Hockey is, above all else, a game of mistakes. The Carolina Hurricanes were reminded of that Thursday in Toronto.
“You hit the nail on the head. Not much more to say about it,” Vincent Trocheck said when asked if Carolina’s 3-2 loss to the Maple Leafs was a case of the Hurricanes’ few miscues winding up in their net.
The Hurricanes also struggled to finish their chances. Some of that was Erik Kallgren, winning his second game in net in as many NHL starts and slowly becoming the Maple Leafs’ goalie savior.
But most of it was Carolina’s inability to score.
The chances came early — a Brady Skjei opportunity in front that rolled away from him — and often for the Hurricanes. Skjei had a near-mirror chance to start the second period, and captain Jordan Staal loudly rang the post near the game’s midway point.
“We’ve got to capitalize on our chances, which we didn’t,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said, “and then it magnifies mistakes you make.”
Those mistakes proved to be enough for Toronto, which was outshot three-to-one in the first 15 minutes of the game but got on the scoreboard first and never looked back.
The Maple Leafs came in on the rush after Carolina lost the puck in the offensive zone, and Ilya Mikheyev flipped a backhand at the net that caught Frederik Andersen (18 saves) leaning the other way for his 12th goal of the season at 15:48 of the opening period.
The Leafs doubled their lead in the second period when John Tavares chipped a puck past Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin, springing Mitch Marner for a scoring chance. Marner came up the wing and shot far side under Andersen’s blocker at 4:39 of the second period to extend the Maple Leafs’ lead to 2-0.
The Hurricanes didn’t dent Kallgren (35 saves) until 4:09 into the third period when defenseman Ethan Bear jumped into the slot and one-timed a blocked Jesper Fast shot to halve Toronto’s lead.
“We always want to be in front of our guys and let our offense come from solid defense,” said Bear, whose goal was his fourth of the season and second in four games. “I think (the defensemen are) all pretty good players … but as soon as we take care of our own end and defense first, we will get those opportunities.”
Any momentum Carolina could have built from Bear’s goal was extinguished when Andrei Svechnikov was penalized for high sticking in the offensive zone on the following shift. While the Hurricanes’ top-ranked penalty kill stopped Toronto’s No. 1 power play, another mistake wound up in Carolina’s net.
Defenseman Ian Cole’s pass from the Carolina end was stolen, and when Cole tried to minimize his mistake by pressuring Alex Kerfoot just outside the Hurricanes zone, the Leafs came in on a 2-on-1. Alex Nylander’s saucer pass was on the mark and converted by Ondrej Kase to restore Toronto’s two-goal lead with just under 13 minutes left in the game.
A Hurricanes power play near the midway point of the third period came up empty, completing an 0-for-3 night.
“I think it’s a matter of us just getting more pucks to the net and maybe playing a little bit simpler,” Trocheck said of the power play, which has now gone four games without a goal. “It’s something that we really need to figure out here shortly before the playoffs start.”
The Hurricanes pulled Andersen with about three minutes remaining and did score at 6-on-5, but Trocheck’s goal came with just under four seconds left in the game and served as nothing more than window dressing in the team’s second straight loss.
“We just didn’t score,” Brind’Amour said. “If you score, I mean, the first shift of the game we have an empty net, first shift in a second there’s an empty net — great save. It’s just we’ve got to capitalize on those. If you don’t, a good team is going to make you pay. And that’s what happened.
Notes: Jordan Martinook left the game in the third period after an awkward fall in the corner. Brind’Amour didn’t have an update but said “it didn’t look good.” … Sebastian Aho had just one shot attempt and no shots on goal, and his five-game point and three-game goal streaks were snapped. … The Hurricanes were called for just one penalty and have now had three or fewer penalties in each of their last five games.