Last week, I referred to the start of Rod Brind’Amour tenure as bench boss for the Carolina Hurricanes as a “rollercoaster.”
That’s still the case as the Canes prepare to close out the October portion of their schedule tonight against the Boston Bruins.
You’ll have a tough time being disappointed in the 6-4-1 start to the new year. Through 11 games, Carolina is in a playoff spot and on pace for a 97-point season which is right around the magic number that they will need to earn their first postseason berth since 2009.
The game against the Sharks looked like it would be one of those patented losses from recent years. They fell behind early after a slow first period, but the final two frames were dominated by the Hurricanes as they clawed their way back, didn’t allow San Jose to take the momentum from them, and found a way to secure an impressive win against a great team on home ice.
Though, with the promising good, there has been some familiar bad.
Carolina’s two home losses to the New York Islanders have been dreadful. They outshot Thomas Greiss and the Isles 85-40 in those games and got outscored 4-2. That kind of result was something that we saw on a very consistent basis from the Bill Peters-coached Canes teams from 2014 to 2018.
Beyond the mind-numbing Islanders games, there are still some concerns with this team.
For starters, their resurgent special teams performance in Detroit last week seems to have been more of a one-off performance as opposed to a sign that they’ve really started to figure things out on that front. It also doesn’t help that their 5-on-5 offense has shriveled up rather dramatically after they were able to outscore their problems at even-strength during the first two weeks of the season.
We’re starting to get into the nitty gritty of the hockey season. Teams are tightening up and making fewer mistakes, as they always do after the common early-October scoring spree throughout the league where many teams aren’t yet playing defense.
The Hurricanes will need to adjust with the other 30 clubs in the NHL if they want to be a legitimate threat this season.
Offensive 5-on-5 Offense
What kept the Hurricanes afloat through the first two weeks of the season was their dominant 5-on-5 production. When they were scoring non-stop at even strength, the special teams issues weren’t as big of a problem.
That’s no longer the case, though.
Over their last six games, the Canes have scored eight 5-on-5 goals. Six of those eight have been scored while the Micheal Ferland - Sebastian Aho - Teuvo Teravainen trio has been on the ice. That means only two of those goals have been scored by the other three lines, and those were from Martin Necas in Tampa Bay and Brock McGinn against San Jose on Friday.
While the Aho line has continued to play excellent, productive hockey, Carolina will need more from the rest of the forward lines. More so than anyone else, this applies to the Warren Foegele - Jordan Staal - Justin Williams line.
That line hasn’t scored since October 13 in Minnesota. That was seven games and 16 days ago.
This line does everything right. They are hard on pucks, they control possession, and they generate some quality opportunities. That said, how long do they have to be held off the scoresheet until there is a shake up?
This wouldn’t be a problem if that was, say, the team’s third line. I think it would be okay for them to go through a bit of a scoring rut, as long as they were playing the right brand of hockey in all other facets, if there was a more dangerous second line to follow in the footsteps of the Aho line. Unfortunately, as the team is currently constructed, the Hurricanes just don’t have the luxury of depth scoring.
What needs to change there?
I think the sheer lack of shooting talent on that line is a problem. Yes, they will get their dirty goals and Staal will use his knee or his hindquarters to deflect a puck in the net every now and then, but there isn’t a player on that line who has the ability to spot up and fire hard and accurate shots from the slot or the circles. This is very much a “meat and potatoes” line, and I think it would be smart to throw in some sushi to change the dynamic a little bit.
When does Andrei Svechnikov see his role grow? Surely, the 2018 second-overall draft pick wasn’t drafted with the intention of playing him with Lucas Wallmark and Jordan Martinook all season. That’s not a knock on those quality fourth-line players, it’s just the reality that Svechnikov isn’t going to be the player that everybody wants him to be and thinks he can be if he’s seeing the fewest 5-on-5 minutes on the team, like he did against the Islanders on Sunday.
Would putting Svechnikov on that second line and reducing the role of Justin Williams make a difference? Williams is a crucial leader and presence for this team, but it’s become very clear that he is 37-years-old. He’s slower and he’s making more mistakes. I think we’re nearing the point where his on-ice roll should be reigned in a little bit.
I think the question that needs to be asked here is; what are the expectations of this group? If they want to be a real contending playoff team, their second line cannot go seven or more games without scoring a goal. That just can’t happen. The process has been good for that line, but the outcome hasn’t been there.
Guys like Martin Necas and Janne Kuokkanen are also waiting in Charlotte. One would wonder when they’ll get their chance to spark some offense at the NHL level. I don’t think it’s about “if” they will, it’s about “when”.
Three Stars of the Week
First Star: Teuvo Teravainen
The first line’s success, so far, has been driven by the play of Aho in the middle, but Teravainen had a big week.
To this point, Teravainen has been the quiet guy on that line. He’s been doing some of the un-sexy work - making smart defensive plays, executing accurate breakout passes, and following up behind Aho and Ferland in the offensive zone.
This past week, though, the 24-year-old netted two goals (and his first two goals that weren’t on an empty net). His snipe against the Sharks on Friday was a huge goal that tied the game at three in the second period. Aho intercepted the errant pass from Evander Kane, and Teravainen showed poise with the puck and waited that extra half-second for Erik Karlsson’s stick to get out of his shooting lane, and he was able to beat Aaron Dell.
Teravainen has now scored goals in consecutive games. Hopefully, this will be the start of another productive goal-scoring season for him. He has a dangerous release, and I think we’d all like to see him use it a bit more. Confidence shouldn’t be an issue now after he has found the back of the net twice in as many games.
Second Star: Brock McGinn
The start of the season for McGinn was a struggle. After a breakout offensive year under Bill Peters, he really had to fight his way back to his game through the first eight or nine games of the new year under a new head coach and with new linemates, which has featured a rotating door of centers, to this point.
His games in Detroit and back in Raleigh against the Sharks were, far and away, the best games of his season so far.
Starting in Detroit, he came out of the gate playing like his hair was on fire. He was physical, fast, and he very nearly found the back of the net on several occasions. His high pace and engaging play even led to him drawing a penalty. The ensuing Carolina power play ended their power play drought and sparked the team’s offense in the win.
Against the Sharks, he netted his first goal of the year. Even beyond that, though, he was all over the ice and causing problems for the road team from start to finish.
Brind’Amour rewarded McGinn’s effort with the number-two slot in the shootout. In turn, McGinn rewarded Brind’Amour by scoring the game-deciding goal as Carolina won the skills contest 1-0 and the game 4-3.
Oh, and he laid this monster hit on former Hurricane Andrew Ladd on Sunday:
Andrew Ladd has been informed that Brocktober has not yet ended. pic.twitter.com/Akof7MKUcd— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) October 28, 2018
This is the way McGinn has to play every night. He doesn’t have the skill to be a guy who doesn’t play at full-throttle and relies on his natural abilities to get by. He’s a passable puck-handler with a decent shot. He will get his points, but only if he plays the tough and aggressive brand of hockey that we have seen him play.
It was a very good week for McGinn after a tough start.
Third Star: Sebastian Aho
The guy extended his point streak to 11 games to start the season. That is now tied for Ron Francis’ franchise record. He also has assists in all 11 games to start the year, which is getting very close to the record that some guy named “Wayne Gretzky” and a couple of other players have.
Idk. Never heard of him. Looks like a made up name to me, but okay.
Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said this week that Victor Rask is about a month away from returning from his self-inflicted kitchen injury. That would set him up to join the team on their California road trip during the first week of December, at the earliest.
Following their road trip, the Canes will play six of seven games on home ice from December 11 to December 23. That would also be a comfortable landing spot for Rask to get back into the lineup. Of course, he could also agree to a conditioning stint with the Checkers. Granted, he has already been skating often, so his conditioning shouldn’t be a problem. If anything, the issues will be about getting his feel and game pace back.
When Rask does return, it will be interesting to see what his role will be. It’s a secret to no one that the 25-year-old center has seen a sharp decline in his game since the start of the 2017 calendar year. Was that more about him struggling or was it just that he couldn’t be a consistent contributor long-term under Peters? We will, surely, find out here in the next month or two. If he can bounce back and be the player that earned that lengthy contract extension, that will be a huge addition to the Canes’ lineup.
Scott Darling is back and will make his first start of the season on Tuesday against the Boston Bruins. Darling was excellent during the preseason after his well-documented summer of training to get back in proper physical shape. His rehab start for the Checkers was just as impressive, allowing just one goal late in the third period that broke his shutout.
This situation is just like Rask. If Darling can bounce back from a horrendous 2017-18 campaign and be the guy that the Hurricanes invested a lot of time and money in, it will be a massive addition. In Darling’s case, it could mean that they’re getting a starting-quality NHL goalie. That is far from a guarantee at this point, though. Even after his big preseason and conditioning performances.
Pierre LeBrun reported this morning that the Canes plan on taking all three goalies on their upcoming road trip. I think it’s safe to assume that, by the time they return, they will have a good idea about what they want to do with them moving forward.
It’s still tough for me to envision a scenario wherein Curtis McElhinney isn’t put back on waivers or, perhaps, dealt to a team for a minuscule return.
People are still cranky about the post game celebrations, for some reason.
I have a “as long as you’re not hurting anyone, you do you and do what makes you happy” life strategy, and I think we should all try to have that mindset.
The Canes aren’t hurting anyone and they’re doing what makes them happy, so deal with it.