The Carolina Hurricanes have to be thrilled starting the season 4-0-0, including winning their first three road games of the season. Saturday’s win over the Blue Jackets saw the Hurricanes stick with the same exact lineup as the previous game, which included Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the first line and Frederick Andersen in net.
The win sees the Canes stay in third place with eight points and multiple games in hand over the teams above them in the standings.
Staal Bunyan and the Third Line
The Canes third line of Jesper Fast, Jordan Staal and Nino Niederreiter has been the most complete line for the team so far. It is also the only line that hasn’t changed since the start of the season.
The line ended up with a 53.85% Corsi Saturday, which shows that it dominated possession all game. All three players also showed incredible strength and ability to win puck battles, which is what makes playing against them so hard.
*Insert Jesper Fast pun here* pic.twitter.com/oliFzQpn43— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) October 23, 2021
Their ability to shut down the opponents is also why Rod Brind’Amour has been so confident in starting that line in every period for the last two away games, where he has to send lines out first.
The main worry about the line coming into the season would be its ability to finish, but for the fourth game in a row, it produced on the score sheet. The line’s ability to score has also been the biggest factor in the team being undefeated.
With an incredibly deep top six, the third line creates huge matchup issues for other teams. They have to pick their poison with their top skill lines and their top defensive units to either play against the Canes' top lines or the Staal line.
Special Teams Special Times
The Canes’ success last night was in large part due to the special teams. The Canes' only goal against was when Columbus was on a five-on-three. Carolina killed off three other penalties against a top-three powerplay heading into the night.
The penalty kill forward units have been largely the same as last season, which is exactly how they have been able to pick up where they left off. The Canes have one of the best units in the league with a 88.2% success rate and continue to play with an aggressive forecheck that almost led to multiple third-period shorthanded goals.
While the penalty killers were good, they were actually outdone by the power play units, who went 3 for 6 on the evening. Both units converted opportunities with the first unit scoring two goals and the second unit converting once.
Another power play, another man at the front of the net, another goal for the #Canes.— Walt Ruff (@WaltRuff) October 24, 2021
Awesome job by Staal, who goes from presenting an option for the pass down low, to cutting toward the front of the net and putting home the loose puck. pic.twitter.com/yg4SDbGm2G
Over the last couple of seasons, the crux of the Canes has been the innocuous second powerplay unit. With added skill in Kotkaniemi, they have been able to snap the puck around and create more chances. Granted a good old-fashioned rush to the net and traffic created their tally.
Frederick Andersen Continues Strong Play
It seems like pointing out the obvious that Andersen was a bright spot in the game, but it’s not just his save percentage and goals against (which are good, by the way). His style is something that the Canes have needed in net.
His play is more similar to a James Reimer or Curtis McElhinney, in that he is bigger and plays a more conservative game than guys like Alex Nedeljkovic or Petr Mrazek. While both of those players had successful seasons in the past in Carolina, the change of style from one to Reimer would create issues with where the defense had to position and how the players would have to commit to playing defense in the zone.
The steady play of Andersen allows for consistency in the defensive zone and for players to play with more structure in the zone as opposed to trying to sweep up rebounds and fire drills that come from an over-committed goalie from a first save.
So far the strategy for this season also looks to be to use Andersen as a traditional number one with Antti Raanta in a more traditional backup role. So far he has proven worthy of this role with the fifth-best goals-against average and save percentage in the league.
Over the past few seasons, Rod Brind’Amour has been very cautious to play his young players in impact spots. This year this has completely changed. These young players have experience and have proven they deserve the bigger roles.
This starts with Kotkaniemi on the top line but is the most apparent in Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas playing together on the second line, something that would not have happened regularly in the past. Their experience in the system and their success proves that they are ready for these new roles.
Playing Necas with Svechnikov has highlighted both players’ strengths. Svechnikov no longer has to make his own space and create his own plays. He has a heat-seeking passer in Necas on his line that produces tape to tape passes from anywhere on the ice.
This freedom has also allowed Svech to play a hybrid power-forward/sniper role. He is able to crash the net and create space for Necas and Trocheck or find open ice on rushes to convert scoring chances. His ability to do all makes him like a Jordan Staal with elite finishing ability.
The Carolina Hurricanes can now look forward to returning home to play a hungry Toronto Maple Leafs team, which haas lost its last three games by a combined score of 14-5. This will be the first playoff-contending team the Canes have played since the opening night against the New York Islanders.