About a year and a half ago, the Carolina Hurricanes signed Derek Ryan to a one-year deal. I was writing for another site at the time, and I speculated about how he could be an x-factor for the club.
At that point, no one knew a whole lot about the player Carolina was getting. He was a star player in Austria after going undrafted and playing his way through the Candian collegiate level. The year prior to joining the Hurricanes organization, he played one year in Sweden, leading the league in assists and points en route to winning the league MVP award, but the big question was just how well would that success in Europe translate to the North American professional game.
Ryan would go on to play in just four games with the big club in his rookie season, a cup of coffee at the end of the season that rendered a pair of goals, including one in his NHL debut at the Prudential Center in Newark.
He was far from an x-factor. In fact, he nearly didn't come back to the organization this past summer. Reports suggested that he was strongly considering going back to Europe to play. Thankfully, that did not happen.
It was a year in the making, but Derek Ryan has become a difference maker with this team. Whether or not this lasts for the long term has yet to be seen, but it’s hard not to love this player and the energy he brings to the ice. The enthusiasm he plays with and gives off after every goal he’s on the ice for shows that he is having fun and enjoying the opportunity that he has more than earned.
The 29-year-old journeyman hasn’t had an orthodox path to the big leagues, but regardless, he has made it, and he has shown everyone that he has no intent of leaving anytime soon. He has 10 points over his last nine games and is riding a four-game point streak, including his first three-point night against the Canucks which featured a trio of assists.
- Last week was wild. The Hurricanes lost a pair of games they should have won, won a game in which they got heavily outshot and won a game in which they were trailing by three entering the third period. When the dust settles and they look back on the past four games, I think the team will be happy with a 2-1-1 record. That’s five out of a possible eight points. Factoring in a tough California road trip without the help of two big contributors up front in Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm, that’s nothing to be disappointed with in terms of just sheer wins-to-losses.
- Justin Faulk had a near historic start to the 2015-16 season in terms of goal production, particularly on the power play. This season hasn’t been as fruitful; however, we’re starting to see a turnaround. Faulk was a big contributor in Tuesday’s eight-goal outing from Carolina, netting a goal and two helpers and has picked up five points over his last four games. In the 14 games prior to his recent run, he had just one assist. Perhaps with the emergence of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce as a big time pairing, less attention has been sent his way, thus giving him more opportunities against some not-as-good players? He had a marvelous puck-possession game against Vancouver.
- I touched on this above, but not having Staal and Lindholm in the lineup in the first two weeks of December was a big hit. Staal has relentlessly played a two-way power game that benefits the team in countless ways and Lindholm was finally starting to get his offense together prior to his injury. Both players came back and made immediate impacts on Tuesday. Both players posted multi-point games and finished well into the positives in corsi share.
- It looks like things may be starting to fall into place for the Hurricanes. The new line of Jeff Skinner, Ryan and Victor Rask has the makings of a very good scoring threat, Staal and Lindholm are back and seem to be picking up right where they left off, Faulk seems to be turning a corner in regards to his offensive production, Lee Stempniak has two goals and three points over his last two games after going 23 games without finding the back of the net and, despite back-to-back rough outings from Cam Ward, the Hurricanes still appear to have confidence in their starting goalie. Now it’s just about putting together sixty-minute efforts on a consistent basis. I feel as if this problem will continue to work itself out. This is the second-youngest team in hockey and they will continue to make mistakes but also, hopefully, learn from them and get better because of it.
- Based on home vs road point percentages, the Hurricanes are on pace to eclipse the 90-point plateau, which would be a 4+ point improvement over last year. Of course, things can change. Is it likely that Carolina will finish the year winning 73% of their home games? Probably not, but it’s also unlikely that this team will lose 78% of their road games like they are right now. To throw this season in the trash already in regards to playoff hopes would be an unwise decision, in my estimation. That being said, the next three home games will have big implications on where this season is going to go for a team that currently sits nine points shy of a playoff spot. They need wins.
- With five of their next eight games being played at PNC Arena, the second half of December is going to be hugely important. As aforementioned, Carolina is nine points out of a wild-card spot in the East, so how many points do they need through the end of December? If they can get at least seven out of a possible ten points at home and then two to four points on the road in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay, that would give them between nine and eleven points
- That would likely make up some ground on Philadelphia, who holds the final wild-card spot but has played two more games than Carolina. Friday night’s tilt against the Capitals at home could be a huge four-point swing. Washington is tied with Philly in the wild-card race but they have played just 28 games.
- While we are on the topic of playoffs, the Hurricanes are in a highly disadvantageous situation in the Metropolitan Division. This division has been the best in the league by a mile, which has made a slightly better than mediocre Carolina team a long shot to make it in the top-three. If Carolina was in the Atlantic Division, they’d be just four points behind the third-place Boston Bruins, a team which they have a game in hand on. It’s wild how good the Metro is this season, but the Canes have to play with the hand that they’ve been dealt and put a string of wins together at home like they did in November. A second half resembling what happened last year will make things very interesting. Also, there’s no way that Columbus will keep this up, right? RIGHT?!
- My final thought is on just how special the special teams are. Business is booming right now for the Hurricanes who have cashed in on four of their last five and five of their last ten power play opportunities. On the other side of the specialty team spectrum, the Canes have allowed just two power play goals since November 1 and have netted five shorthanded markers. That’s a +3 goal differential on the penalty kill alone. The Hurricanes have risen to sixth in the league in power play efficiency at 22.4% and they remain at the top of the league with a 92.3% success rate on the man advantage. They are the most dangerous special teams team in the NHL.