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Quick Whistles: Hurricanes Skating on Thin Ice, Shootout Dominance, and First-Line Firepower

The Hurricanes are good, but can they overcome their inconsistencies down the stretch?

Carolina Hurricanes v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

What if I told you that the Carolina Hurricanes were 32-20-3?

What if I told you they were ninth in the NHL standings and they were 5-2-0 in their last seven games? And to top it off, what if I told you they were in the top ten of the NHL in goals per game, goals against per game, power play, and penalty kill?

Well, all those things are true, which is relatively flabbergasting.

Despite all of those impressive stats for the Hurricanes, they still find themselves in the middle of an all-out war in the Eastern Conference wild card race. They trail the Columbus Blue Jackets by two points for third place in the Metropolitan Division, they trail the New York Islanders by one point for the first wild card spot, they’re tied with the Philadelphia Flyers in points (Carolina holds both tiebreakers), and they’re up by just three points over the Florida Panthers.

The playoff race being what it is has only added to the level of importance that every game carries. This past week was no different.

Living Dangerously

Carolina’s road trip through the Western Conference has been just about as dramatic as it could be.

After a thorough beatdown at the hands of the St. Louis Blues, the Hurricanes were confronted with must-win games in the desert. They complied and pulled out two huge victories, but they certainly didn’t make it look easy.

Against Arizona, Carolina faced a 2-0 deficit early in the second period. In Vegas, they were down by two goals three different times (2-0, 3-1, 4-2). The Canes were outscored 10-5 (minus-five goal differential) in the first and second periods of their last three games. In the third period, they outscored their opponents 8-4 (plus-four goal differential).

There is a lot on the line right now for the Hurricanes, which makes this trend that has been around all season that much more... worrisome?

When it comes down to it, two points is two points. The league standings don’t care how many games you trailed entering the third period. That said, there has to be some more urgency from this team early in the game. They’re flirting with disaster on a nightly basis due to their inability to find their game in the early stages.

I’m not sure what it says about the team that they don’t seem to lock in until they’re down by two or three goals, but man, they are playing a dangerous game.

It’s pretty amazing to see the contrast in how they play at different points in games. For twenty minutes, they look like a bad hockey team. The next twenty minutes, they look like the best team in the league. When they’re on, they’re as close to unstoppable as you can get, but when they aren’t, it’s just ugly.

There are a lot of promising aspects to this Canes team, but will those positives be enough to outweigh the extreme inconsistencies in their game on a night-to-night basis? So far, they’ve managed to make it work, but as the games continue to build in importance down the stretch and teams commit to locking down late in games, they could end up finding themselves in an impossible situation of their own making.

Shootout Standouts

For years, if the Hurricanes couldn’t close out a win in 65 minutes of in-game time, it felt like you could chalk it up as a loss. They seemed incapable of winning in shootout.

This season has been drastically different.

The Hurricanes have won three games in shootout over their last seven games, improving to 5-0 on the season in the skills competition - they had five total shootout wins in the two seasons prior. Only two other NHL teams have gone unbeaten in the shootout - the Pittsburgh Penguins (3-0) and Tampa Bay Lightning (2-0).

Justin Williams’ return has been a huge factor in that shootout success. He is a perfect three-for-three in the shootout through seven games played this season. All three of his goals were game-deciding in nature.

After Williams, it’s 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov who has been the most efficient goal scorer in shootout. He has three goals on four attempts, including one in the second round of the shootout in Vegas. Teuvo Teravainen is two-for-four, and quite frankly he should have been three-for-four after getting blatantly tripped by Marc-Andre Fleury in round one in Vegas.

In total, the Hurricanes have outscored their opponents 9-3 in shootouts this season. They’re shooting at a 45% clip, and Petr Mrazek and James Reimer have combined for a .842 save percentage. Those both rank sixth in the NHL. Their shootout save percentage + shootout shooting percentage of 1.292 is the best in the NHL.

In recent years, shootouts might have been the difference between making and missing the playoffs. This year, it’s a big reason why they’re still in a playoff spot.

That fact is great for the Hurricanes as it currently stands, but it’s also an example of how things need to keep changing. Skills competitions shouldn’t have that kind of influence on the 82-game marathon that is the NHL regular season. While 3-on-3 isn’t necessarily close to 5-on-5 hockey, it’s a much more legitimate than the shootout when it comes to deciding a hockey game.

Hopefully, the overtime will be expanded in the coming years and the shootout will become fewer and further between.

Playing Your Best Players Together = Profit

Rod Brind’Amour and company went back to a top-heavy lineup with the combination of Svechnikov, Teravainen, and Sebastian Aho.

So far, so good.

Since the All-Star break, Aho has scored in all five games that the Hurricanes have played and has six goals in total. He reached the 30-goal mark in game 55, which puts him on pace for 45 goals this season, which is pretty remarkable.

Svechnikov has points in four straight games, boosting him to 51 points in 55 games - a 76-point pace for the season. He’s still 19 years old.

Teravainen has continued to be a constant play driver on that line, making plays of varying degrees of difficulty. He makes everything look easy, and his black horse Selke run has certainly been approved by Brind’Amour.

That trio has been the driving force behind Carolina’s late-game comebacks.

Putting your three best forwards together seems to be a thing that works. You learn something every day, I guess.