The Hurricanes are officially 10 games through this 56-game sprint. The start hasn’t been too shabby either, with a 7-3-0 record and 14 points. It’s been a roller coaster, however, with a 10-day pause due to COVID issues, inspiring performances, sloppy nights and more.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at what’s gone into the first slightly less than a fifth of the Hurricanes’ schedule, with 10 observations on the team through 10 games.
1. A season of attrition - Coming in, teams knew that, with a 56-game, condensed schedule leading to a greater likelihood for injuries and the omnipresence of COVID-19, they’d have to battle adversity with a “next man up” mentality.
The Hurricanes have already seen their fair share of adversity, with the aforementioned pause and Jordan Staal, Jordan Martinook, Warren Foegele, Jaccob Slavin, Jesper Fast and Teuvo Teravainen all missing time on the COVID list and the team having to play games without them. All have since returned, but it has understandably taken some, such as Slavin and Teravainen, both of which play important roles for the Hurricanes with big minutes, longer to get back to full speed than others.
The Hurricanes have also seen injuries, with Petr Mrazek out an undetermined length of time due to surgery to a broken thumb, an upper body injury to Martin Necas after a scary play last week and Vincent Trocheck being forced to miss Monday’s game due to a lower-body injury.
The good news for the Canes is they’ve had players step up to fill those voids, going 3-0-0 with five of the six players who spent time on the COVID list out of the lineup. There’s also good news on the injury front, with Rod Brind’Amour saying there’s hope neither Necas or Trocheck will be out too long.
2. Oh captain my captain - The Canes played two games without Staal before their pause, as he was the first player on the COVID list. His absence was felt, particularly in the faceoff circle.
Since returning, Staal has been his usual self, winning most of his faceoffs (his 60.34 win percentage ranks fourth in the NHL), logging big minutes on the penalty kill and shutting down the opposition’s top players.
However, in addition to all of that, Staal has also been playing some of his best offensive hockey as a Hurricane of late. Since returning from the COVID list, Staal has two goals and eight points through seven games. He’s tied for the team with seven assists, several of which have been of the highlight reel variety.
3-on-3 overtime was made for Martin Necas.— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) January 29, 2021
Jordan Staal finds Necas with a perfect feed and he roofs it on Vasilevski. Down 5 players due to COVID protocol, the Hurricanes beat the Lightning 1-0 in overtime. pic.twitter.com/xwJnIZQuSY
If the Hurricanes can keep getting this kind of playmaking from Staal in addition to everything else he brings, they’ll be very difficult to match up with at center. Speaking of centers:
3. Vincent Trocheck stepping up - When the Hurricanes acquired Vincent Trocheck at last year’s trade deadline, the hope was that they’d be adding a top-six center who could make their forward group that much more dangerous.
Mission accomplished on that front. Trocheck has six goals and nine points in nine games, and has seemed to have a knack for scoring big goals in big moments when the team needs him to.
He’s also played on both the power play and penalty kill, been strong in the faceoff circle and all in all looked like he’s bounced back to his form from a couple seasons ago in Florida.
Trocheck did miss Monday’s game, but it sounded like there was hope for him to be back sooner than later. If he can keep playing the way he has, the Hurricanes present a real matchup headache down the middle with Sebastian Aho, Trocheck and Staal as a 1-2-3 punch.
4. Nino bounces back - In order to ice two dangerous scoring lines, the Canes also knew they needed a bounce back season from one of Nino Niederreiter or Ryan Dzingel in a top-six role. So far so good for Niedrreiter, who’s scored five goals and looked comfortable and confident playing mostly with either Aho and Teravainen or Trocheck and Necas.
When everyone gets healthy and up to speed, Niederreiter keeping up his strong start and level of play gives the Hurricanes plenty of scoring options up top.
5. Svechnikov dominant - Andrei Svechnikov seems to have taken yet another step forward in year three so far. The 2018 No. 2 pick leads the team with six goals and 10 points, and is seemingly a threat to make something happen every time the puck is on his stick.
