Fourteen seconds. That’s how long it took Carolina Hurricanes defensemen Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce to have an impact Friday against Vancouver.
After the Canucks won the opening faceoff, Slavin forced a turnover in the neutral zone. Pesce, jumping into the rush in transition, took a pass from Jordan Staal and scored with a shot that hit the post.
Fourteen seconds into the game and there were hugs and smiles on the ice at PNC Arena. The Canes were on their way to a 4-1 victory and Pesce was named the game’s first star.
It wasn’t that long ago that Slavin sat back in the Canes’ locker room and offered a tough assessment of himself. Looking at his third NHL season, asked to rate his play, Slavin said, “It’s been OK.”
Just OK? Many consider Slavin the Canes’ best D-man. Some were surprised that Noah Hanifin, not Slavin, was chosen to represent the Canes in the 2018 NHL All-Star Game as the Metropolitan Division needed a defenseman for its roster.
“I think my first two seasons were much better,” Slavin said. “I was not getting scored on as much. This year it seems I keep getting scored on.”
In a nine-game span that began Jan. 6 with a 7-1 road loss to the Boston Bruins, the Canes kept getting scored on, allowing 35 goals in going 3-6-0.
Slavin had a minus-10 rating in the nine games, his plus/minus falling to minus-15 for the season — that from a player who was plus-23 last season, tied with Pesce for the team lead and ranking among the top 10 defensemen in the league.
“I don’t think I can pinpoint exactly what’s going on,” Slavin said. “There are things I can do about it. I’ve gone over the video with the coaches and stuff like that. Just work as hard as you can every time I’m out there and give 100 percent on every shift.”
No one on the Canes gets more playing time than Slavin, who has averaged 22:47 of ice time in the first 55 games of the season. No one has blocked more shots — his 119 blocks are 40 more than Pesce, who’s second on the team.
It takes a toll and Slavin was ready for the Canes’ five-day bye week in January. He and his wife, Kylie, spent the time in Miami, resting, taking in some sun.
“Ate some good food, played a little spikeball,” he said.
And it also may have helped that Slavin didn’t go to the All-Star Game two weeks ago in Tampa, Fla. The Slavins spent time with Kylie’s sister and family in Illinois.
The Canes returned from the break for an eight-game homestand and no one played very well in losses to Detroit and then San Jose. Canes coach Bill Peters said the effort was “unacceptable” against the Sharks and had other harsh comments, words that stung.
The Canes were better Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers, albeit in a 2-1 overtime loss. Pesce’s quick score Frisay was the start of a three-goal first period against Vancouver, which played Thursday and had leading scorer Brock Boeser, a dynamic rookie forward who has 26 goals, out with injury.
Peters often used Slavin and Pesce with his top line of Staal, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. Slavin, playing his 200th career game, had a stretch pass to Aho that led to a breakaway and the Canes’ third goal in the first period, all even-strength scores.
“A little bit of desperation,” Pesce said of the scoring burst. “We’ve got to do a good job, just finding a way, no matter how we do it.”
To reach the playoffs, the Canes will need their best defensive pair to consistently be at their best. Peters, at times, has split up Slavin and Pesce but not for long, and both were plus-2 against the Canucks.
One point out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference heading into Saturday’s game against Colorado, the Canes (25-21-9) need to string together wins.
“It’s all in our hands and how we play,” Slavin said. “We have a lot of opportunity ahead of us and we have to make the most of it.”