The opening week of the NHL regular season comes with a lot of emotions. It’s a new start for everyone. If you missed the playoffs last year, you have a chance to redeem yourself. If you made the playoffs last year, you have to fight to stay there.
For the Carolina Hurricanes, the first week of the 2018-19 campaign meant much more than that.
The organization’s near decade of mediocrity has cost two regimes their jobs. Jim Rutherford placed his faith in Kirk Muller - they both found work elsewhere in 2014. Then, Ron Francis placed his faith in Bill Peters - the same result four years later.
Now, they have a “new” general manager and a “new” head coach - quotation marks because they were both internal hires for their positions. They also have a new owner.
No quotation marks that time. Tom Dundon is as new as it gets for an organization that has run itself into the ground over the course of nine seasons while under the majority ownership of Hockey Hall-of-Famer Peter Karmanos Jr..
The Hurricanes are hoping that this new regime, head-manned by an immortalized former Stanley Cup-winning captain turned head coach, a general manager who has been there and done that as an NHL executive, and an owner whose knowledge of the game of hockey was near negligible when he finalized his purchase of the majority share of the team can finally be the one that begins to make things right.
It’s been three games. But right now, the Carolina Hurricanes look and feel different. This team has life, a pulse, and a buzz around them that hasn’t been present in a very long time.
We don’t know how these next 79 games are going to go, but if nothing else, the first three games of the season have given a tired, defeated fan base some semblance of hope.
For the first time in a long time, the Hurricanes have an identity. Perhaps, it’s the perfect storm of high-quality people and high-quality hockey players coming together to do something special.
I guess we’ll find out over the course of the next six months.
Fourth Line on the Ice, First Line in my Heart
When it was revealed that Andrei Svechnikov would start the year on Carolina’s fourth line, there were a number of people worried about another Bill Peters/Jeff Skinner situation.
So far, it’s been nothing close to it.
The 18-year-old 2018 second-overall draft pick isn’t getting anything handed to him without him earning it. Through three games, he has been playing alongside fellow rookie Lucas Wallmark and physical veteran Jordan Martinook.
So far, there’s been a lot of good. The fourth line has been playing like anything but. They’ve pushed the tempo seemingly on every shift. That trio has been strong on pucks, aggressive, and unfazed. In turn, they were rewarded with more ice time on Sunday against the Rangers, and they put in another stellar performance.
Wallmark’s third period goal was created by his linemates. Svechnikov got the puck, drove to the slot, and made a move to get his shot off. When the puck ended up sailing wide, Martinook bulldozed his way to puck, beat a couple of Rangers, and spun the puck back to an unaccounted-for Wallmark.
Wallmark’s vision played a role in all of this too. He had to make a quick decision with the puck, and he made the perfect read, finding Svechnikov wide-open in the middle of the ice and delivering a strong pass in the neutral zone. From there, he read the play and put himself in a position to tie the game.
Just under six minutes later, this line gave Carolina a 6-5 lead.
Again, this goal doesn’t get scored if they aren’t being aggressive and going to the net. Martinook attempted a centering pass, but it got chopped down. So, he followed the puck and got to the front of the net. When the puck rolled out to Calvin de Haan, he shot it quickly and decisively, and then Justin Faulk did the exact same thing after the puck rolled around to him.
When you put bodies in front of the goalie, you’re exponentially more dangerous as an offense. Taking away sight-lines and applying pressure on the goalie and the defense gives you a huge advantage, and you don’t need to be an excellent offensive talent to do it.
That said, it takes skill to do what Andrei Svechnikov did to score what ended up being the game-winning-goal.
The way he uses his hands to lift the shot from Faulk up and over the shoulder of Alexandar Georgiev is pretty impressive. He’s a natural goal scorer, and that was a goal-scorers goal.
The fourth line saw their ice time tick up toward 14 minutes in Sunday’s win. Rod Brind’Amour can and will roll four forward lines, each of which have the ability to be dangerous offensively. That’s a big asset.
It hasn’t been an overwhelmingly positive or negative start for Carolina’s 12th-overall selection from the 2017 draft.
After a brilliant 2017-18 campaign in the Czech league and international play, it was clear that Necas was ready to take the next step. Through three games, there’s a lot to like. On the flip side, his defensive struggles have been rather apparent.
Let’s look at New York’s second goal on Sunday.
