The Hurricanes are back in action Thursday after three days without a game, the final this season they’ll have that amount of downtime. From now until the regular season finale April 28 at PNC Arena against the Devils, the games will be coming from every angle.
There are plenty of subplots to the game in Toronto. It will be the second this season for Carolina in the “Center of the Hockey Universe,” but it will be the first with a full building of fans. That will make for a special night for a couple of Hurricanes.
And then there’s the trade deadline, which is Monday at 3 p.m. but already has teams making moves and countermoves in preparation for the stretch run and postseason.
There’s plenty to unpack.
1. When it comes to the Hurricanes and the deadline, the main buzz has surrounded Carolina’s defense. The good news is it looks like its back to full health.
Brendan Smith has been cleared to play after suffering a broken skull when he was struck by a puck on Feb. 20 at Pittsburgh. Smith still hasn’t regained full hearing in his left ear, but he said doctors have assured him it will gradually return and won’t require surgery. He compared it to not being able to pop your ear at high altitudes.
I wouldn’t expect Smith to look any different out there despite the scary injury.
“I only know one way to play,” Smith said. “My wife had some conversations with me about that, but I’ll be out there blocking shots and stuff. Nothing’s going to change. My game doesn’t change.”
One change will be a bit of extra protection to guard the spot where he fractured his skull.
More than anything, I’m happy to see him up, about and returning to action. The media doesn’t get much one-on-one time with players these days because of the closed locker room, but Smith has proven himself to be one of the good guys during his brief time in Raleigh and you can’t help but root for guys like that.
2. And then there’s Tony DeAngelo, who will be a game-time decision after suffering an oblique injury in Philadelphia the day after Smith’s scary injury.
The Hurricanes went 6-2-1 in the nine full games DeAngelo missed, averaging 2.44 goals per game and going 6 for 25 (24.0%) on the power play in his absence. The power play remained nearly as effective, but the overall goal production dropped nearly a goal with DeAngelo out of the lineup.
That’s not a surprise — eight of DeAngelo’s nine goals have come at even strength, and he has one more assist (16) on even terms than on the PP (15).
So perhaps getting back an offensive threat like DeAngelo and a gritty defender like Smith — the two blue line attributes that have been most mentioned when it comes to the Hurricanes and the deadline — means Carolina won’t dip its toe into the trade market.
“I think it’ll start heating up more and more the next few days, but I don’t see us doing too much stuff, so I’m not too concerned,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Thursday.
3. One person who is happy with the defense? Tim Gleason. The first-year assistant managed his group through the injuries and maintained the league’s best penalty kill. He’s satisfied with who he has on hand.
“We have no question marks on our D corps, and our depth is pretty solid,” Gleason said, specifically pointing to the positive play of Jalen Chatfield during the injuries.
Gleason, however, is still aware of how quickly things can change at the deadline.
“If there’s something out there that helps, that’s something that the people upstairs can take care of,” he added.
Gleason was a notoriously tough defenseman during his playing days, but he’s soft-spoken with both the media and his players. That doesn’t mean his players are unaware of what he’s capable of.
“Maybe it’ll come out, but I hope not,” defenseman Brady Skjei said Wednesday. “I’ve seen some highlights, and I don’t know if you want to see that.”
Jordan Staal, who also played with Gleason, referred to him as “The Bear” when reminiscing about his former teammate.
“The guys smell his competitive drive right away, and it’s contagious,” Staal said. “He’s another guy that’s always willing to give whatever he can no matter what it is to the group, and I think that’s why the guys, especially the D corps back there, love him.”
Brind’Amour agreed that Gleason the coach is different than Gleason the player.
“He’s actually pretty low-key and very quiet,” Brind’Amour said while breaking into a big smile. “He gets fired when he’s doing his teaching addresses the team, the defense especially, but not to the level of how he played.
“It’s a good thing,” he added with a smirk.
4. Reunion No. 1 on Thursday will be Frederik Andersen making his second start in Toronto since leaving the Maple Leafs. The first was played in a mostly empty building, so this one will be different.
“I feel like they appreciated the time I was here for,” Andersen said of the fans after Thursday’s morning skate, “and we’ll see what happens when the whole rink is filled up. I’m just excited to be back playing.”
While Andersen keeps everything pretty close to the vest, it’s not hard to imagine he’ll be ready to go against his former team.
“He won’t tell you guys, but I think he’s gonna want to play one of his best games here and we’re gonna play for him,” Skjei said. “It’s just another game, but obviously it means a little more for him and we all know that going into it.”
One wonders if the Toronto faithful will have a “don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” moment with Andersen since the Leafs goaltending has been in shambles since the calendar flipped to 2022.
Jack Campbell struggled and then got hurt, and former Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek has cratered with an .852 save percentage and 4.85 goals-against average in four March appearances.
Enter 25-year-old Swede Erik Kallgren, who will make his second career NHL start after posting a 35-save shutout over Dallas on Tuesday. Kallgren was a seventh-round pick of Arizona in 2015, taken 183rd overall.
That leads us to our final note…
5. Drafted three picks after Kallgren? Steven Lorentz, who will play in his 100th career NHL game Thursday and do so in front of a full Toronto crowd for the first time. That will include his parents, girlfriend and about 50 friends.
“I grew up coming to these games and, obviously, since I was a little guy I was a Leafs fan,” Lorentz said Thursday. “I think the coolest thing may be just to be able to know that my dad’s up there. He kind of showed me the ropes, turned me into a Leafs fan at a young age, and just being able to know that he’s here watching me, as proud as ever, is probably one of the coolest things.”
Lorentz grew up in Waterloo, about 90 minutes west from Toronto, and played for the Waterloo Wolves before spending his entire OHL career with the Peterborough Petes, 90 minutes in the other direction from Scotiabank Arena.
He said he’s converted some of his friends into Hurricanes fans but there are also could be some Wolves and Petes sweaters cheering him on in the stands. Back home, things are still Toronto blue.
“I haven’t really changed my childhood bedroom a whole lot,” Lorentz said. “There’s still a big Leafs — you know, my mom painted the rink on the wall, and I’ve got posters and stuff everywhere. … The room hasn’t changed much, and I still have that little kid inside of me that still just loves playing.
“I hope we don’t hear the goal horn too many times tonight, but once upon a time I was a pretty happy kid every time I went off.”
The goal horn will have to be replaced with pockets of cheers if Lorentz scores tonight, and the 25-year-old has had his share of success in games against Toronto.
He played earlier this season in the mostly empty Feb. 7 game, registering an assist, and he also scored against the Leafs at PNC Arena on Oct. 25. That goal was the eventual game-winner in a 4-1 win.
He’s also scored professionally in Toronto. His only playoff goal in the Charlotte Checkers’ run to the Calder Cup in 2019 came In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Marlies. Lorentz scored the winning goal 18 seconds into the second period, redirecting a Stelio Mattheos shot to break a 1-1 tie in a 4-1 win. The Checkers closed out the series in Game 6 —Lorentz had an assist and had points in all three games he played in that series — before beating Carolina’s current AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, in five games to win the Calder Cup.
For those keeping score, Lorentz has four goals, three assists and seven points in nine career professional games against Toronto teams, including points in both his NHL games against the Leafs.
Set your FanDuel lineups appropriately.