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Carolina Hurricanes Weekly Thoughts: Losing Winnable Games, Justin Faulk, and Sebastian Aho

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Carolina has dropped three of four games since the holiday break thanks to a pair of blown games that they should have won.

Jamie Kellner

The Carolina Hurricanes have dropped three of their last four games, but this should not be the case.

Carolina started the post-holiday portion of their schedule with a meeting with the Penguins in Pittsburgh. The Hurricanes dominated the game as they owned 68% of the game’s shot attempts and only took their feet off the gas a couple times. Ultimately, those few times that they let up, Pittsburgh capitalized.

An exciting win on home ice over the Western Conference-leading Blackhawks extended their home point streak to 11 games. That streak was broken on Tuesday night against the Devils.

The Hurricanes, again, outplayed and outshot the Devils, but it wasn’t enough as Cory Schneider dominated and made a plethora of timely saves.

It’s great that Carolina beat Chicago, but since Christmas, they have dropped three consecutive games against Eastern Conference foes. Losses to New Jersey and Tampa Bay hurt even more because of how close they are to the Canes in the Eastern Conference standings.

Outside of one forward line, the Hurricanes have struggled mightily to generate offense and finish when they got their chances.

I had a lot of negative thoughts this week, so let’s go ahead and dive in.

  • After goals came in big bunches early in the season, Carolina’s goal production has hit a valley over the past four games. Their recent stretch is reminiscent of the club’s final four games of November. Carolina dropped three of four games and struggled to put the puck in the net. Understandably, there’s more pessimism surrounding this streak of losses. For starters, Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask have hit offensive slumps. The duo and winger Derek Ryan have combined for just two scoring points over their past eight games. Injuries have also made a big impact with Justin Faulk and Elias Lindholm out of the lineup, which effects Carolina both at five-on-five and in special teams. Speaking of special teams, their once top-ten power play has dropped to 14th in the league and hasn't shown the fluidity and chemistry that we saw from the units just a few weeks ago. Losing Faulk plays a huge role in that.
  • Ryan Murphy assisted on Lindholm’s early first-period goal in the defenseman’s first game back in the lineup in Pittsburgh on December 28th but hasn’t found the score sheet since. I’m a strong advocate of advanced statistics, but they haven’t told the whole story for Murphy over the past week and change. He’s posted well above average corsi shares in three of his four games, but he’s still being plagued by the same issues he’s had throughout the entirety of his pro career. He’s often caught flat-footed defending on the rush, he makes bad pinches, and he’s still getting out of position in his own end. He thrives with the puck on his stick in controlled offensive possessions, which makes him a valuable power play defenseman, but it’s hard to argue that he is anywhere near as effective as Faulk in that situation. The sooner Carolina can get Faulk back, the better.
  • As much as the loss of Faulk has hurt Carolina’s offense, the lack of production from the top of the lineup has played an even bigger role in the team’s woes. Skinner, Rask, and Ryan have come back down to Earth after a dominant run in mid-December and Jordan Staal’s line has had their chances but they haven’t been able to capitalize. The loss of Lindholm hasn’t helped anything. He was playing well as Staal’s right winger before his injury, but his absence has pushed Joakim Nordstrom up on the opposite wing of Brock McGinn.
  • Perhaps the addition of 23-year-old winger Ty Rattie will help add some goal scoring punch to the top-nine. He’s been an effective scorer at every level and he netted four goals and six points in 13 games with the Blues a season ago. He could turn into a staple of Carolina’s offense for the next decade, another Martin Frk, or something in between. Your guess is as good as mine, but the addition of Rattie likely doesn’t bode well for Andrej Nestrasil, who hasn’t been the same player since returning from his February vertebrae injury.
  • The trio of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Lee Stempniak has been the bright spot in Carolina’s otherwise disappointing offense since Christmas. Aho and Teravainen have ten points over their last 12 games. Aho has found the back of the net in consecutive games and has points in four straight and Teravainen is riding a five-game point streak. Stempniak has been a good complimentary player for the two Finns as a guy who drives the net and isn’t afraid to go to dirty areas on the ice.
  • Cam Ward had a stellar outing against Chicago last week, but the numbers didn’t paint a pretty picture for the veteran goalie in his other three starts. He played well but was the victim of a bad bounce off of Slavin as he allowed two goals against the Devils, he couldn’t bail out some defensive miscues against the Penguins, and he let up a very soft short-side goal against the Lightning in a 3-1 loss on New Year’s Eve. He will need to play at a high level over the next week as there’s a strong possibility that he will play both ends of a tough back-to-back in St. Louis and Chicago that starts tonight, followed by a string of home games, all against Eastern Conference teams. These are some must win games for the Hurricanes and they will be without Eddie Lack again for at least a portion of it as he has struggled to come back from a November concussion.
  • If the Hurricanes are going to make the playoff this year, they need to start winning games that they should be winning and it needs to start happening now. The most frustrating part of this season has been watching Carolina decidedly outplay teams and come out of those games with nothing to show for it. Dating back to their October road trip, they have routinely struggled to finish out games on the road and they’ve lost games in which they heavily out-skate and out-shoot opponents. They sit six points shy of the Flyers for the second Wild Card spot and they have three games in hand on them, but the Maple Leafs, Lightning, and Panthers all sit in between the two Metropolitan Division clubs. With teams like Columbus, New York and Pittsburgh showing no signs of letting up and Washington and Philadelphia holding the two Wild Card positions, the Metro doesn’t trust the Hurricanes.
  • My final thought this week is a positive one. Sebastian Aho has had his fair share of rookie struggles, and it was to be expected. It’s his rookie year in the world’s top hockey league and it’s his first year playing on North American ice. As of late, Aho has been an incredibly effective offensive player. He has developed Finn-tastic chemistry with Teravainen and his ability to drive the net and find ways to score has been on display. This is a player that has gotten better and better as the season has worn on and the sky’s the limit for this 19-year-old’s potential. He is as advertised and he deserves to be in the discussion as one of the league’s top rookies.