Welcome to the home stretch of the 2019-20 regular season for the Carolina Hurricanes.
With the NHL’s season on “pause” for the time being, we have a void left by no hockey being played in the most intense period of the regular season.
While we can’t experience the real-life playoff race, we can experience it in other ways - virtual ways.
Using NHL 20’s franchise mode, I have simulated the remainder of the 2019-20 regular season, starting on March 12 when the season was initially put on hold. I went through each and every remaining Hurricanes game, wrote down the results the game gave me, and have recapped those games like they were happening in real life.
But I won’t reveal all the results at once. You’ll have to wait to see how the season ends up.
Some important things to note:
- I did not actually play any of the games. I used NHL 20’s real-time simulation engine within franchise mode to collect all of the results - goals, assists, shot types, penalties, stats, etc..
- Key injuries are accounted for. For example, Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce are both out of the Hurricanes’ NHL 20 lineup due to injury. James Reimer and Sami Vatanen also started out of the lineup, but they have been/will be worked back into the lineup in a realistic manner based on their actual injuries.
- I did not change or alter anything. Every goal and result I have written/will write is exactly what happened on the very first simulation through the final 14 games of the Hurricanes’ regular season.
- On occasion, I took some liberties with goal descriptions to make the recaps more interesting and somewhat lifelike - the game’s simulation engine only offers bare minimum information with regards to the goals scored. However, I did not change any of the actual results.
- I simulated the entire season up to March 12. On March 12, I wrote down every NHL team’s record within NHL 20. At the end of the regular season, I took each team’s final record and compared it to their record on March 12 within NHL 20. Using that information, I was able to see what their record was from March 12 through the end of the regular season within NHL 20. I took those records from that span within NHL 20 and added it to each team’s real-life counterpart. For example: The Montreal Canadiens had a record of 31-31-9 at the time of the NHL season’s pause. Their record, within NHL 20, in their final 11 games of the season was 4-4-3. So, their recorded full-season record is 35-35-12.
- Using all of the results I’ve gathered, I will be able to determine which teams make the playoffs, and if the response to this is positive, I can then simulate the playoffs based on those results.
- Don’t take all of this too seriously - it’s just some fun.
Now, onto the games. The plan is to have two updates on the NHL 20 franchise simulation per week moving forward, which will include final scores and recaps of what happened in the games played over that span. Here’s how the first four games for the Hurricanes went.
Hurricanes at Devils (March 12)
The Hurricanes got off to a strong start to their stretch run on Thursday, downing the Devils by a final score of 6-4 thanks to a wild third period.
Will Butcher opened the scoring for New Jersey at the 9:16 mark of the opening period. He unleashed a long-range wrist shot from the point that deflected off of a Carolina body in front. Petr Mrazek couldn’t get a piece of it.
The Canes answered early in the second period. Martin Necas flew down the left wing on an odd-man rush chance, and he beat Mackenzie Blackwood with a short-side snap shot to tie the game at one. Less than five minutes later, 2019 first-overall pick Jack Hughes capitalized on a one-time chance at the top of the right circle to give the Devils a 2-1 lead.
Ryan Dzingel responded with a breakaway goal with 8:28 left in the period, but again the Hurricanes were given a quick retort by the Devils when Pavel Zacha finished on a power move to the front of the net on Joel Edmundson just over two minutes after Dzingel tied the game.
The third period was an absolute barn burner, but not for the Devils.
Nino Niederreiter scored on the first shift of the period off of a great centering pass from Necas to tie the game yet again. The Devils then got into some serious penalty trouble. A hooking penalty on Zacha paved the way for Teuvo Teravainen to give the Hurricanes their first lead of the night. Sebastian Aho corralled a loose puck in front of the net, recognized a defensive breakdown that left Teravainen wide open, and got the puck to him for an easy tap-in goal on the backdoor.
57 seconds later, the Devils took another penalty - Nico Hischier for holding. Just a few moments into the man advantage, the Canes made good on Hischier’s mistake and extended their lead to two goals. Vincent Trocheck deflected a point shot from Jake Gardiner underneath the outstretched blocker of Blackwood for his second goal as a member of the Hurricanes.
Carolina scored their fourth goal in just over eight minutes when Andrei Svechnikov won a board battle, dropped the puck to Jaccob Slavin at the point, and cashed in on Slavin’s quick return pass to the front of the crease. Some nifty stick work earned him a chip-in goal over the right pad of Blackwood with 11:25 on the clock.
