A blown third period lead in Brooklyn wasn’t an ideal way to kick off the week, but consecutive wins over the weekend put the Carolina Hurricanes in a very good spot entering the final week of November.
With games in hand on every team in the Metropolitan Division, the Canes sit just five points out of first place after an up and down opening month and a half.
The re-emergence of the TSA line and stability in goal are causes for optimism moving forward, but the shortcoming of a couple of mainstays certainly give reasons for mild pessimism.
Here are this week’s quick whistles.
Teuvo Teravainen led the Hurricanes’ offensive charge this past week, piling up ten points in four games and earning the NHL’s first star of the week honors in the process.
Even before the young Finn’s offensive breakout, there were signs of him turning a corner which he had yet to find. The confidence he has played with exceeded even my lofty expectations entering the season.
His two-way game has reached a new level, he is shooting the puck more, and he is dishing the puck around with more confidence and decisiveness compared to his first season with the team.
All of his improvements are to be expected out of a young player in his second year with his new club after spending the first several years of his pro career in Chicago, but he has risen to a level that very few could have expected.
Will he stay at a point-per-game through the rest of the season? Probably not, but the Hurricanes certainly don’t need that from him as long as he can provide a steady flow of offense over an 82-game stretch.
Right now, there’s very little reason to think that this is just a flash in the pan as he showed flashes of brilliance last year. It was just a matter of doing it consistently, which he has done so far this season. It’s important to remember that Teravainen was a highly touted prospect in the 2012 NHL draft, even getting consideration from the Hurricanes with the eighth overall pick before trading it in a package for Jordan Staal.
Hindsight being 20/20, it was a pretty good call by the organization as they ultimately got both of those high-level talents at the expense of Brandon Sutter, the pick that turned into Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin, and a pair of draft picks.
That’s a convincing win for the Hurricanes.
Speaking of convincing wins, I think you’d find very few people disappointed in the play of Carolina’s goalie tandem.
Scott Darling is still trying to hit his rhythm and establish consistency, but the early results have been incredibly promising. He currently sits at a .909 save percentage, but if you take some of the ugly games out of the equation, you’re looking at a goalie who has been far above league average. Again, once the consistency is there, Darling is undoubtedly a number one guy.
Cam Ward has thrived in a backup role, posting a .922 save percentage in five starts. If you exclude the November 2 game in Colorado, in which the team in front of him put up one of their worst performances of the season, that number jumps up to .943.
The mix that the Hurricanes are forming in net has worked. Their team save percentage of .908 ranks 13th in the league, and it should stay around that number, if not get better, as Ward and Darling see their individual numbers level out.
Perhaps the most discouraging development of the early season is Victor Rask’s extended stay in the realm of mediocrity.
This team signed Rask to replicate, and preferably build on, his first two seasons in the NHL. A contract that once looked like a steal has quickly turned into a hindrance. The Swedish center is producing at a 25-point pace over an 82-game slate over his last 58 games and was finally removed from the lineup on Sunday.
Bill Peters’ comments on him were very telling, saying that the team needed a win, thus requiring the coaching staff to ice the best lineup they could. That lineup did not include Rask but instead featured Phil di Giuseppe in the team’s top-nine.
At their best, Rask is undoubtedly better than di Giuseppe, but Rask has been far from his best since the start of the 2017 calendar year.
At this point, I’m not sure what the coaching staff can do to get the most out of the player. This isn’t an X’s and O’s thing, it’s mental. Will sitting him out a game turn things around? I wouldn’t bet on it, but perhaps the move could get the ball rolling in the right direction.
For the team’s sake, let’s hope Rask takes the steps necessary in order to return to a respectable level of play because he’s not only failing to play up to his $4 million cap hit, he’s barely playing like an NHL regular.
Justin Faulk is another underperforming player that the Hurricanes are often winning despite of.
Faulk enters Wednesday’s matchup against the Rangers with just one goal and five points in 19 games and there hasn’t been much of any improvement as his decision making and defensive play continues to be lacking to a degree that the multiple-time all-star has never shown.
Unlike Rask, the 25-year-old blueliner has at least shown signs of still being himself. His offense has been there at times, and while his defensive consistency has been absent all year, he has made key plays in his own end.
That being said, Faulk has been far from the player he has been over the past three seasons, which begs the question of what’s different.
Has the co-captaincy added more pressure? Has Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, and Noah Hanifin’s rise up the hierarchy affected him mentally? Confidence shouldn't be an issue given that this team has stuck with him all along and even rewarded him with a bigger role in the leadership group.
It’s definitely not time to panic with Faulk as it is still just a 19-game sample size, but if he can get back to the level he has been at, this team will be that much more dangerous and their top-four will rival any team in the league.
If he can’t get back to that level, perhaps his name will be thrown out in trade rumors yet again as his value could be significant enough to bring in some talent up front. That may be far-fetched right now, but the team will have to trade a defenseman at some point and Faulk’s recent play shouldn’t make him untouchable.
Only time will tell.
A player that has stuck out to me more and more as the season has worn on is Noah Hanifin.
We’ve seen the flashes from Hanifin ever since he broke into the league as an 18-year-old, but his run of late feels different and more sustainable.
His defense has improved markedly, his confidence with the puck is nearing an all-time high, and his removal from the powerplay hasn’t stopped him from being the player he needs to be.
When Hanifin was removed from the manpower advantage group, I feared that his confidence could be shaken, but so far, that hasn’t been the case. I am, however, still shocked that he was taken off the powerplay, to begin with, though that is likely a short-term solution to the powerplay woes that have been game-changing-ly bad for the Hurricanes.
While Columbus’ Zach Werenski has become the big blue line standout from that 2015 draft class, Hanifin is starting to catch up and shape into the all-around defender that this team wants and needs him to be. His play has even masked Faulk’s issues to an extent, with regards to point production and generation of offense.
He’s still just 20-years-old, which is nearly impossible to fathom, and he is starting to take huge
steps leaps forward in his game. There’s a lot to like from him and, from where I see it, he has been the best defenseman on the Hurricanes this season, especially dating back to the start of November.
He leads the club in shot attempt differential, he’s moving his feet in all three zones, and he is shooting the puck when he gets the chances. If I was to nitpick one thing, it would be that he is struggling to get pucks on net through traffic from the point. His 43.9% thru rate (percentage of shots taken that go on net) is the worst among Carolina’s top-six on the blue line.