The season has only just begun, but thus far the Carolina Hurricanes are off to a 1-0-1 start following a thrilling opening night win over Minnesota and a rough 2-1 overtime loss last night at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
It’s the best start that this team has had in quite some time. Notorious for their season-opening losing skids, the Hurricanes sit in a decent spot with a few points in the bank as they embark on their annual state-fair road trip
While the two games we’ve had thus far is far from the necessary sample size needed to form meaningful conclusions about the quality of this team, I am nevertheless assigned to write this column on a weekly basis.
So with that said, here’s what we know about each aspect of this team so far.
According to corsica.hockey, the Hurricanes rank 18th in the NHL with 2.51 expected goals for per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 play. That might seem a little bit low, but it’s not too far off from the roughly league-average offensive production that most fans expected from this roster.
The teams immediately above them are pretty good offensive clubs, with Nashville checking in at 2.52 and Dallas at 2.53. Some of the teams who rank beneath the Hurricanes early on include Columbus, Tampa Bay, and Washington. The Toronto Maple Leafs lead and are practically lapping the league with a mark of 4.08.
Individually, we have a surprise atop Carolina’s leaderboard in terms of individual expected goals for, as rookie Janne Kuokkanen paces the team with a mark of 0.57. Sebastian Aho is right behind him at 0.47, with Joakim Nordstrom, Marcus Kruger, and Teuvo Teravainen rounding out the top five. That the Hurricanes have gotten points in two games without Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Victor Rask, and Justin Williams being particularly dynamic offensively at 5-on-5 is an encouraging sign. Those guys will only generate better chances as time goes on.
As expected, the team’s defense has been faring better than its offense has in the early going, but thus far it’s probably been not quite as strong as the team would hope for. The ‘Canes rank 10th in the league with 2.30 expected goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. They’re sandwiched right behind Nashville and Edmonton and ahead of the Islanders and St. Louis thus far.
Leading the way defensively so far has been newly-named co-captain Justin Faulk, as through two games, the Hurricanes have only been expected to allow 1.04 goals against at 5-on-5.
With an xGA/60 of 2.43, higher than the team’s overall mark thus far, it would seem that Jaccob Slavin hasn’t quite found his defensive grove yet. Obviously, we know that’s coming, and it’s thus also encouraging that the team is faring well even when he’s not around his career mark of 2.16.
Oh boy, that 5-on-3 on opening night against Minnesota sure wasn’t good. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, would it please you to know that the ‘Canes rank 5th in the NHL in expected goals for per 60 minutes on the power play? Because it’s true, they do.
Not only that, but they are also yet to allow much in the way of shorthanded opportunities the other way, as they have given up just 1 (one) shot attempt while up a man or two. Buffalo, Colorado, and the Islanders have allowed 10. It’s not often considered, but preventing shorthanded goals is something that’s important for a power play to do. Those are supposed to be two minutes where you’re virtually guaranteed to be the only team who should score. We’ll see if the ‘Canes can continue to be one of the league’s best at power play defense. It’s very important.
Meanwhile, for the penalty kill, it’s been a tale of two games in my estimation. I thought they looked pretty terrible against the Wild. The first goal allowed of the season came a man down when Brett Pesce lost his mark badly allowing Jason Zucker an easy tap in off a nice feed from Matt Dumba. It’s good for the Wild that they capitalized there, because those mistakes from a player like Pesce and Carolina’s penalty killing unit as a whole don’t come along often.
I expected them to be better last night against Columbus, and they were. Take a look at this video from last night that the renowned @mikeFAIL of twitter dot com posted.
This first part of the Hurricanes' PK is just wonderful. Sticks on the ice/in lanes, Czech press pressuring puck carriers so well. pic.twitter.com/z0UrT84s0v— Mike Pfeil (@mikeFAIL) October 11, 2017
He’s a hundred percent on the mark here; this is a penalty killing clinic by the Hurricanes. Look for this sort of thing to happen more and more often as the unit’s new contributors (chiefly Marcus Kruger) settle into their new roles on the club.
Overall, the ‘Canes are smack in the middle of the pack at 15th in the league, allowing 7.24 expected goals per 60 against while a man or two down. I would count on that improving in a hurry.
Overall, it’s still incredibly early, but it’s highly encouraging that the team has found ways to earn points in the standings without their best players driving shot quality and quantity in the ways that they usually do.
Even with Scott Darling posting only a .889 save percentage so far, a mark which is sure to improve (and I might add, has been heavily influenced by three breakaway goals and a goal in which he was interfered with), the ‘Canes are showing their fight as a team and their ability to come up big with games on the line.
Once their performance in these metrics starts to improve just a little bit, which I expect it to, this team could have something special on their hands. Be sure to check back next week when I’ll be drawing conclusions from a four-game sample size instead of a two-game one.