As the Hurricanes navigate down the stretch drive hoping to climb back into the playoff picture, they’ll have to do so without Jamie McBain
for a considerable amount of time.
Following an MRI on Monday, the team learned that McBain, a 23-year-old rookie defenseman, would miss 3-4 weeks with a shoulder injury. Taken literally, the best-case scenario of that time frame would have him return for the final three games of the regular season. Another week would put him close to the start of the playoffs, should the Canes qualify.
The news doesn’t come at a best time for a team looking to jump-start a struggling power play and offense in general. McBain ranks third among team defenseman in ice time on the man advantage behind Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo. In his stead, power-play ice time for more defensive-minded defensemen in Jay Harrison and Derek Joslin has gone up, with Harrison playing 3:24 against Columbus on Saturday.
Joslin, who had been a healthy scratch for the past five games, will be the biggest beneficiary of McBain’s absence. Coach Paul Maurice had been hoping to get the 23-year-old back in the lineup regardless, with the dressing of seven defensemen a possibility.
“We’re not expecting the same kind of offensive game with Jamie, but we’re not expecting a drop-off in our defensive game with Joslin,” said Maurice.
Joslin played just under 17 minutes against Columbus, including 2:36 on the power play and 3:36 on the penalty kill. He was the only Hurricanes player to post a positive plus/minus rating at +1. In four games with Carolina following February’s trade from San Jose, Joslin is a healthy +4.
For McBain to play meaningful games once healthy, the Canes will need to reverse a trend of four consecutive games without a win, beginning with Tuesday’s important contest in Buffalo. Since the Hurricanes’ overtime win in the team’s previous meeting on March 2, the Canes have earned just one point while the Sabres, who have played two more games, have taken eight. They now sit in seventh place, four points ahead of ninth-place Carolina.
“It’s a great big game with huge implications,” said Maurice. “I think you’re going to see both teams’ best.”
Other than finishing offensive chances both on the power play and even strength, Maurice believes that the Canes haven’t been far from that despite having nothing to show from their past three games. Throwing out Derek MacKenzie’s empty-net goal on Saturday, they’ve allowed just seven goals in their last three games while registering 30 or more shots.
Prior to that stretch, the Canes had hit the 30-shot mark just five times in 16 games since the All-Star break. Their 41-shot effort in Washington last Friday was the fourth time this season they’d posted 40 or more.
“The interesting part of our last three games is that we’ve generated more offense than we have in a long time and yet the pucks aren’t in the back of the net,” said Maurice, whose team has scored just five over that span. “We’re aware of a little more motion in the offensive zone and some quickness of pucks to the net, but there’s probably more that we like in our game in the last three than we don’t like.”