It’s been just over a month since the Carolina Hurricanes kicked off their 2022-23 campaign, and there’s plenty to talk about.
At this point last season, the Hurricanes were three games into a six-game road trip, and they had won 14 of their first 16 games. Little did they know they were about to lose back-to-back games for the first time.
This year, they’ve already lost consecutive games twice, and things haven’t been quite as easy. Nevertheless, there’s a reason why their start to last season was the best in franchise history - because winning 14 of 16 games is both incredibly difficult and almost impossible to replicate.
The Hurricanes are 10-5-1 at the one-fifth mark of the regular season, four points behind the unthinkably red-hot New Jersey Devils (who have had a start similar to Carolina’s a season ago) for the Metropolitan Division lead.
There have been plenty of ups and downs for the Canes in the early going, but the biggest standouts are players the team will need to be difference-makers in April and beyond if they want to push for the big trophy at the end of the year.
Martin Necas has come back down to earth over the last week and a half (two points in his last five games), but his play continues to be one of the highlights for Carolina. He leads all Canes skaters in assists (12) and points (19) through 16 games, and it’s been a fairly even distribution between 5-on-5 and power-play points.
His chemistry with Andrei Svechnikov has played a crucial role in both players’ success. Svechnikov has the third-most goals (12) in the NHL, trailing only Connor McDavid and Bo Horvat out West.
The 22-year-old’s nine 5-on-5 goals lead the entire league.
He’s been boosted by a 23.1% shooting percentage, which is bound to trend down toward his 12.3% career mark, but it would be a massive development for both him and the team if this is the year that he can be one of those players who score at an elite clip. So far, that’s been the case.
If you predicted that Jordan Martinook would be fifth on the team in points in mid-November, you were lying.
After being put on waivers before the start of the season, the veteran has been on a mission. He’s currently riding a three-game point streak on Carolina’s surging third line, and his metrics are excellent.
When Martinook is on the ice at 5-on-5, the Hurricanes generate 3.85 expected goals per 60. That’s 40% above the league average. At 1.83 expected goals-against per 60 with him on the ice, the Hurricanes are 34% more effective defensively than the league average.
He’s been integral to Jordan Staal’s checking line, and the unit has performed far better than expected.
Brady Skjei hasn’t been talked about much, but he’s also playing some of his best hockey as a Hurricane. Partnered with Brett Pesce, the Hurricanes have been a better team with them on the ice than without.
His offense has taken a step back, at least in terms of production, over the last six contests, but he leads all Carolina defenders in goals, and he’s second in total points.
We’re at the point where Sebastian Aho’s point-per-game production flies under the radar, which is a product of how consistent he is, but on top of his 17 points in 16 contests, he’s on track for his best year in the faceoff circle. In addition, he’s won 56.1% of his draws, which is a ~4-point improvement over last season.
Jalen Chatfield, Calvin de Haan, Jordan Staal, and Jesper Fast are also pleasant surprises in the early going.
In terms of individual performances, there’s a lot to like from the opening month for the Hurricanes, but there’s another gear that the team hasn’t hit consistently. It’s been rare to see everything come together for more than a few periods, but that should come over time.
To put things in perspective, if they continue to win ten out of every 16 games, that will put them on track for north of 50 wins. That may or may not happen, but it’s hard to complain about where the team is at. Now, it’s just about building.
Carolina’s goalie play has been one of the most obvious differences year-over-year.
Through 16 team games last season, Frederik Andersen had 11 wins in 13 starts with a .937 save percentage. He sat comfortably among the best of the best in the league while consistently getting the nod in the net.
Injuries and inconsistent play have plagued Andersen in his second year with the team. He’s currently still sidelined with injury, which has forced the Hurricanes to improvise with the guys they have available.
Andersen has won five of his eight starts, but his save percentage is an uncharacteristically low .891. In all situations, he has a -3.25 goals saved above average, and his .797 save percentage on high-danger shots ranks 43rd among NHL goalies with at least 250 minutes played.
Hopefully, his return from injury will be a reset of sorts for him. Before joining the Hurricanes, he had a reputation for sluggish starts before kicking things into gear as the season went along.
Antti Raanta has gotten six starts and is 3-2-1 in the record column. He’s performed well, ranking in the league's top half among qualified goalies in most statistical categories. His .889 save percentage on high-danger shots is the fourth-best in the NHL. His overall .911 save percentage and 2.47 goals-against average are almost identical to the numbers he put up last season.
The biggest surprise, if you can even call it that, has been Pyotr Kochetkov. The 23-year-old has gotten two starts since Andersen’s injury, and he’s won both of those starts impressively. He is the only Carolina goalie with a shutout.
The Hurricanes haven’t gotten consistently dialed-in goaltending to this point, but it’s not a talent issue as much as it is injuries and some lackluster play by the team as a whole.
Andersen, in particular, hasn’t gotten the defensive stability that Raanta has gotten in his starts, which certainly plays a role in his slower start.
Let’s close this out by looking at how the new Hurricanes have fared.
Brent Burns brought quite a reputation into his new journey in Carolina. He has largely delivered on the expectations, leading the team in average ice time. He leads all NHL defenders in shots on goal and has been a quantifiably positive contributor to both special teams groups.
When Burns is on the ice for the power play, the Hurricanes are generating more than four additional expected goals per 60 compared to when he isn’t out there. Likewise, the penalty kill has experienced similar but less dramatic impacts from Burns being on the ice.
He has three goals and 12 points, an uptick from his last few seasons on an aging and declining San Jose club.
I occasionally forget that Paul Stastny is on this team, which isn’t necessarily a great endorsement of his tenure to this point. He has yet to score a goal and has just four assists in 15 games. He has experienced a drastically different usage rate than at any point in his career. His 12:13 average ice time is more than five and a half minutes less than he saw last year in Winnipeg.
He has a 59.7% faceoff win rate, though, which is great.
Dylan Coughlin has had a rough go of things in his limited appearances. His last game was in Florida, and his lack of urgency in the defensive zone led to a goal against. He will draw back in eventually, but it’s been pretty clear that de Haan is a better fit next to Chatfield on the third pairing.
Things can change, and injuries will happen, though, so there should be plenty of opportunities still in his future.
One day, I hope to write about Max Pacioretty, who allegedly exists, but won’t be in the lineup for several more months due to his offseason injury.