We’re watching Svechnikov blossom into a true superstar before our very eyes here, which is something that should excite anyone affiliated with the Hurricanes both for this season and beyond.
6. Necas takes another step - One of the worst parts of Necas’ scary injury, in which his head hit the ice on an unfortunate play off a clean, legal hit from former Hurricanes Calvin de Haan, aside from the obvious concerns, was how well he’d been playing.
Necas started the season with a goal (an overtime winner, no less) and five points in eight games, and seemed to be gaining comfort and confidence in using his world-class speed and skill to make plays. Fortunately, Brind’Amour said Saturday that while Necas would be out a little while, the team was hopeful it wouldn’t be too long.
7. Goaltending a question mark - A couple weeks ago, before Mrazek’s injury, I never would have expected this to be a takeaway. The Czech netminder, in an admittedly small sample size, was playing some of his best hockey in a Hurricanes uniform, with a 2-1-0 record, two shutouts, .955 save percentage and .99 goals-against average in three starts.
Unfortunately, the Hurricanes have been without Mrazek for the past for the past five games, and will be for an undetermined longer period due to his thumb injury. There could be hope on that front. The Canes played with just 19 skaters with Trocheck out Monday because they didn’t have the cap space to recall a player without placing someone on long-term injured reserve.
Cory Lavalette of the North State Journal pointed out that placing Mrazek on LTIR would force him to be out until at least Feb. 24, so that could indicate the team has hope he could return by then.
Regardless, the Canes will need to continue to see James Reimer and Alex Nedeljkovic carry the load until at least then, and possibly longer.
Reimer’s body of work in Carolina both last season and to start this season has been good, but he’s looked shaky in his last couple outings, which is something to monitor as he takes on a larger work load.
Nedeljkovic was fine Monday in his first start in a year, as none of Columbus’ three goals could be pinned on him, but the team likely still doesn’t have a read on his abilities going forward. They’ll need some quality starts from him to spell Reimer, and how the tandem carries the load until Mrazek can get back could be a big determining factor of this season.
8. Brett Pesce returns strong - The Canes welcomed back another player for the first time in almost a year to start this season, as Pesce returned to the ice for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury in “The David Ayres Game” last February.
He’s been his usual, solid, steady, dependable self in the defensive zone, and continued to flash his underrated offensive ability, jumping into the play and chipping in a goal and five points.
Pesce’s arguably been the team’s most consistent defenseman, and has been its best shutdown blueliner with Slavin missing time and still getting his legs under him, which is all the more impressive given the injury/layoff he’s coming back from.
9. Special teams a mixed bag - On the season, the Hurricanes’ power-play percentage of 21.7 is ranked 15th in the league, and the penalty kill (82%) is also ranked 15th.
Those numbers don’t tell the full story, however. The Canes’ special teams have had stellar outings and won them games, such as in the three-game stretch against Tampa Bay and Dallas minus five key players. They’ve also lost them games, such as last Thursday’s barn burner in Chicago.
In fact, the Canes’ penalty kill is 3 for 7 in two games against the Blackhawks, and 26 for 29 against every other team (that would rank third in the league). A little bit more consistency from those units would benefit the Canes going forward, as with five-on-five scoring so difficult to come by these days, the special teams battle is so often the difference.
10. Rolling with the punches - We’ll circle back to the first thought with the final one. The Canes have seen games postponed and the schedule altered due to COVID issues, key players in and out of the lineup due to injuries and bouts with the virus, and even played a full game with 19 skaters.
Despite all that, they’re off to a 7-3-0 start that has been fairly impressive, all things considered, including players from the team’s taxi squad, such as rookie forward Steven Lorentz, stepping up to fill the void when regulars missed time. This season is largely going to be about which teams are the best at overcoming adversity, and the Canes have passed that test with flying colors so far.