When you think of the NHL’s top forward duos so far this season, some obvious examples come to mind.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton. David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand in Boston. Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen in Colorado. Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in Washington.
Quietly, another duo has taken off: Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen for the Carolina Hurricanes.
The chemistry between them has been good from the get go, but it has only improved as time has gone on. Saturday night against the Minnesota Wild, the two Finns exploded for a massive game.
Aho logged his third NHL hat trick and his first five-point game. Teravainen had the primary assist on two of those goals, and he added an extra primary helper on Andrei Svechnikov’s power play goal.
Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen combine for a highlight reel passing play and goal. It's Aho's 14th of the season. Hurricanes take a 3-1 lead over the Wild. pic.twitter.com/P1wLsnqNUc— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) December 8, 2019
Teravainen’s three-assist night vaulted him to fourth in the NHL in primary assists. The only players with more primary assists than his 18 are Draisaitl (24), McDavid (20), and John Carlson (20). That stat, combined with his NHL-best 62% corsi-share (on-ice shot attempts for) at 5-on-5, is a massive statement from the 25-year-old winger who is in the first year of his five-year, $5.4 million AAV deal that continues to look like one of the best bargain deals in the NHL.
Aho’s hat trick has him ranked ninth in the NHL in goal-scoring with 18 goals. Over his last 18 games, he has found the back of the net 13 times and has 21 total points. After one of his patented slow starts, Carolina’s centerpiece has roared back to form over the last few weeks.
The goals, assists, and points look excellent for the duo, but perhaps the most impressive part of their chemistry is how it doesn’t fluctuate in any areas - including the penalty kill.
In roughly 37 minutes of penalty kill ice time, Aho and Teravainen have been on the ice together for three goals for and just one goal against - a plus-two goal differential. That’s remarkable. Even more amazing is that they have an on-ice expected goals for percentage of 62.58% on the penalty kill - and they’re still outperforming those expectations.
The Canes are expected to score 62.58% of the goals when those two are on the ice killing penalties. When neither of them are on the ice, that number shrinks all the way down to 10%.
In all situations, when Aho and Teravainen are on the ice together, the Hurricanes have scored 31 goals and yielded only 16. So, they’re nearly doubling the opposition. Again, that includes the penalty kill.
Carolina’s young, flashy, and responsible duo of forwards might not be among the top five in the NHL, but they’re trending in the right direction.
Special Teams Excellence
A common theme of Hurricanes teams over recent years has been great 5-on-5 play accompanied by a mediocre to pretty good penalty kill and a bad power play. The 2019-20 Hurricanes have a different formula.
At 5-on-5, the Canes have actually been unspectacular in terms of raw results - 58 goals for, 57 goals against. Their goals-for percentage of 50.4% ranks 19th among NHL teams.
Their special teams (and their play at 4-on-4 and 3-on-3, for that matter) has been the deciding factor for them more often than not this season.
The penalty kill has rattled off an efficiency rating of 85.6%. That’s third best in the NHL and best in the Eastern Conference. The club’s 25% goals-for percentage while on the penalty kill is the best in the NHL, and you can thank that aforementioned Finnish duo for that one.
When at least one of Aho or Teravainen on the ice during a penalty kill, the Hurricanes have scored five goals and given up just one. When they’ve both on the ice together, the Canes have scored three goals and given up one.
The penalty killing units, as a whole, deserve a lot of credit for the team’s success. That means all of Jordan Staal, Brock McGinn, the Finns, Jordan Martinook, Warren Foegele, Joel Edmundson, Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin, and perhaps the biggest surprise in Dougie Hamilton.
Hamilton has grown in all areas since the trade of Justin Faulk, and he’s proven to be a very reliable defender both at 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill. He and Slavin have been a dynamite pairing, regardless of the situation.
The power play is clicking at a 21.5% rate, which is ninth-best in the NHL. That’s especially impressive since Erik Haula has been out for almost half of the team’s games played so far. The injuries to Haula and Martin Necas have forced Carolina to be a one-unit team in terms of real scoring threats. They’ve been very successful, though, despite not seeing as much ice time as they probably should be seeing all things considered.
The goal for the Canes has to be either committing more ice time to the top unit (i.e. keeping them out there for 90 seconds instead of 60) or getting the second unit up to speed. The latter should be much easier to accomplish once Haula and Necas return. From there, you have Nino Niederreiter and Jake Gardiner as other pieces to play with for the second unit.
A True Goalie Tandem
Through 30 games, the Hurricanes have a .905 save percentage, which happens to also be the league average.
It’s been up-and-down at times for both of Petr Mrazek and James Reimer, but it looks like goalie coach Jason Muzzatti and company have found what works - splitting starts based on venue.
In 13 starts on home ice this season, Mrazek is 10-3-0 with a .910 save percentage. He’s been very good, for the most part, at PNC Arena. The opposite is true on the road, where he is 3-3-1 with a .891 save percentage. That’s a big drop off.
Reimer, however, has been outstanding on the road. He is 5-3-0 with a .925 save percentage away from PNC Arena. In just two home starts, he’s 0-2-0 with a .883 save percentage.
It’s not necessarily this black and white, but we’re 30 games into the season and the numbers have painted a pretty clear picture. This five-game road trip will be an interesting challenge for the Canes and their goalies, though, as they face a gauntlet of Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Colorado.
The one positive is that none of those games are on back-to-back days, so it gives the Hurricanes more freedom with their choice of goalies. I could see the Canes alternating goalies throughout the trip and perhaps giving the fifth start to the hotter hand, but only time will tell.
All 5-on-5 corsi/expected goals stats are score/venue adjusted. All stats curtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com.