Elias Lindholm (Andy Martin. Jr.)

When the Carolina Hurricanes (19-18-9) welcomed the Calgary Flames to town Monday night, it seemed a perfect opportunity to take advantage of a weak possession team who had flown across the continent, and to right the ship. Instead, it was two steps forward, two steps backward, as the ‘Canes were outworked for another 60 minutes by a hungrier team, suffering their second shutout in a row, this time 2-0.

The Flames, without second-leading scorer Michael Cammalleri, were driven by Mikael Backlund, who scored the game-winning goal after a flukey bounce wasn’t cleanly handled by Anton Khudobin.

If it felt like Backlund was everywhere, it’s because he pretty much was. His 20:05 of ice-time was second only to Lee Stempniak among all forwards on either team. He was blocking shots, creating both plays and turnovers, and, most importantly, getting pucks to the net. The impressive two-way play is something the Hurricanes hope they will eventually see from their own young Swede.

Prior to the draft where he was taken 5th overall, Elias Lindholm was touted as an elite center at both ends of the ice. But watch one game of his, and it’s easy to see where his strengths and weaknesses currently lie.

Though the 19-year-old was deemed NHL-ready, his stringbean frame is easily muscled off the puck, and any hit taken feels as though it’s delivered with a sickening crunch. On the other hand, his game-breaking ability is dynamic, and he already has a pair of three-point outings in his young career.

Lindholm’s play is far from polished, however, and lacks a lot of what makes Backlund so valuable. Backlund’s ability to possess the puck starts with a far superior faceoff percentage — Lindholm is winning just 41% of his draws this year — and concludes with directing shots attempts at the net, where he leads his countryman 153 to 35.

In all, Calgary attempted 24 shots while Backlund was on the ice. Carolina, just 12 with Lindholm.

“Games like tonight, you’ve gotta have a shooting mentality,” said Kirk Muller. “Your time closes pretty quick.”

The Hurricanes have endured a gaping hole at third-line center all season — Lindholm has oscillated between the wing and the middle — and it was very evident against the Flames. Riley Nash took no shifts in the final 22:45 and the Canes won just three draws by centers not named Staal or Malhotra.

“We don’t play for four days, so we kind of went more of a three-line mindset, shortened the bench. No sense in saving anything.”

While Lindholm may one day become the player that Backlund is, it’s clear he’s not there yet. Until he is, something needs to change the bottom six. The 12-14 minute role hasn’t been adequately filled by committee, and no centers have been knocking on the door in Charlotte.

Maybe that help will come from outside the organization. Maybe from Mikael Backlund himself. He’s already in the area.

About The Author

Andrew Luistro graduated from Appalachian State University. An avid sports fan, he began beat writing for the Sunbelt Hockey Journal, part of The Hockey Writers Network, with a focus on the Carolina Hurricanes. Andrew also actively follows the Boston Red Sox and Carolina Panthers, among other teams. Follow him on Twitter @ndrewL7

4 Responses

  1. mach2que

    ndrewL7 i’m getting the feeling that Backlund is off the table for us these days. I’m sure Calgary wants to keep him now.

  2. ndrewL7

    It’s the most wonderful time of year. RT mach2que: ndrewL7 At least Curling starts in a few weeks!