When the season began for the Carolina Hurricanes last Thursday in Winnipeg, the expectations outside the team were that they would be a scrappy bunch who would be in the playoff hunt all season, but probably fall just short. After three games, it’s easy to see why. Thus far, Carolina has proven to be an inconsistent group, unable to put together a full 60 minutes of hockey. Unfortunately, that means the list of things that are working is just as long as the list of things that aren’t.
Three things that have gone well:
- Scoring – This hasn’t been an issue for the Canes, as they scored four goals in the loss to the Jets and another three in the loss to the Canucks. In fact, Carolina built a three-goal lead in each game before ultimately falling in overtime. Their three goals per game average puts them 16th in the league, but anytime you can score at least three a game, you have a good chance to win.
- The Top Line – Bill Peters’ top line of Lee Stempniak, Victor Rask and Jeff Skinner is clearly a good combination. Through the first three games, they have six goals and seven assists between them. In fact, it was their play (they were the only line that scored) that allowed Carolina to almost come back from a three-goal deficit against Edmonton, before ultimately losing 3-2.
- Special Teams – The Power Play is clicking, as the Canes are third in the NHL with a 37.5 percent conversion rate. Seven players have tallied points with the man advantage, led by Justin Faulk and Sebastian Aho with two assists apiece, and the Canes have found success parking Bryan Bickell in front of the opposition net. They are also handling penalty kills well, having killed off nine penalties while only allowing a total of nine shots on ten power plays against.
Three things that need improvement:
- Defense – In the two overtime losses to Winnipeg and Vancouver, the Canes built three-goal leads, but couldn’t hold them. Their defensemen have a combined -8 rating, and opposing teams have been able to move the puck around the offensive zone with little interference from anyone in a Hurricanes jersey. The Canes are hoping that the addition of Jakub Nakladal, who joined the team in Vancouver, will strengthen the unit.
- Goaltending – Against the Jets, Cam Ward only saved 21 of 26 shots. His .808 save percentage was ten points below his career average. Peters tried to get things going by turning to Eddie Lack in Vancouver, and while he had his moments against his former team, his save percentage (.871) wasn’t good enough to get the win. Ward was better against the Oilers, stopping 25 of 28 and only allowing one goal after the first period, but his inability to stand tall early, allowing a goal less than two minutes into the game, was an issue.
- Inability to Play With a Lead – In two of their first three games, they raced out to three-goal leads before falling in overtime. They were outshot 13-5 in the third period against the Canucks and half of the Jets’ 26 shots came in the third period. If the Hurricanes are going to continue building leads early in games, they have to learn to play with that lead and keep their foot on the gas, even when the opposing team fights back. This was an issue that arose in the preseason and must be corrected for the Canes to start winning games.
Even though they are 0-1-2 on the season, they have managed to earn two points, halfway through a six-game road trip to start the season. This team's hopes lie with their youth and it’s going to take time to get to where they want to be. The good news is there is time, and the advantage of home ice down the road, to turn things around, but the Canes must find a way to play a full 60 minutes if that is going to happen.