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The Curious Case of the Second Game on the Road

All three Canes losses have come in the second game of a two-game set on the road

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / Hurricanes.com

DALLAS - Through the first month of the 2020-21 regular season, a curious trend has developed in the NHL's Central Division.

In the second game of two-game sets, the visiting team has a paltry record of 3-15-5. Before Tampa Bay won in Nashville and Chicago won in Dallas on Feb. 9, that record was just 1-14-5.

The Carolina Hurricanes are 8-3-0, and all three of their losses have come in the second game of two-game sets on the road.

It's not as if the Canes haven't had a chance to win any of those games, either. With a bounce here or a more cohesive team game there, they could have easily flipped the script in Detroit, Chicago or Columbus.

"The second games haven't been our best games," Sebastian Aho said. "I feel like all three of those have been not the best of us, so we have to get our game going right away."

So, what is the reason for the trend? Why have the Canes been unable to sweep a two-game set on the road? Why has the Central Division, as a whole, struggled with it?

One factor could be the restrictions on the road, which limit players to their hotel rooms and the rink, more or less. There is much less socializing - save for masked, distanced gatherings inside the players' lounge or meals at assigned, distanced seats in the meal room - and activities are limited, especially compared to seasons past.

The Canes were scheduled to practice on Jan. 15 in Detroit, but after Jordan Staal was added to the COVID-19 Protocol list, those plans changed, and the team isolated at the hotel. The Canes then held a morning skate on Saturday and dropped a 4-2 decision that night, a game in which they were admittedly slow to establish their game for the first two periods.

"Sitting around the hotel is kind of tough on your legs when you're just laying in your room the whole day," Vincent Trocheck said.

The Canes practiced in Chicago in between games and opted out of the morning skate before the second game, which ended 6-4 in favor of the Blackhawks. With a back-to-back in Columbus, the Canes didn't hold a morning skate on the day of the second game, but they didn't have much time to lounge around the hotel, either - but that didn't make a difference in a 3-2 loss.

With a day in between games in Dallas, the Canes ventured out to practice on Friday. If nothing else, it's a rare opportunity to escape the hotel and do something.

"We're going and skating on these days we have in between games, and I think that helps," Trocheck said.

Another factor could be that the home team, especially if they lost the first game, comes out with a stronger push in the second. The Canes saw that in Detroit, a game in which the Red Wings put forth their best for 60 minutes. The Canes saw that in Chicago when the Blackhawks scored three power-play goals in the first period alone. The Canes saw that in Columbus when the Blue Jackets scored first and never trailed. What will the Canes see from the Stars on Saturday?

RECAP: CANES SHOOT DOWN STARS

"The team who loses the first game, they have a little extra and want to beat us. We have to be ready for that tomorrow," Aho said. "They'll make a big push, and I'm sure we'll be ready."

Another factor could be a mental roadblock of the visiting team playing with house money, so to speak, after winning the first game, content with a split in the two-game set.

It could also just be a statistical anomaly early in the season that won't be as noteworthy come late April, though it's certainly peculiar right now.

The answer is likely a murky concoction of all of the above, a mix of contributing factors with a unique schedule in a unique season to which players and teams are still adjusting.

Perhaps the Canes can begin to reverse the trend in Dallas on Saturday, as they round out a stretch of six straight games on the road. If they can sweep the series, which would be their second against the Stars this season, they'll move to 9-3-0 on the season and improve their points percentage to .750.

"We can't sit on cruise control just because we won the first one. We can't expect or hope to win another game. You know they're going to come out even harder with a better effort," Jordan Staal said. "I feel like we've let too many … on the road slip away from us. We've got to be even better next game and find ways to win both of the games and get the four points. That's how you move up in the standings."

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