There was exactly one (1) surprising thing that came out of last night’s Carolina Hurricanes loss to the New York Rangers at PNC Arena: Julien Gauthier, traded three days before, did not score his first career NHL goal against his former club.
But that’s it. Everything else went exactly how you’d expect it to on Friday night, right up to and including the 5-2 loss that dropped the Hurricanes right back out of a playoff spot again. Let’s discuss.
Mika “Buzz Flibbet” Zibanejad Strikes Again
One of my favorite running jokes on Twitter is a tweet from a former Pension Plan Puppets writer last November, commenting on how the Penguins tend to get production out of people you’ve never heard of:
The Penguins always have like eight injuries and twelve call ups I've never heard of. The call is like "Malkin gains the zone with wingers Mark Donk and Buzz Flibbet" and you look and they both have 47 points— Acting the Fulemin (@ATFulemin) November 17, 2019
It’s the trade deadline, so let’s pretend that Donk and Flibbet have been traded to the Rangers and are on a line with Mika Zibanejad. Is there any question each of them wouldn’t have had a four-point night?
Zibanejad is simply unreal against the Hurricanes. His three-point night last night, which included an assist on Brady Skjei’s game-winner, gives him 27 points in 25 career games against Carolina. He has multi-point games in six of his past 11 against Carolina. He’s entered that pantheon occupied by the likes of Martin St. Louis and Olli Jokinen, players who were good to very good through their entire careers but turned into Gordie Howe when they saw the Hurricanes on the schedule.
Canes fans of a certain age remember when the team toyed with the Florida Panthers, going 28-12-2 from 2005 to 2011, a stretch that included a ridiculous 13-2-1 run between 2005 and 2007. Well, now we know how Panthers fans felt then: since the start of the 2011-12 season, the Rangers are 30-6-0 against the Hurricanes.
Read that record again: 30 wins, six losses.
Mark Donk and Buzz Flibbet would be proud.
The Glass is Broken
Rod Brind’Amour didn’t want to put the top line of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov together. It’s not because he didn't think they were capable of what they’ve been doing. It’s because he knew how threadbare it would leave the rest of the lineup.
Brind’Amour’s a smart guy. Since that line was put together, the Hurricanes have yet to win a game where they didn’t get some sort of production from further down the lineup.
Last night’s goal by Brock McGinn was the first one since the top line was put together that was scored by a player on another line in a Hurricanes loss. Svechnikov, Aho and Teravainen have been carrying the mail for the team, scoring (or, in one case, setting up Trevor van Riemsdyk) win or lose. In the wins, names like Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula and Martin Necas have made their way onto the scoresheet. In the losses, they’re nowhere to be found.
Conventional wisdom says that to get the other lines going, you break up the one line that’s on a roll to try to spread the wealth. But the problem is that Brind’Amour is backed into a corner right now: conventional wisdom flies out the window when you’re presented with players on eleven-game (Aho) and nine-game (Svechnikov) point streaks. He has to keep that line together; breaking up a line that hot is malpractice. But at what cost?
Keeping the top line together is the only way the Hurricanes can even tread water at the moment. They simply have to get regular depth scoring, and quick.
Death to the Metro
The Metropolitan Division is tough this season. The Canes’ 72 points would lead the Pacific Division, but in the Metro it has them in sixth place. But that doesn’t excuse the Hurricanes’ woeful performance against the rest of the division, and it could well cost them a playoff spot as a result.
The Hurricanes have played 18 games within the division this season, and they’re 6-11-1. They have a record above .500 against only the Islanders (who they face twice more). Even the woebegone Devils have managed three more points against divisional foes than the Hurricanes.
Put another way: the Hurricanes have the fewest points in the entire league in divisional matchups. And when you’re trailing the Detroit Red Wings in anything - that would be the Red Wings who last night became the first team since the 2004 Penguins to be eliminated from the playoffs before the trade deadline - you’re in a bad, bad place. (I should point out here that the Red Wings are 0-18-1 against the Metro.)
Unlike most, I don’t mind the playoff system. Nothing’s perfect, and there should be a reward for finishing high in your division. But the inequity inherent in this year’s divisions makes things much more glaring for the Hurricanes. They have ten more games against the rest of the Metro, including four against the Penguins, one each against the Blue Jackets and Flyers, and a pair each against the Islanders and Devils. Those five teams combined are 47-30-16 in the division this season, and are 6-2-2 against the Hurricanes.
To make the playoffs, the Hurricanes are going to have to turn history on its head in the last six weeks of the season. Their neighborhood does them no favors, but they haven't done enough for themselves either.