It’s been five games since the start of the 2014-2015 season and the Carolina Hurricanes are the only team yet to manage a tally in the win column. Surprisingly though, the Buffalo Sabres are below them in the standings.
A slow start and facing adversity is nothing new to the Hurricanes. However, their previous struggles are nothing compared to the concerns currently at hand. The injury bug has not a helpful situation as Andrej Sekera, Jordan Staal, Eric Staal, Patrick Dwyer, John Michael-Liles, and Jeff Skinner have all found themselves out of the lineup for at least one game already. Thankfully Brad Malone was able to return to the bench against the Winnipeg Jets after a knee on knee collision with Mark Stuart in the first period Tuesday night.
With Jeff Skinner and Andrej Sekera’s presence back in the lineup, their hopes to secure their first win of the season against the Jets had better odds. However, their start early consisting of giving up 2 goals in 40 seconds not even 3 minutes into the first period took those odds back.
Despite their present situation, however, there are several positives to take from their recent play in contrast to last season progressing forward.
The dump-and-chase method became an identity for the Hurricanes. They didn’t have the stature or the aggressive forechecking to make it effective. In the words of Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise, "I get it, but you dump the puck, you have to get it back. All you're doing is giving the puck away. I mean, it's so hard to get it, why would you give it away?" he told the Star Tribune. It makes sense.
Once Bill Peters took the spot behind the bench this season, the dump-and-chase was no longer a primary method of offensive zone pressure. Like many offensively successful NHL teams- Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh- the game plan is skate the puck in the offensive zone while quickly and efficiently setting up the play or cycle.
While setting up on even strength is important, their production with the man-advantage has already appeared to make a big leap from last season. As of now, the Hurricanes sit 9th in the league on the power play converting 25% of their 20 opportunities. Last season they ranked 28th at 14.6%.
On the contrary, the penalty kill has room for improvement although they seemed to workout the kinks after a sub par showing in their first two games’ against the New York Islanders. The ‘Canes gave up 4 goals while shorthanded against the Islanders but haven’t allowed any since.
Chris Terry, the long time AHLer and Inline Hockey player, has recorded 3 goals, 2 assists, and the only shootout conversion of the Hurricanes’ season in five games. It appears Terry has finally built the confidence needed to play in the NHL. His soft hands and ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone has helped the Hurricanes possession in the offensive zone. He’s shown when carrying the puck he can make smart decisions and isn’t afraid to take a hit. Terry’s proven he earned a spot on the roster and while he continues to find himself in the right place at the right time, the only question is will he be able to produce consistently?
Face-offs are currently being dominated by the ‘Canes despite the departure of Manny Malholtra who lead the team in faceoff percentage last season. Leading the league at 57.4%, Riley Nashleads the team with 61.7% trailed by Jay McClemnt with 60.7%.
Although the Hurricanes haven’t gotten the results they may have anticipated, their recent effort as a whole has certainly had a positive impact and gives a positive outlook going forward.
However, the effort and hustle appears more noticeable without the key players in the lineup. If effort like this was given by the entire roster, maybe their situation would bode better.
Malkin's effort describes the type of work ethic given in recent contests by players who aren’t given
outrageous substantial contracts.
With Alex Semin in the lineup, his effort compared to the rest of the team isn’t parallel. He hasn’t stepped up to the plate without other key players in the lineup as one might anticipate. Several times he was caught slipping on defense and losing his man against the Rangers. He’s a sniper, why is he thinking pass first? Right now the Hurricanes need goal production from him and they know he’s more capable of making it happen.
Communication issues have also been an area to brush up on. The Hurricanes new tactic of bringing the puck through the neutral zone to the blue line by a defenseman and dropping it back to a forward to carry it in to the attacking zone still has some kinks to work out. Sekera played the role of puck carrier number one and dropped it back to Riley Nash who wasn’t ready for it.
The goalie situation is still a work in progress, but it appears Anton Khudobin’s performance and numbers gives him the edge to be the top goaltender. Unlike Cam Ward, Khudobin is relaxed in the crease and isn’t fazed by traffic in front of him. Ward still doesn’t have the Conn Smythe confidence we’ve seen in the past and soft goals are still an area of concern. Khudobin has a 2.64 goals against average and .912 save percentage over three games while Ward has a 3.87 goals against average and a .846 save percentage in just two.
Winnipeg came out Tuesday night angry and determined to win after losing four straight. So far the Hurricanes have shown no such aggravation.
The positives are hard to take into account because they’ve yet to come to fruition. Tlusty scores a hat trick and they still lose. The Hurricanes score first and they still lose in extra time. If they continue to work hard and play their game something good will come of it. Peters is still adjusting to his role and it’s still early, but going winless in five games doesn’t give the glass half full outlook they need.