It’s now been more than a week since the Carolina Hurricanes have played a game of ice hockey in the NHL, and they won’t play again until Thursday at the earliest.
As the team and the league continues to sort out the COVID-19 problems that have plagued the Canes over the past week and a half, we can reflect upon the first three games of the season which feel like they happened many years ago.
There is plenty to take away from the opening three games of the Hurricanes’ season, but here are three things that stood out in the opening week of play.
Vincent Trocheck looks ready
For this team to be as good as it can be on paper, it’s imperative that Trocheck is an impactful second-line center. Through three games, he has delivered on some of the expectations that the team had for him when they acquired him at the 2020 trade deadline.
Through three contests, he leads all Carolina forwards in expected goals for and he leads the entire team in one-ice scoring chances per 60 at 5-on-5.
When he is on the ice, the Hurricanes are constantly dangerous with high-danger scoring chances.
He hasn’t been nearly as dominant as a defender, though. Part of that coincides with the absence of Jordan Staal in games two and three of the season. They haven’t had Staal as a defensive anchor, which has forced Trocheck into some tougher matchups than he would ideally face.
That brings us to takeaway number two.
The Hurricanes need Jordan Staal
The addition of Trocheck was big for a number of reasons, but chief among them was easing the load that Staal bears in the middle six.
The idea is that Trocheck can be relied upon for more offense, which would allow Staal to focus on what he does best. With the strong start Trocheck has had, there’s reason to believe that won’t be a fruitful venture, but the Canes need their captain in the lineup for it to work.
Rod Brind’Amour laid it out pretty clearly following the team’s loss in Detroit last week that not having Staal in the lineup is a huge hit for this team.
“That’s what it looks like when he’s out of our lineup and we gotta figure it out,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s a huge loss and we need guys to step up when someone like that is out. We have in the past. He’s a very very valuable player for us.”
The Hurricanes are carried by Staal in the faceoff circle on a nightly basis. Without him in the lineup, the Canes won just 41.1% of their draws over two games. The Hurricanes are a team that relies upon possession, and not getting the puck off the draw is a huge disadvantage.
Aho and Trocheck can do all they can to fill the hole that Staal leaves, but the reality is that this team doesn’t have a replacement for him. If the Hurricanes play on Thursday, having Staal back in the lineup will be a big deal.
Don’t forget about Big Game James
The goalie spotlight over the offseason and into the start of this season has focused on Petr Mrazek, and there are good reasons for that.
He is the defacto starter on this team, he has been around longer, and he is scheduled to hit free agency after the 2021 season. Mrazek also looked great in his first two starts of the season. He had a quiet 14-save shutout win on opening night before singlehandedly keeping the Hurricanes in the game en route to a 4-2 loss to the Wings two nights later.
Reimer got the nod in Nashville, though, and he was outstanding. That was a game that the Canes didn’t really deserve to win. For much of that night, they were scuffling and trying to find their game. It wasn’t until the third period that they really got a hold of the game.
In the meantime, Reimer stood tall in the net and bailed his teammates out time after time.
That’s really all you can ask for from a goalie, especially a backup goalie. It’s worth remembering, though, that it was Reimer who had the superior numbers to Mrazek last season. In stretches, Reimer has been the club’s better goalie and that will remain true at times this season.
And just like Mrazek, he is due a new contract after this season. Both of these goalies are playing for their NHL futures and I wouldn’t be so quick to say that Reimer will be the odd-man-out among the two.