty in two games of the Nashville playoff series last year.
In three games this season, Lajoie has averaged 13:45 ice time with gaudy 67.07% possession numbers.
Chatfield — the undrafted 25-year-old Michigan native who before this year had spent all his career in the Vancouver organization, playing 18 games for the Canucks last season — has stood out in four games with the Hurricanes.
“He’s earned his ice time,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s clear. … He’s looked great from the start.”
Chatfield’s averaged 17 minutes a game and got his second career point when the rebound of his point shot was put in the net by Sebastian Aho in Tuesday’s 4-2 win in Winnipeg.
He is one of only two players, along with Antti Raanta, to play for the Hurricanes this season without having been drafted.
“I’ve kind of been an underdog most of my career,” Chatfield said Monday. “Even growing up. I didn’t play too high of a level. I started playing AAA when I was like 13, 14. I went undrafted in juniors and I got an opportunity to play in Windsor. I spent three great years there in a good organization, and I got to sign in Vancouver and started from there playing pro.”
The path to the NHL is tough for anyone, but it’s even harder for players who are low draft picks or undrafted like Chatfield.
“You gotta want it,” he said. “You want to be better than the next person. A lot of this stuff in life is mental, and hockey’s mental. I just try to go out there and just give it my all and play every game like it’s my last.”
Brind’Amour said he’s done exactly that.
“They understand that nothing’s gonna be given to them,” Brind’Amour said of Chatfield and players who have to earn their way through the ranks, “and so far he’s played like he wants to stay here and prove that he belongs.”
With Pesce and DeAngelo close to returning, both Lajoie and Chatfield will likely be headed back to the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. If they are needed again, Brind’Amour and the Hurricanes have to feel comfortable with what they can expect.
While we’re on the topic of familiarity, Thursday will be the fifth time former Hurricanes fifth overall picks Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin will play against the team that drafted them.
Hanifin has received more ice time in Calgary than he did during his time with Carolina, averaging nearly 21 minutes a game in three-plus seasons with the Flames with similar statistical results (83 points in 239 games with the Hurricanes vs. 79 points in 222 games with the Flames).
Lindholm, however, has blossomed since coming to Calgary.
The 27-year-old has nearly been a point-per-game player for the Flames, totaling 205 points — including 86 goals — in 233 games since coming to Calgary with Hanifin in the trade that sent Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox to Raleigh. That’s nearly double the per game offensive output Lindholm had during his time with Carolina (188 points in 374 games).
He has 26 points in 26 games so far this season and leads all Flames forwards in ice time at 20:09.
“I think I always knew (he) was just kind of scratching the surface when he was with us,” Brind’Amour said. “Young kid still learning the game and took big steps when he got a little mature, a little older, understanding the game, better understanding of the center position and all that stuff that you generally would expect from a kid that has a lot of talent.”
While many of the past Hurricanes who suffered through the team’s lean years have been greeted with, at minimum, courtesy from Carolina fans, Lindholm became a bit of a villain in Raleigh when he mocked the team’s Storm Surge in his first game back against his old team.
It’s been nearly two years since Lindholm played the Hurricanes, but Carolina’s players know what to expect from No. 28.
“He plays hard, plays tough … got a great shot and just plays the game the right way,” Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal said.
On top of Lindholm’s success, his line with Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk has been arguably the best in the NHL this year. Want proof? According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the trio has 19 goals for when on the ice at 5-on-5 vs. just three goals against, a whopping 86.36 goals for percentage. When none of those three are on the ice, Calgary has 27 goals for and 27 against.
Think of how well Aho and Teuvo Teravainen have played when together this season (72.73% GF in just over 164 minutes) and realize Calgary’s top line has been better than that with three players over nearly twice as much time (311:44).
The line also has a bit of everything. Lindholm has turned into a reliable two-way center, while Johnny Gaudreau has returned to form this season and Matthew Tkachuk remains one of the league’s peskiest power forwards.
“They use each other well, and they have a great balance of skill and physicality and speed and all those things,” Staal said of the line. “So that line is a very dangerous one, and Lindy’s a big part of that.”
Jim Rutherford is back in the game. The Vancouver Canucks, who dismissed GM Jim Benning and coach Travis Green on Sunday, hired the former Hurricanes and Penguins GM to be their president of hockey operations. The 72-year-old Rutherford, who led Carolina to the Stanley Cup in 2006 and then won back-to-back titles with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017, signed a three-year deal with the Canucks on Thursday, just days after the team hired Bruce Boudreau to replace Green.
The Hurricanes will play in Vancouver on Sunday.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Brind’Amour said of Rutherford reemerging with another team. “Jimmy’s been sitting out there and there’s these vacancies. Obviously he wanted to get back into the game, and no better guy to run a program.”