The Carolina Hurricanes capped off their five-game road trip with a big win on Monday night, and now they return home with a 4-1-1 record through the first two weeks of the 2022-23 season.
A lot of things have to go right in order for a team to secure points in five of their first six games of a season, and that has largely been the case for the Canes. Perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle thus far has been their youngest forward line, one which was thought to be their most volatile.
Despite none of Martin Necas, Andrei Svechnikov, or Jesperi Kotkaniemi being over the age of 23, the three young forwards have combined for 857 NHL games. It’s the relatively rare combination of youth and experience that makes Carolina’s second forward line so intriguing.
Oh, and the end-to-end skill that has been on full display through six contests.
There’s a strong argument to be made that this trio has been a top-three line in all of hockey. They’ve been on the ice together for north of 74 minutes at 5-on-5 thus far, making them the second-most-used line in the NHL. The only combination with more shared ice time is Toronto’s Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Michael Bunting.
During that time, Carolina’s young line has found the back of the net four times and has yet to allow a goal against. They’ve dominated scoring chances to the tune of a 70.8 expected goals-for rate, which is the seventh-best among the 74 NHL trios with 30+ minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. If you bump the minimum up to 35+ minutes, they rank second.
Unsurprisingly, they have looked dangerous in the offensive zone, but it’s their ability to stave off scoring chances the other way that has placed them firmly among the best forward combinations.
Their 1.13 expected goals-against per 60 minutes ranks second-lowest among those 74 qualified lines.
Svechnikov and Necas have been nothing short of phenomenal on both individual and combined levels.
Svechnikov had a remarkable road trip, scoring six goals in five games out west, including a hat-trick outing in Edmonton and a two-goal night in Seattle. His seven goals on the year is tied for the most in the NHL, alongside Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay and Valerie Nichushkin in Colorado.
His dominant effort against Connor McDavid’s Oilers almost singlehandedly kept them in the game, and he’s been that kind of player every night. He leads the club with 3.83 shots on goal per game, firing the puck toward the net with confidence and doing so from high-danger areas.
Svechnikov’s finishing ability has been especially present on the man advantage. When he gets his chances, he is burying them with no mistakes.
The common theme among Svech and both of his linemates has been their strong two-way play. They haven’t been spectators in any area of the ice, and their combined skill and skating make them a dangerous threat when turning key defensive plays into scoring chances.
Svechnikov’s hot start couldn’t be categorized as a huge surprise. He scored 30 goals last season for the first time and seemed poised to find another level in his fifth NHL campaign. On top of all the things he’s done, one of the biggest areas of concern in his game has vanished so far - penalties. He has drawn five minor penalties through six games and has taken just one of his own. His +8 penalty minute differential is tied for sixth-best in the NHL.
And while Kotkaniemi hasn’t piled up points the way his linemates have, his 200-foot game at the pivot has been more of a continuation of the great stretches he had in his first season with the Hurricanes.
The crucial piece to this puzzle has been a player whose future with the team was in serious question not even two months ago.
The Year of Marty Necas?
Martin Necas isn’t a stranger to highlight reel plays or torrid stretches of production, but his inconsistency from shift to shift and game to game has plagued him at many points in his young career.
So far, we are seeing a version of this player that we flatly had not seen much of prior - an end-to-end pest with a constant motor in all situations.
Necas leads all Carolina forwards in ice time, averaging 19:44 TOI per game, and his metrics jump off the page in the same way his counting numbers have.
To go with his eight points in six games, Necas’ 72% high-danger shot attempt share at 5-on-5 ranks 15th among all NHL forwards. His team-leading 69.63 expected goals-for ranks seventh among NHL skaters with 60+ minutes of 5-on-5 ice time.
He has been putting non-stop pressure on opponents with a dogged forecheck, which has been on display since opening night.
In the offensive zone, he is going hard into corners and high-danger areas without hesitation, and his chemistry with Svechnikov is coming together better than it has in recent years.
There were multiple examples of this on the road trip, starting with Svechnikov’s second goal in Seattle.
On a man advantage, Necas stepped into a shot along the left side, chased down his rebound in the corner, executed a perfect give-and-go with Svechnikov behind the net, cut on a dime to roll out of the corner, received the return pass, and then rifled a shot on net that Svechnikov read and deflected into the net.
Necas’ head is up and on a swivel throughout the play, seeking out open ice and making himself an option for Svechnikov. The two played off each other perfectly, and their eagerness to get into scoring areas led to a put-away goal on the road.
They combined for another power-play goal in Vancouver on Monday night that, while not the same kind of play as their tally in Seattle, played off of those same themes.
Here, a faceoff victory to open the power play allowed them to get cooking. Necas fired off a low-danger one-timer off of the draw that missed the net, but his read following the shot is what led to a goal.
Svechnikov grabbed the puck, reset it to Brent Burns, and Necas received the puck again. The Canucks defenders, with Necas’ original shot in their minds, played Necas as a shooter. He lured the defense in, created a passing lane to Svechnikov at the backdoor, and then fired a tape-to-tape cross-seam pass that resulted in a gorgeous goal.
Necas is making these plays with a high level of confidence, precision, and pace. He is establishing himself as a threat to both pass and shoot, making him a terrifying power-play weapon.
And then, there’s the straight-line speed and instant acceleration that he’s had since day one. This led to a power-play goal in Edmonton that brought the Canes back within a goal in the third period.
Off of a drop pass from Burns, Necas changed directions in the neutral zone to his shooting side, used the space created by Burns driving to the middle of the ice, and dashed into the offensive zone with Sebastian Aho to take advantage of an Oilers penalty-killing unit that didn’t see it coming.
That’s three separate power-play goals from three separate games. All of them are a result of Necas pushing the pace and not sitting back. He’s making them react to him, not the other way around.
The skillset that Necas possesses can make him a threat, regardless of the situation. It all comes down to how locked in he is. When he’s engaged at both ends of the ice, he is capable of being a game-breaking player, and his first six games of the season might be his best stretch of hockey since breaking into the league.
Hurricanes’ Hot Start
Carolina’s 4-1-1 start has seen plenty of standout performers that go beyond the play of any particular forward line.
Aho has been contributing in all situations, and outside of the game in Edmonton, the defense and goaltending have been steady and reliable.
The most surprising performances have come from the third defensive pairing. Jalen Chatfield has gone from an unknown to a staple over the last year, and he has been more reliable than anyone could have expected so far this season.
Among the 16 skaters who have played in each of the first six games, Chatfield leads the entire team in corsi-for-percentage and expected goals-for-percentage at 5-on-5. His combination of mobility and physicality takes a toll on opposing clubs and creates opportunities for the top of the lineup.
Calvin de Haan has been great in his second tour of duty with the Hurricanes. He entered training camp on a tryout contract and has taken advantage of the opportunities he’s been given. He and Chatfield appear to be the best combination that Carolina has for a third defensive pairing, and their combined efforts have made the team more formidable from top to bottom.
There isn’t much to complain about with the way the Hurricanes have started, especially given that five of their six games have been in the Pacific time zone. They’ve handled their business, and now they’ll get a taste of what the competition will be like in the Eastern Conference over the next couple of weeks.