This was originally going to be a piece detailing how well Andrei Svechnikov was playing for the Carolina Hurricanes in his first NHL post-season. Then, Alex Ovechkin knocked Svechnikov out cold in a fight on Monday and the rookie will miss Game 4 with a concussion.
In the aftermath of the fight, however, something happened. Already leading 1-0 on a Warren Foegele goal before Ovechkin and Svechnikov threw down, Carolina proceeded to win Game 3 on the backs of its depth and defensemen. Foegele scored his second goal in the next frame, marking the first two post-season goals of his young career. Dougie Hamilton grabbed a pair of goals on the power play. Brock McGinn iced the 5-0 victory, the franchise's first since 2009, back when current Canes coach Rod Brind'Amour was sitting on the bench, not patrolling it.
The contribution from the bottom-sixers and rearguards is a great development for Carolina, who wasn't able to keep pace with Washington's offense through the first two games of the first-round series. And with injuries taking Svechnikov and top-six scorer Micheal Ferland (upper-body) out of action, the Hurricanes will need to continue to rely on those further down the lineup to produce.
But you know who else could pick up the slack in the absence of Svechnikov and Ferland? Carolina's top line of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Nino Niederreiter, which has yet to make noise. Through three games, Aho has a goal and an assist, Teravainen has a lone helper and Niederreiter has zeroes beside his name.
The lack of production from the Hurricanes' top forwards is puzzling. Teravainen had 33 points in his final 32 games and Aho and Niederreiter had 26 points each in that span. Aho's 83-point season was the second-highest point total in Hurricanes history behind Eric Staal, and Teravainen wasn't far behind with 76 points.
However, they've been fairly ineffective in the post-season. The three top shooters on the Hurricanes are defensemen Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin and Justin Faulk, who have combined for 30 shots through three games. Teravainen, Aho and Niederreiter have combined for 22. Furthermore, Teravainen, Aho and Niederreiter have only combined for five high-danger chances and 15 scoring chances at five-a-side. And when Foegele and McGinn not only have more goals but have combined for more high-danger chances (11) and the same number of scoring chances as the guys you pay to score – while playing significantly fewer minutes, too – that's not a good sign.
Is the trio's lack of production a result of a tough matchup? Very possibly, since Carolina's top line met Washington's main trio in 67 percent of Game 1 and 49 percent of Game 2. Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson is faster, stronger, and not afraid to force you to play along the boards. And when you look at defensive matchups, Teravainen's expected goals-for per 60 against third-pair D-man Brooks Orpik, whom he has played against in just over 10 minutes in the series, is 6.02, compared to 3.83 in 19 minutes against No. 1 defenseman John Carlson, with Niederreiter and Aho posting similar numbers. Clearly, the line would thrive more against any line other than Ovechkin's and Washington's slower, more physical third-defensive pairing, so getting more aggressive with the final line change is vital.
The Hurricanes do have the momentum from Monday's victory heading into Game 4, but the home team still enters the contest down a game. That Carolina has had so much help from the depth of the lineup is a positive, but can you rely on Foegele, McGinn and the blueline to pull their weight every night? Even if it's just lighting it up on the power play – where the team is already scoring at 23.1 percent, but the production is coming from Hamilton and Jordan Staal – the team needs the spark that the top line can bring. Goaltender Petr Mrazek has done everything in his power the past few months to keep the Hurricanes in games, and the team's defense core hasn't been an issue.
But if Carolina is going to pull the upset, it needs it's three top scorers to step up. Because while the Canes' depth guys have come through so far, they need some production from the big guns.
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