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Carolina Hurricanes Thoughts: Road Trip Edition

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Inspired by Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts column, we take a deep dive into the Canes' performance in their season-opening six-game road trip.

Carolina Hurricanes v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images

Some things never change. The annual NC State Fair road trip has, once again, burned the Carolina Hurricanes and put them on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff bubble.

It’s still early. With 76 games remaining in the 2016-17 campaign, the Canes have more than enough time to right their wrongs and turn this season into something special, but before we get there, let’s take a look back on the opening road trip.

Here are some of my thoughts on the first six games of Carolina’s regular season.

  • This Sebastian Aho kid is the real deal. He recorded five assists in six games to kick off his NHL career and was inches away from finding the back of the net on multiple occasions. Considering that his career started on a long road trip and that he is still adjusting to the North American game and ice surface, his performance in the opening two weeks should be very encouraging for the Hurricanes going forward.

    Another plus is that he has played well with Jordan Staal and Joakim Nordstrom, which is big for that line as they need to be big contributors.

  • To the surprise of very few, the goaltending in Carolina has continued to be a thorn in their side. Despite posting the seventh-best shot suppression in the league, the Hurricanes rank last in save percentage. Allowing five goals on 26 shots in Winnipeg and six goals on 27 shots in Philadelphia definitely didn't help things. Cam Ward and Eddie Lack have both been lackluster at best.

    If things don't change soon, Ron Francis will have to make a big decision - accept that their goaltending is among the worst in the league, or go out and trade for a goalie that will make the Hurricanes a playoff caliber hockey club.

  • As difficult as this opening road trip was for the Hurricanes, they did run into some teams that have seriously overachieved in the early going. The Oilers and Canucks both find themselves atop the Western Conference after 5-1-0 and 4-2-1 starts, respectively.

  • Offense hasn’t been the problem for the Canes so far. They’re tied for the third-most goals scored in the Metropolitan Division with 18. The division-leading Penguins have scored 16 goals. The flip-side of that is that they’ve allowed 24 goals, one fewer than the division-worst Flyers in that category.

  • Justin Faulk is a minus-six player through six games. Of course, goaltending plays a role in this, but you would expect your number one blueliner to not rank last on the team in plus/minus.

    Among players who have played in at least three games so far, he ranks ahead of only Jay McClement, a player we will talk about more in a bit, in corsi-for percentage at 51.8%. This is still a positive number, but given this team’s ability to dominate in the shot attempt category, it is still concerning to see him right near the bottom. Granted, his defensive zone faceoff start percentage is at 29.3%, which ranks highest among Carolina’s defensemen, but that could also point to an inability for him to get the puck out, which we have seen from him early on in the season.

    Faulk has also posted a surprisingly low corsi-for per 60 compared to his teammates. All of that has led to him posting a measly 36.4% goals for percentage, which ranks last among eligible Hurricanes defensemen.

    All those numbers above are at 5v5 play, which goes hand-in-hand with the fact that three of Faulk's five points have come on the power play.

  • Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin don’t know what the sophomore slump is. They have both played fantastic hockey so far. Both players have just one point so far, but are rocking 60.1% and 58.1% corsi-for percentages, respectively. They have been Carolina’s best defensemen so far, by a large margin.

  • Ron Hainsey has been Carolina’s worst defenseman, being slow and tough to watch at times. He turns the puck over and gets trapped in his own end very often. His 58.1% corsi-against per 60 ranks last on the team among players with more than two games played. I love what he brings to the locker room and with the media, but he needs to find a way to improve his play over the next few weeks.

  • The overwhelming positive from the road trip was the emergence of a top scoring line in Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask and Lee Stempniak. This trio has combined for 56% of Carolina’s goals. All three players are scoring at a point-per-game rate, including Victor Rask who has four goals and seven points in six games and has accumulated at least one point in each game this season.

    In Detroit, we saw how important Skinner is to that line. Viktor Stalberg jumped from line four to line one as Skinner couldn’t play due to a "middle-body" injury (yes, you read that correctly) and that line didn’t have nearly the same impact offensively.

  • While we are on this topic, Stalberg was an interesting choice for Skinner’s replacement. One would think that Teuvo Teravainen or Phil Di Giuseppe would have made a bit more sense.
  • The Hurricanes went 0-3 on the power play against the Red Wings on Tuesday, but they still rank eighth in the league with a 25% success rate on the man advantage. The additions of Stempniak, Aho and Teravainen have played a big role in their successful power play. That’s a big influx of skill as all three players thrive with the puck on their stick with time and space.

  • Jordan Staal has quietly been one of Carolina’s best forwards so far. He’s found the back of the net three times, won 69% of his faceoffs and has played a huge role in the Hurricanes’ sixth-best penalty killing unit. After a slow start, his linemate Nordstrom also played quite well in the second half of the road trip, and with the addition of Aho to that line, they have produced more scoring chances.

  • Martin Frk has been, in a word, bad in his short audition with the team. He was picked up off of waivers from the Red Wings prior to opening night with the hope that he could potentially add some firepower to the lineup, but obviously, Bill Peters hasn’t loved what he has done in practice, because he has only seen 16:40 of ice time in two games, including just 6:27 against his former Detroit team on Tuesday. He’s a minus-three player and has just one shot on goal.

    He also practically skated away from Andreas Athanasiou as he walked through the slot and sniped one past Cam Ward on Tuesday, which isn't a good look for him:

    His audition should be coming to an end, which could allow a guy like Brock McGinn to get another shot at the NHL. Frk would have to go through waivers in order to be sent down to the AHL, so it will be interesting to see if he is claimed by another club. If he isn’t claimed, he will likely be a big addition for the Checkers. He netted 27 goals for Grand Rapids last season.

  • Jay McClement has taken another step back after an egregious 2015-16 season. His 42.2% corsi-for percentage ranks last among Canes skaters with more than two games played. With guys like Lucas Wallmark and Patrick Brown waiting in Charlotte, one has to wonder how long McClement’s leash is.

  • Outside of his big three-assist night in Calgary, Noah Hanifin has been largely "meh" so far. He’s a minus-five and has struggled with turnovers and some weak defensive coverage. Keep in mind that he is still 19 and two years younger than both Pesce and Slavin. It’s not fair to compare him to them at this point, regardless of his high ceiling.