One of the most talked about story lines in the world of Hurricanes hockey throughout the season's opening month of October and into early November was undoubtedly the continued and worsening struggles of Carolina's former fifth overall pick, Elias Lindholm.
The worries over Lindholm's poor play were certainly not without good reason. In his second year in the league last season, Lindholm posted 17 goals, 22 assists, and 39 points in 81 games. He generated 170 shots on goal, which was good for more than two per game.
Given numbers like that, it was widely expected by many (myself included) that Lindholm was on the verge of a considerable offensive breakout this season, but what we actually saw as the season opened up was pretty much the worst case scenario from the Swedish right winger. But was Lindholm actually as bad as his stat line suggested he was, or was he suffering, like much of the team, from a case of tough puck luck? The answer to that question is a little bit of both. Let's take a closer look at the numbers.
Lindholm's First 16 Games
As alluded to earlier, Lindholm got off to a borderline disastrous start to the season, but while the results weren't there, his overall game was not as bad as some made it out to be. It was far from good, to be certain, but the aspects of his game that were absent were largely fixable things that would prove to correct themselves with a bit of effort and patience.
According to war-on-ice.com, here are a few numbers from Lindholm's first 16 games. In terms of individual scoring chances, the forward generated 16 of them in that stretch. A mark of just one per game doesn't sound that great, but his start and end to that stretch were actually very solid. For Lindholm, it was a seven game stretch from the game at Washington to the home game against Colorado (which he left early with an injury) in which he was at his worst, as he generated just two scoring chances in that run of games. The nine games that surround that run saw Lindholm generate 14 scoring chances, which is a much better mark.
His complete game also wasn't in too bad of a place at the time. Lindholm's scoring chance plus/minus (not a great measure, but miles better than goal-centric plus/minus) sat at a respectable +18 in those 16 games.
None of this is to entirely defend the way Lindholm played in those first 16 games. He was doing enough out there to not be completely inept and to put up solid underlying numbers, but the little things that are sometimes necessary to translate those scoring chances into actual goals just weren't there. Lindholm tallied just one point, a goal in the 4-1 loss to Florida, in this rough patch.
Lindholm's Last 8 Games
With a whole lot of the little things in his game needing work, Lindholm took a clear and convincing step forward with a goal in the Hurricanes' home game against Philadelphia on November 14th. Following that game were two in which Lindholm didn't record a point, but the game after began a point streak that the man who is turning 21 years of age today is still on.
He's been an absolutely dominant force in these last eight games. He's generated 18 individual scoring chances on his own accord, which you'll note is more than he came up with in the previous 16 games. That's helped along by his absolutely stellar effort on Monday night against the Rangers, as Lindholm generated six scoring chances on his own. While he wasn't able to convert any of those into goals (you can thank Henrik Lundqvist for that), he did get the primary assist on Victor Rask's late second period tally that made the game somewhat interesting again.
To put things in terms of what he's actually done differently on the ice, you don't have to look too awful hard to see what Lindholm has done differently from his earlier run of poor form. His coach Bill Peters has said that he's skating better and harder out there, and the eye test certainly backs that up in my mind. He's been notably more assertive on his zone entries, and his aggression on the forecheck has beautifully complemented his line mate Rask's strong positional play and general hockey smarts.
It's those types of little things that take a player from averaging one scoring chance per game to averaging over two, and along with some puck luck, it can make up some of the difference between one point in 16 games and six points in eight games. Lindholm's continued strong performance is going to be vital to the Hurricanes' success as a team this year and beyond. Here's hoping that this eight game run is much more indicative of what we can expect from Lindholm than the struggle-ridden stretch that preceded it.