It was the kind of play everyone in the arena sees, fans rave over and only the principals involved really understand.
And one that could have been avoided altogether, Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Monday.
In the 5-3 loss Saturday to the New Jersey Devils, Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin was “undressed” by forward Nico Hischier of the Devils -- at least, that’s the term that was used by several observers, TV and otherwise. Hischier, with the puck, went inside and then quickly outside against Slavin in the offensive zone and fired a top-shelf shot that beat goalie James Reimer early in the second period.
Nice play. As Slavin said Monday, “He was the No. 1 overall pick of the draft.”
The 2017 NHL Draft, that is. And the Devils recently gave the Swiss-born player a seven-year, $50.75 million contract.
But as Brind’Amour was quick to point out, Hischier scored because the Canes turned the puck over at the Devils’ blue line, leading to the transition score. With better puck management, it would not have happened.
The Canes’ Andrei Svechnikov made a good play to swipe the puck along the left wall. Moving to his right to cross the blue line, he tried to backhand a pass to Sebastian Aho, but the pass didn’t have much on it and Aho couldn’t corral the puck.
Devils defenseman Andy Greene poked it away from Aho, muscled past the Canes center and pushed the puck ahead to Hischier, who had not scored this season. Slavin reached for the puck near the top of the left circle, then had Hischier make his inside-outside move with the toe-drag.
“I have a different take on it,” Slavin said. “He tried to pass and I got a stick on it. I thought it went to the other side of me. That’s why I turned. There was a guy (Jesper Bratt) going backdoor and I thought (the puck) trickled through, so that’s when I turned, and it didn’t trickle through.
“At the end of the day you tip your cap to him. He made a skill play. It was a good shot.”
Canes’ puck management a concern
Slavin’s hand-eye coordination might be the best on the team, and he has made many a good stick play to deny passes and shots. He made several of them in the Devils game.
As for having it said he was “undressed” on the play, not something any defenseman wants to hear, Slavin can shake it off.
“It’s happened before in my career and it’s going to happen again,” he said. “Obviously when it ends in a goal it gets talked about more. Say that doesn’t end in a goal. We’re probably not talking about it today. It’s part of the game.”
Slavin recalled as a rookie, Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals pushed the puck between Slavin’s leg and got off a shot.
“I think my jock strap is still in the rafters,” he said. “It’s going to happen when you play against the best players in the world every night. It’s bound to happen.”
What’s a bigger concern for the Canes is their puck management. When they beat the Detroit Red Wings 7-3 on Friday, with 12 players picking up points, they were able to outscore their mistakes.
Not so against the Devils, who picked up their first road win of the season.
“If you look at a lot of the goals we give up, I feel like they start from not managing the puck very well,” Slavin said. “Whether that’s at our defensive blue line or at the offensive blue line, it seems like our neutral zone game is where we begin to give up a lot of chances from just not managing the puck well.
“For most part last year we were pretty good at playing to our strength, which is the same as this year and is our forecheck. We have to be sure at the blue line we’re getting pucks deep instead of trying guys one-on-one or guys trying to make a cute play at the blue line. We’ve got the skill to make those plays but it’s not in our best interest.”
Brind’Amour calls it the “fine line you run.” The Canes want to be aggressive, push up ice and score off the rush. But ...
“On the flip side, if it doesn’t go you’re creating offense for the other team,” he said. “That’s the fine line we need to get better at.”
‘We raised the bar around here’
Brind’Amour said Monday he has few complaints about the Canes’ 9-4-1 start. After Sunday’s games, the Canes were third in the Metropolitan Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference with 19 points.
There are questions about the availability of center Erik Haula, who leads the Canes with eight goals. Haula did not practice Monday and Brind’Amour said Haula is “battling a little hiccup” that could him to miss more practice time.
The Canes, after a four-game homestand, have a road game Tuesday in Philadelphia against the Flyers.
“We raised the bar around here, which I love,” Brind’Amour said. “The standard is we expect to win every night and we expect to play 60-minute games.
“There’s been holes at times. The other night is a perfect example. It really wasn’t a bad game. We had four shifts where we took a breath and they capitalized. If we can shore up that and keep improving we’ll be where we need to be.”