When Jaccob Slavin played more than 21 minutes in the Carolina Hurricanes’ Game 1 win over the Nashville Predators a week ago, it certainly seemed like the nagging “lower body” injury that had made their best defenseman a day-to-day concern would not be an issue going forward.
It’s been the opposite. Slavin did not play in Game 4 on Sunday, the third straight game he’s missed, and with all the penalties the Hurricanes had to kill in games 2 and 3 and Game 3 going to double overtime before the Hurricanes lost — the second-longest game in Hurricanes history — circumstances have not exactly been conducive to papering over the absence of the minute-munching defenseman.
“Obviously it becomes more of a factor when we’re missing Jaccob Slavin, that’s a big deal,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said before the game Sunday. “At times, that matchup there, obviously we don’t have anybody to replace that. That can be an issue, certainly, but I thought our guys have hung in there.”
Brind’Amour has said nothing happened in Game 1 to prolong Slavin’s absence and said again Sunday he still hoped the Hurricanes would get Slavin back sooner rather than later, but he thought that before the previous two games as well.
“That’s why I was saying he was day-to-day,” Brind’Amour said. “Because I was hoping any day he’d say ‘Yeah, I have that feeling.’ It just hasn’t happened. …
“We’re pretty clear on it. We know what’s going on. He’s just got to feel good. He’s got to feel like he can play. He just doesn’t feel like that yet. We always say a player’s got to feel good about his game before he can get in there otherwise he’s just not going to be effective.”
Maxime Lajoie, who played 16 solid minutes in his Hurricanes and NHL playoff debut, remained in the lineup as Slavin’s replacement.
After stopping 103 of 110 shots in the first three games of the series, the Hurricanes went back to rookie goalie Alex Nedejkovic for the start in Game 4. There’s no question Nedeljkovic has earned the right to stay in net, but the way the Hurricanes have rotated goalies this season, it’s the first time Nedelkjovic has started four consecutive games in his NHL career. He played three straight from April 20-24 against Tampa Bay and Florida, winning twice and losing the third in overtime despite stopping 32 of 36 shots.
Brind’Amour said Saturday the Hurricanes would take a long look at how Nedeljkovic fared, mentally and physically, after Friday’s marathon loss, and wouldn’t hesitate to go to Petr Mrazek if he thought it was the right move.
“That’s kind of how we’ve looked at it all year and why we’ve always kind of rotated or didn’t overwork a guy,” Brind’Amour said earlier this week. “I would hope that because we did that all year it gives us a little bit more flexibility or freedom. If we’d have the opportunity to roll a guy, we could, because he didn’t get overworked during the regular season. But we always take it one game at a time.”
While Jordan Staal was fined $5,000 by the NHL on Saturday for his slew foot on Luke Kunin, Brind’Amour was not fined by the NHL for his comments about the officiating after Friday’s loss, Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell confirmed.
Under normal circumstances, nothing Brind’Amour said would normally incur a fine — there’s some latitude to complain about officiating decisions as long as the integrity of the officiating isn’t questioned — but he was under double-secret-probation after his $25,000 fine last August. That discipline — which the NHL imposed within three hours of Brind’Amour calling the league’s goal-review process “a joke,” carried with it the threat of another $25,000 “in the event of similar inappropriate behavior.”