The Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils entered last night’s game tied for the most points in the Metropolitan Division. Their first head-to-head matchup of the season had plenty in the way of stakes, acting as a big litmus test for a pair of teams in very different situations trending in very different directions.
To the delight of the home crowd, the trends kept trending.
Carolina’s 4-1 win on home ice marked the club’s sixth consecutive win, their longest winning streak since the end of the 2021-22 season. They’ve secured at least one standings point in each of their last 12 games (10-0-2), dating all the way back to their overtime loss in Boston on November 25.
It was another fun night for the Hurricanes, who are now in sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division and are still unbeaten in regulation this month. Let’s talk about it.
Depth Rises to the Top
Jesperi Kotkaniemi won the game’s opening faceoff. 20 seconds later, he scored his fourth goal of the season.
Kotkaniemi and Seth Jarvis’ net-front presence around Vitek Vanecek rattled the red-hot-turned-slumping goalie, and a quick puck retrieval from Calvin de Haan led to Kotkaniemi’s second-chance slam off a Jarvis centering pass.
The Hurricanes caught the Devils asleep at the start of the game, and they made them pay dearly for it. That opening shift set the tone for a strong showing from the Kotkaniemi line and a dominant overall effort from Carolina’s depth forwards.
The fourth line was the team’s most dangerous trio at 5-on-5. Derek Stepan led all Canes forwards in on-ice shot attempts, and his linemates Stefan Noesen and Jack Drury finished just one behind him. The Canes conceded just one New Jersey high-danger shot attempt when the Stepan line was on the ice.
Their good work didn’t get rewarded on the scoresheet during the first 55 minutes of the game, but their determination paid off in the end with a trickshot goal from Noesen.
It was an appropriate way for the Devils’ night to end after their disastrous first shift put them behind the eight-ball and a pair of soft goals allowed by Vanecek deflated their hopes for a comeback.
Noesen’s building confidence was on full display with his nifty shot from below the goal line. The tally extended his point streak to four games, which is his longest streak in the NHL since December 2017.
A 48-goal man in the AHL last season, Noesen has exceeded expectations to the tune of four goals and nine points during the team’s current 12-game point streak. Much of that surge has come in recent games with Sebastian Aho out of the lineup.
The career tweener has been tasked with taking on many of Nino Niederreiter’s responsibilities as a physical winger at 5-on-5 and on the power play. He hasn’t played poorly at any point this season, but his recent offensive surge has taken his value to another level.
The last time he spent a full season in the NHL was back in 2017-18 with the Devils. Five seasons later, he is a reborn player making important contributions on a now division-leading team.
Fans of round numbers had two particular things to celebrate last night, starting with second-year forward Seth Jarvis.
Jarvis skated in his 100th NHL game against the Devils on Tuesday, and he made it a memorable night thanks to the intensity he flew out of the gates with. His primary assist on Kotkaniemi’s goal was his ninth point in 12 games, dating back to the start of Carolina’s point streak.
After accumulating just seven points in his first 20 games of the season, the 20-year-old has become an offensive threat again for the Hurricanes. He’s also been consistent, failing to record a point in just three of his last 12 games.
Jarvis, the 13th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, became just the sixth player from his draft class to play in 100 NHL games. Devils forward Dawson Mercer, the 18th pick in Jarvis’ draft, reached 100 NHL games in mid-November. His assist gave him 56 points in his first 100 games, one point more than Andrei Svechnikov’s 55, which is good for the fifth-most productive first 100 games for a Hurricanes skater since 1997.
The other round number is ten.
The Hurricanes have secured at least a point in ten consecutive Pyotr Kochetkov starts. He’s the sixth rookie goalie over the last 20 years to have a ten-game point streak and just the second first-year netminder to reach that feat over the last 12 seasons (Jeremy Swayman, 2021-22).
Last night wasn’t a cheapy for Kooch, either. He was tasked with stopped 38 Devils shots, including 14 in the second period. He didn’t allow a goal for more than 55 minutes, flirting with his third shutout in five outings, but Jack Hughes spoiled things on a one-man rush up the ice with 4:36 to go in the third period.
His biggest save came on a long breakaway attempt from Jesper Bratt, a point-per-game player in 2022-23 and New Jersey’s second-most productive skater.
Almost every person in the locker room describes Pyotr Kochetkov as athletic.— Walt Ruff (@WaltRuff) December 21, 2022
You can file this save as another example of why. pic.twitter.com/8fA7OlGL04
Kochetkov has a staggering .937 save percentage and an 8-0-2 record over his last ten games. He has won five straight decisions - two via shutout - while allowing just five total goals.
His .928 save percentage is tied for third-best in the NHL with Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, and he’s allowing just 1.94 goals against per game, which is the second-lowest number among qualifying goalies.
It’s been a magical run for the 2019 second-round pick. A little over five weeks ago, Kochetkov was backstopping the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. Since then, he has come up, signed a four-year contract extension, appeared in 15 of Carolina’s 19 games, and put together one of the best stretches of rookie goaltending in recent NHL history.
Two Teams, Two Directions
Last night’s game was a significant breaking point for both the Devils and Hurricanes.
On December 6, the Devils shut out the Chicago Blackhawks in Newark to improve their record to an NHL-best 21-4-1. On the other side of the country, the Hurricanes lost a 4-3 overtime decision in Anaheim to put their record at 14-6-6.
Both teams have played six games since then. The Devils haven’t won a single game and have gotten just one standings point. The Hurricanes haven’t lost. There have been plenty of substantial differences between their respective seasons so far, but over the last two weeks, goaltending has been the most glaring.
Kochetkov has been the best goalie in the league over that stretch. Vitek Vanecek, however, has been among the very worst. After a 15-game world-beating stretch with 12 wins and a .937 save percentage, Vanecek has crashed back down the earth. He’s gone winless since his December 6 shutout, and he’s allowed 13 goals on 77 shots (.831 save percentage).
The Devils’ storybook start has slammed to a halt, and the Hurricanes have done nothing but assert their dominance at a perfect time.
With last night’s win, the Hurricanes dethroned the Devils and are the top dogs in the Metro once again. The team just had to tread water in December, but instead, they gained ten standings points on the Devils in just two weeks.
One team is trending dramatically upward. The other team is trending cataclysmically downward.
Up next is a trip up to Pittsburgh for a rematch after Carolina’s 3-2 win over the Pens on Sunday. The Penguins, just four points back of the Hurricanes, kept pace with the new division leaders last night thanks to a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers.