The Carolina Hurricanes have been going through it lately.
They had lost three straight games and five of their previous six before taking on the Buffalo Sabres at PNC Arena on Saturday night while in the midst of their worst offensive drought of the young season.
It looks like they got the right opponent at the right time, though you could’ve said that about the Ottawa Senators. They throttled the Sabres with six goals on 29 shots and flipped the script on what had been a wretched stretch of games in the goal-scoring department.
The standout was the return of a classic line. Nino Niederreiter jumped up to the team’s first line and led the charge with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. They all put together multi-point games. Niederreiter and Teravainen were on the ice for four goals-for at 5-on-5.
Turbo also found twine with a short-handed goal in the third period as the trailer after a breakaway chance from Aho was stopped by Malcolm Subban.
While it was far from Carolina’s best game over the last two weeks, it was the game and the result that the team desperately needed. A return to form with the team’s confidence with the puck.
“It’s just nice that we got off that losing momentum that was kind of building,” Rod Brind’Amour said after the game. “We just put that behind us. It wasn’t a great game. We all know that, but it was a good win. We needed that. With all the guys gutting it out tonight, that’s what I’m taking from this game.”
Skjei and Chatfield
The losses that Carolina has suffered on the blue line have been well documented, but the work that Maxime Lajoie and Jalen Chatfield have put in has been an unexpectedly pleasant surprise.
While we got a look at Lajoie in the playoffs last year and had a better idea of what to expect from him, Chatfield was more of an unknown. Nevertheless, the early returns on him have been pretty impressive.
His most frequent defensive partner in three games has been Brady Skjei, a player who has had his own series of ups and downs since joining the team at the tail end of the 2019-20 season. Together, those two players have been playing some outstanding hockey.
The sample size is small at just over 27 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, but the numbers stand out in a big way.
When they’ve been on the ice together, the Hurricanes have controlled 63.64% of the total shot attempts, 60% of the shots on goal, 70.59% of the high-danger shot attempts, and 69.22% of the expected goals. Making those numbers even more impressive, the pairing has the lowest offensive zone start rate among the team’s top-ten most used pairings at 25%. That means that, despite starting just 1 of every four shifts in the offensive zone, the puck ends up in the offensive zone a vast majority of the time while Skjei and Chatfield are on the ice together.
For a defense-first pairing, that’s what you want, and that’s what this new duo has done in limited minutes so far.
Over time, those numbers will change and will almost certainly start to skew back to the mean, but those are eye-popping results, especially for a guy like Skjei, who has routinely found himself on the opposite end of that spectrum in his time with the Hurricanes.
Beyond his numbers solely next to Skjei, Chatfield’s production has been ludicrously good. In just under 50 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, Chatfield has a 67.96% corsi-for rate, 62.5% shots-for rate, 75% high-danger shot attempts-for rate, and a 67.78% expected goals-for rate.
Lajoie’s numbers are equally impressive, though he’s gotten considerably less ice time per game so far.
In recent weeks, I wrote that the true strength of Carolina’s depth on the blue line would be tested, and it has passed pretty much every test imaginable so far. They will continue to be tested on a hugely important stretch of games coming up.
On the Road Again
The Hurricanes start another long road trip through the Western Conference against the Jets tonight. The five-game run will take them through Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Minnesota before a three-game homestand.
Considering the grind that this team will go on, their breakout game against the Sabres came at the perfect time. Had things not turned out the way they did on Saturday, this trip would be looked upon with much more worry.
Thankfully, that’s not the case because, on top of the travel potentially taking its toll as it has over the past few weeks, a few difficult matchups are awaiting the Hurricanes in western Canada.
The Jets have been dominant on home ice this season and are riding back-to-back wins entering tonight’s game.
The Flames have had a somewhat surprising hot start to the year and are currently your Pacific Division leaders at 15-5-5 with a league-best +30 goal differential.
The Oilers are right behind the Flames in the Pacific and have been even better than the Jets on home ice, thanks in large part to the combined 37 goals and 85 points from Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid through 23 games and some uncharacteristically competent goaltending.
The Canucks... are an absolute dumpster fire.
The Wild have the best points percentage in the Western Conference and have rattled off six straight wins behind the hot hand of reigning Calder winner Kirill Kaprizov and a home-ice record that only the Florida Panthers could scoff at.
So, the going won’t get any easier for the Hurricanes, but if they can survive this trip with their confidence and health at a high level, the schedule will start to lighten up a bit.