The Devils were able to manage just one goal in the final ten minutes, and it came from Miles Wood with 6:18 left in the game to cut the Canes lead to 6-4, but that ended up being the final tally of the game.
The Canes’ win in Newark marked their fourth straight win and helped strengthen their hold on the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Necas and Dzingel led the way, both notching three points in the win. The only penalty taken by the road team was by Svechnikov, who of course got whistled for a high-sticking minor in the second period.
Some things never change, regardless of whether it’s happening in real life or a video game.
Hurricanes vs. Penguins (March 14)
Game two of the Hurricanes’ four-game slate with the Penguins in March was one of the most tightly contested games of the year for either team.
Patric Hornqvist opened the scoring just over four minutes into the first period when he slid a puck underneath Mrazek at the tail end of a two-on-one rush with Evgeni Malkin.
The Hurricanes roared back, though. Teravainen scored another timely goal at the 10:24 mark of the opening period off of a great pass from behind the net from Svechnikov. Slavin added to Carolina’s first-period goal total with just over five minutes to go in the period. He capitalized off of a well-timed jump into the rush as Trocheck and Justin Williams played catch and eventually found Slavin as the trailer on a three-on-two.
Unfortunately, that would be Carolina’s final tally of the night.
Canes legend Jack Johnson beat Mrazek on a point-blank chance at 4:56 of the second period. The Hurricanes had two big power play opportunities before the end of the second, but they came up with just three shots on net and very little in the way of real scoring chances.
Hornqvist opened the game with a goal, so naturally he was the man who ended it. After 13 minutes of tight-checking playoff-style hockey, The veteran Swede jammed in a rebound on a Penguins power play. After a lengthy review for goalie interference, that ended up being the game-winning goal. The Hurricanes pulled Mrazek late and had a flurry of chances, but they couldn’t beat Matt Murray in clutch time, falling 3-2 to the Penguins.
Hurricanes at Sabres (March 15)
The long-awaited Hurricanes debut of trade deadline acquisition Sami Vatanen finally happened on Sunday in Buffalo.
The Finnish blueliner made a great first impression when he sent a booming point shot by the glove of Carter Hutton at the 4:13 mark of the second period to tie the game up at one. It also happened to be his first shot on goal as a Hurricane. Fellow Finn Aho got the primary assist on the goal.
Three minutes later, Buffalo superstar Jack Eichel responded with a goal to give the Sabres a 2-1 lead, but the Hurricanes dominated the second half with a trio of goals to eventually double up the Sabres by a final score of 4-2.
Necas scored twice, including a power play tally that tied the game in the second period. He is quickly starting to heat up for the Canes, which is a huge development for them as they continue their push for the postseason. Trocheck scored a power play goal of his own early in the third period, which ended up being the game-winning goal. Trocheck, like Necas, suddenly has a hot scoring touch as of late.
Mrazek held the fort - he made his second start in as many days due in large part to James Reimer remaining on the shelf with a lower-body injury. He stopped 23 of 25 shots and closed the door on the Sabres in the second half of the game, giving his offense a chance to run the score up and secure the win.
Hurricanes vs. Sabres (March 17)
The second leg of the home-and-home set with the Sabres took place on Tuesday night back in Raleigh, but the results were far less kind to the Hurricanes.
Led by a dominant performance from Eichel, who notched his second hat trick of the season against the Hurricanes, the Sabres blew the doors off of the Hurricanes by a final score of 6-1. Niederreiter was Carolina’s lone goal scorer, but it was a garbage time goal with the score at 6-0 late in the third period.
Brady Skjei was among the very few Canes players who had a good night. He generated a number of scoring chances and was on the ice for just one of Buffalo’s goals. He finished as an even plus/minus thanks to his primary assist on Niederreiter’s goal.
Mrazek got shelled in his second start of the week against the Sabres. He let in three goals through roughly 23 minutes of play before Anton Forsberg came in to mop things up the rest of the way.
Expect this to be the last time you hear about Forsberg, though. Reimer has been cleared to return for the Hurricanes, which should be a huge boost. Mrazek has been flat-out overworked since his return, and while he’s been largely good, he needs the help that Reimer will be able to provide.
- Simulation record: 2-2-0
- Leader in simulation goals: Necas (3)
- Leader in simulation assists: Aho (5)
- Leader in simulation points: Necas, Niederreiter, Aho (5)