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Quick Whistles: A December to Remember, Pacioretty’s Return, Hurricanes Best of 2022

The Hurricanes haven’t lost since Black Friday, a streak that has gone unmatched in the NHL and could continue into 2023.

Chicago Blackhawks v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Carolina Hurricanes will hit the ice tonight with hopes of extending their franchise-record team point streak to 16 games. This run from this team has been equal parts statement-making and under-the-radar.

It’s tough to determine just why it’s felt so under the radar. Perhaps it’s because so many of their wins have been in close one-goal games, meaning they’ve had very few convincing blowouts. Perhaps it’s because a big name like Sebastian Aho or Andrei Svechnikov isn’t the one leading the offensive charge.

Whatever the reason is, it doesn’t change the fact that the Hurricanes have experienced an extraordinary level of success over the last five weeks. The last time they lost in regulation was on the eve of Thanksgiving.

It has been a complete team effort for Rod Brind’Amour’s group, especially with Aho out of the lineup for seven games between December 6 and December 23. Aho’s absence for two weeks put a heavier workload on the shoulders of their third line.

Jordan Staal, Jordan Martinook, and Jesper Fast answered the call. Staal’s six goals and eleven points in the month of December lead the team. Martinook and Fast are right on his tail with ten and eight December points, respectively.

The Hurricanes are getting contributions from every corner of their lineup on a nightly basis, from Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov to Brady Skjei and Stefan Noesen.

Pyotr Kochetkov has been a world-beater in the Carolina net. He’s missed the last three games due to a minor injury, forcing Anti Raanta to tend the crease more and render mixed results. The veteran backup had allowed 12 total goals across three straight wins before his shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.

Kochetkov, however, has been at one speed when he’s been in the net. In eight December games, the Russian rookie has won seven games and collected two shutouts while maintaining a .939 save percentage. He now ranks second in the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage, trailing Boston’s Linus Ullmark in both categories.

The Hurricanes are no strangers to streaky play, but this is another level. It inspires a great deal of confidence in their upside as a group. Eight of their last 13 wins have been by one goal, and this stretch started right after the team lost in overtime four times in five games.

The luck has turned in their favor over the last month. Now, we’ll see just how long it can last.

Patching Things Up

The Hurricanes will get some level of in-house help in the next couple of weeks.

Big offseason addition Max Pacioretty has been a full participant in Hurricanes practices as of late. According to Brind’Amour, the veteran goal-scorer is nearing his debut.

“It’s definitely within the realm of where you could say are we going to see him within the next 10 games, maybe,” Brind’Amour said on Thursday. “I don’t know. He’s progressing nicely now, and I think the fact that he’s starting to get into real practices, that’s a good sign.”

When Pacioretty does make his debut, he could bring a much-needed additional scoring option to the team. His presence on the power play, in particular, could be a huge boost. Despite going on this unbelievable run, the Hurricanes have been consistently dreadful on the man advantage. That fact makes their point streak that much more impressive, but it’s a problem that, if gone unfixed, will end their postseason early as it has several times in recent years.

Pacioretty’s shot is among the best in the NHL. He racked up 97 goals and 194 points in 224 games across four seasons with the Vegas Golden Knights. He scored 19 goals in 39 games last season.

Right now, it looks like he could be in line to play roughly the same number of games this season with the Hurricanes, assuming things continue to trend in the right direction with his health. The team would be thrilled with that level of production, but with how much time he’s missed, it’s difficult to count on it.

Pacioretty’s return will happen upwards of two months ahead of the trade deadline, though, so the team should have enough time to gauge where he is and perhaps supplement their team at the deadline.

For now, it’s just nice to see him get on the ice and get closer to playing in an actual game. The same goes for Frederik Andersen and Ondrej Kase, who have both been practicing with the team since December 8.

Best of 2022

The Hurricanes have just one game left in 2022. It’s been a hectic, up-and-down calendar year for seemingly everyone, the Canes included.

In honor of the new year, I made my picks for three best-of-categories - best goal, best save, and best game of 2022 for the Hurricanes. For those curious, my criteria for these selections are entirely made up and slightly incongruous.

Best Goal: Andrei Svechnikov

Despite having so much high-end talent, the Hurricanes really don’t score a lot of highlight-reel goals. With that in mind, my pick for the best goal is Andrei Svechnikov’s hat trick goal against the Edmonton Oilers on November 10.

Svech’s final tally of two three-goal games against Edmonton was just a backhanded chip shot over the pad of Jack Campbell at the side of the net. At the time, I wrote that it reminded me of Brind’Amour’s game-winning goal against the Oilers in game one of the 2006 Final. Svechnikov’s NHL career lines up perfectly with Brind’Amour’s NHL head-coaching tenure, which is kind of perfect.

It’s been a crazy journey for Svechnikov and the team since he made his debut on opening night in 2018. It’s all gone by very fast, but his 100th goal was a nice moment to reflect on the player he’s turned into over the last four years.

On October 7, 2018, Svechnikov became the first player born in the 2000s to score a goal in the NHL.

On November 10, 2022, he scored his 100th goal.

Best Save: Pyotr Kochetkov

Unsurprisingly, Kochetkov is going to get the nod here. There are two saves, in particular, to choose from. His sprawling poke-check save on a Zach Hyman breakaway in the same game that Svechnikov got his 100th was awesome, but it’s going to finish in second place.

His desperation stick save on Travis Boyd will be a save-of-the-year contender across the entire league, and it was easily the team’s best of 2022.

Best Game: May 4, 2022

The Hurricanes’ 2022 playoff run ended with bitter disappointment, but it started with an explosion of fun when the team mopped the floor (ice?) with the Boston Bruins in games one and two of the first round.

Carolina exorcised their Boston demons in that first round, finally taking down the Bruins after getting blasted out of the playoffs two times in three years by the Eastern Conference powerhouse.

Game two saw Antii Raanta leave the game with an injury in the early stages of the night. It felt like disaster was on Carolina’s horizon, but then Kochetkov happened.

Behind Kochetkov’s brilliant effort and two-goal games from Sebastian Aho and Nino Niederreiter, the Hurricanes beat the Bruins 5-2 in game two in front of a rabid home-ice crowd. Boston would go on to force game seven, which Carolina won behind two Max Domi goals, but Kochetkov’s announcement to the NHL via standing up to Brad Marchand was a special moment for both him and the team.