For starters, Brett Pesce has to win that board battle. He let Vladislav Namestnikov come in, body him, and take the puck from him.
Despite that, Necas has to realize that there are three Hurricane players in and around the puck in the corner (Trevor van Riemsdyk, Pesce, and Brock McGinn).
What happens next is an example of a veteran player taking advantage of a rookie mistake. Also, it’s an example of some pretty unfortunate timing.
At the exact same moment Necas starts wondering away from the front of the net to support the board battle, the puck is won by Namestnikov and sent down low to Brett Howden.
Chris Kreider sees Necas cheating into the corner, so he knows he has a clean path to the front of the net. He also knows Howden is about to get the puck, so it’s just an easy read and easy play for every Ranger involved.
The end result:
For Necas, this is a learning experience. A “teachable moment”. A goal resulted from this, but they won the game. It’s a much tougher lesson if that’s the difference-making goal in a loss.
While the young Czech center is far from a polished defensive contributor, there’s still plenty of reason to bare with him and keep working with him. For every defensive mistake he makes, he’s going to make two or three plays with the puck on his stick that makes you realize why he was one of the fastest-rising prospects last year.
On Carolina’s first goal on Sunday (just three minutes after the goal shown above), Martin Necas played a key role in winning the puck along the end-boards. Then, he spun a pass to Justin Williams, who found Warren Foegele, who found twine.
Later, on a Carolina powerplay, he threaded this pass to Jaccob Slavin which nearly led to a Michael Ferland tap-in.
And then, at the end of the first period, Necas uses his excellent speed to get down ice, catch New York flat-footed, and almost assist on a goal in the final seconds of the period.
Martin Necas is a special hockey player, but some things are going to be tougher for him to learn as he breaks into the league. The offense will always be there, but it’s the defense that might be an issue for a little bit.
And that’s okay. He’s 19.
Warren Foegele’s Early Impact
I don’t think anyone really expected Foegele to catch on and do what he has been doing to start the year. The 22-year-old has three points in the opening three games of this season, netted two goals against the Rangers on Sunday, is playing on Carolina’s second forward line with Jordan Staal and Justin Williams, and is seeing penalty kill time with Jordan Martinook.
That’s putting a lot of trust into a rookie. But, he’s deserved every second of ice time he has gotten.
He’s an electric player. He goes full speed all the time. He gives the effort that Brind’Amour is demanding out of his players, and then some more effort on top of that.
Not to mention, he’s also really talented. Every few shifts he’ll make a pass or do something with the puck on his stick that you might not expect. For example, how about the play he made on the pass from Necas to corral the puck and set up van Riemsdyk.
Jeeeeez. A couple of things here:— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) October 7, 2018
Martin Necas is STUPID fast. He can create a lot just based on his speed, as he did here. Also, Warren Foegele with a gorgeous stick move to corral the puck. If the Canes had 1 or 2 extra seconds, they could've pulled off a highlight reel goal. pic.twitter.com/2nSrALOmCe
Foegele has quickly established himself as a key piece of this team - and he’s already averaging close to 16:00 of ice time through the first three games of the season. His impact is felt on every shift.
He’s the real deal, and he’s going to be in Raleigh for a very long time.
A Bad Night
Trevor van Riemsdyk’s season has been rough so far. On Sunday, it reached a new low for him.
He was on the ice for all but one of New York’s five goals.
Overall, it just looked like he was out of sync and just flat-out ineffective.
This is a bad look. Pesce loses the puck, gets drawn all the way out to the blue line, is then out of position, and van Riemsdyk loses track of Jimmy Vesey, who capitalized with a tap-in goal.
It was just that kind of night on Sunday. He has to be better. He’s being counted on to be better.
van Riemsdyk had a really good 2017-18 season, but his game against the Rangers might have been his worst since being acquired by the Hurricanes, and his first two weren’t spectacular, either. It’s just three games, though. He still has plenty of time to get it going, but he can’t have that kind of outing repeated too many times.
van Riemsdyk finished the game with just 12:51 of ice time. That’s the second-lowest he has logged in a full game as a Hurricane, so it’s safe to assume the coaching staff noticed things weren’t going well with him on the ice.
Don’t be surprised if Haydn Fleury gets his first taste of game action on Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks.
One last note: the new third jersey looks sick.
See you next week.