The Carolina Hurricanes are four games into their longest road trip of the season, and in a couple of weeks, the makeup of their schedule will make a rather dramatic shift.
For now, though, the Hurricanes have to be fairly satisfied with their work over the last three weeks. After securing just two wins in a ten-game November stretch, the club has bounced back with four wins in their last five outings and three wins in their first four games on the trip.
The most memorable moment of this important stretch out west came in their first game in December against the St. Louis Blues.
Jordan Martinook recorded a hat trick in Carolina’s 6-4 win. It was the fourth hat trick by a Canes player this year, including Andrei Svechnikov’s two hatty’s against the Edmonton Oilers and Sebastian Aho’s trifecta against the Buffalo Sabres.
A hat trick from a role player hits a little differently than one from a star player, though, and in Martinook’s case, that point is especially true.
The 30-year-old winger was put on waivers before the start of the regular season, going unclaimed by the other 31 teams in the league. At that point, it was wholly unsurprising. Martinook hadn’t replicated the 15-goal, 25-point campaign he had in his first season with the team in 2018-19. In fact, he had managed to hit the 15-point mark just once in three seasons that were plagued by injury.
All things considered, there was plenty of reason to think that Martinook’s run in Carolina was coming to an end, but on a team that has struggled to find solid supplemental offense behind its star scorers, Martinook has turned back the clock.
Through 26 games played, he has surpassed his goal totals from each of his last three seasons in roughly half of his average games played over that span. His hat trick in St. Louis is what boosted him to that mark, which takes me back to a very different time and place in this modern era of Hurricanes hockey.
In year one of the Rod Brind’Amour head-coaching era, Martinook was also taking part in a new journey. He joined the team via trade after playing parts of four NHL seasons with the Arizona Coyotes. On November 23, 2018, he posted his first NHL hat trick.
That night, he was on a line with two rookies - 23-year-old Lucas Wallmark and 18-year-old fresh second-overall pick Andrei Svechnikov.
Those three goals, and the 12 others, helped break the Hurricanes’ decade-long playoff drought. His personality and work ethic made him a favorite among fans and teammates.
Just over four years later, the player and the franchise he plays for are in an entirely different place.
The team has ascended from a doormat to a Stanley Cup hopeful. The player had descended from a young spark plug to an injury-rattled veteran counting his days, at least until this year.
Martinook’s 2022-23 campaign has been a bit of a revelation. Among the 17 Carolina skaters with 175+ minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, he ranks first in expected goals-for-percentage (61.16%), first in high-danger shot-attempt-share (60.42%), and second in on-ice goals-for-percentage (16 GF, 10 GA, 61.54 GF%). He’s done this while averaging 14:46 of ice time, 17 seconds more than his 2018-19 average.
He’s healthy. He’s confident. He’s effective.
There’s a night-and-day difference in his game after a few challenging seasons, and it’s been a fun thing to observe. He’s shooting the puck more than he ever has in a Hurricanes jersey, and while the results may not remain this consistent over the course of the next 56 games, he is making himself a viable threat on a tight-checking third line that has been the Hurricanes’ best trio for substantial stretches of this still young season.
The road hasn’t always been smooth for Brent Burns in his first year with the Hurricanes, but the 37-year-old behemoth of an offensive defenseman has become a difference-maker as of late.
Burns has points in three straight games and four of his last five. He has multi-point games in two of his last three outings, doubling his full-season total in that department, and he’s been a dynamic offensive weapon, particularly at even strength.
His big breakout game came in a disappointing loss up in Minnesota a few weeks back. While he didn’t get on the scoresheet, he was at his most noticeable in all three zones. He pushed the puck up ice with pace and physicality, creating a string of scoring chances that his teammates couldn’t capitalize on.
Now, the numbers are starting to pile up, and he’s doing it in a variety of ways.
At 5-on-5, he’s been a strong facilitator of offense, moving the puck around and getting his teammates involved. On the power play, he has been flinging pucks toward the net. When he gets a chance to step into a shot from the point, he has been doing so without hesitation.
His shot is such a valuable asset for the team, and the more he shoots, the more chaos he will cause for opposing teams and goalies.
Outside of a downright awful game in Boston, Burns and Jaccob Slavin have also faired well as a tandem in all three zones. Slavin has started to get more engaged offensively, which has been another promising sign for their chemistry and confidence.
One of the biggest concerns surrounding the team was the lack of aggression from their defensemen. Brind’Amour’s teams have always found success through active defensemen, but that wasn’t happening early in the year. That is now trending in the right direction, at least in the top four.
Burns is getting hot, Brady Skjei has goals in back-to-back games, and Brett Pesce has two goals and five points over his last six games.
Other Notes from the Week
Rookie Pyotr Kochetkov is now Carolina’s most-used goalie this season, both in terms of appearances and time on the ice. His .914 save percentage stands as the lone individual Canes goalie save percentage north of .900 on the year.
Among the 53 NHL goalies with north of 500 minutes of ice time this season, the 23-year-old ranks 17th in save percentage, fourth in high-danger save percentage, and eighth in high-danger goals saved above league average.
Unsurprisingly, his numbers indicate that he is making high-danger stops at a fantastic clip. According to MoneyPuck, he has the ninth-best goals saved above expected and the second-best save percentage above expected.
It’s his work against low and medium-danger shots that drag his overall save percentage down, though. He ranks 11th in low-danger save percentage above expected and 40th in medium-danger save percentage above expected.
All of those numbers back up what we’ve seen from him. He’s a high-activity goalie with a boatload of athleticism and anticipation, which makes him a heartbreaker for other teams when they get great looks, but less competitive shots are beating him at a much higher rate compared to the league average.
With how young he is, that’s a very understandable issue that should only improve over time. There’s no denying that the work he has put in has played a considerable role in keeping this team in the top four of the Eastern Conference standings.
Seth Jarvis’ slow start in year two has quickly become a thing of the past.
After going seven games without a point during Carolina’s team-wide rough stretch in November, the 20-year-old has bounced back with points in seven of his last eight games and a current six-game point streak.
There was never a high level of concern surrounding his play. We all saw what he was capable of a year ago, but it took him some time to find his game again. The sophomore season for a young, high-upside forward can be tricky. He isn’t a secret anymore, and teams know how to play him.
It’s on the player to adjust to the adjustment, though, and that’s what he has done as of late. He’s been more aggressive and tenacious in physical battles along the boards and in front of the net, which was a key to his success as a rookie.
The Hurricanes need him to keep being a pest for opponents. His skill level is so high that the offense should always come around as long as he is on his game consistently.
It feels like a weekly ritual at this point, but Martin Necas is still very, very good. His four-game point streak came to an end in Anaheim, but he is still leading the Hurricanes in assists (16) and points (28) at the 26-game mark.
His confidence is through the roof, and for good reason. His 19:43 average ice time is more than three and a half minutes more than his usage a season ago, and he is shooting the puck more than he has at any point in his NHL career.
From the beginning of the 2019-20 season to the end of 2021-22, he averaged 1.85 shots on goal across 195 games. This season, he’s averaging 3.35. That’s the highest rate among all Canes forwards and second on the team only to, of course, Brent Burns.
Consistency, once the bain of Necas’ NHL existence, has also become a strength. He has points in 18 of the 26 games he’s played this season, and he has yet to go more than two consecutive games without a point.
The Hurricanes will look to close out their road trip on a high note when they visit the New York Islanders on Saturday night and the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday. After Tuesday, they will play four straight games and seven of their next eight at PNC Arena to close out 2022.