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Quick Whistles: Andersen Strengthens Vezina Contender Status, Hurricanes Top Forwards, and Bear’s Importance

Andersen might not win the Vezina, but his play is worthy of the trophy and continues to propel the Hurricanes up the NHL standings.

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but if it weren’t for a goalie up in New York playing better than anyone in the world, another goalie would be right in the mix for the Vezina Trophy.

Frederik Andersen is “another goalie” in this scenario. And Igor Shesterkin is the dude in New York who will likely ruin Andersen’s Vezina-worthy season.

It was another absurdly impressive week for Andersen, whose performances played a massive role in the Hurricanes going three-for-three through the Flyers, Blue Jackets, and Oilers.

His shutout of the Blue Jackets might have been his least-impressive outing of the three, having faced just 19 shots in a 6-0 shellacking. Those bookend games against Philadelphia and Edmonton, however, were game-deciding stars.

The Hurricanes probably didn’t deserve to win in Philadelphia. Their first period was among their worst 5-on-5 periods of the season, but they escaped with a 2-1 lead through 20 minutes after getting outshot 11-2.

Andersen allowed three goals on 41 shots, including 19 shots in the third period and overtime before Brett Pesce batted a pass out of mid-air and closed things out at the very end of the overtime period.

“He’s been great,” Rod Brind’Amour said of Andersen’s start in Philly. “The goals that went in, we shot the first one in ourselves, right? The other one is questionable banging around; we’re debating whether we call goalie interference. Those are the ones that beat him. He got us two points tonight, for sure.”

It was more of the same from Andersen against Connor McDavid’s Oilers on Sunday at PNC Arena.

After an early disallowed goal, Carolina’s number one stopped 29 of 30 shots, including 15 of 16 in a second period that the Hurricanes found themselves behind the eight-ball for most of.

Over his three starts last week, Andersen faced 90 shots and allowed four goals. Dating back to the beginning of December, he has a .931 save percentage in his 18 wins in 22 starts while allowing exactly two goals against per game.

Through 38 appearances, Andersen has a league-most 29 wins, and a .930 save percentage. He is well on his way to getting his first Vezina nomination.

He ranks second among qualified starters in save percentage and goals saved about expected, trailing Shesterkin in both categories.

If it weren’t for how dominant the Rangers’ starter has been, Andersen would be the clubhouse leader for the Vezina right now.

Neither he nor the team is worried about that, though. Instead, their sights are set on something much bigger, and Andersen’s consistent lights-out play continues to put the Hurricanes in a position to make a run at the ultimate trophy this summer.

“He’s calm in there, so he makes you feel calm,” said Brind’Amour on Sunday. “Even when you have a really good chance coming at you, the way he plays it makes you feel like, ‘Oh, that wasn’t as good of a chance.’ Makes you feel like it’s not going so bad. I think he calms the group down with the way he plays.”

Hurricanes’ Top Forwards Leading the Charge

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing from October to now for either Sebastian Aho or Teuvo Teravainen.

Aho struggled with his complete game in the early stages of the season. Teravainen had a rough stretch shortly after that. Fast forward to now, the dog-days of the NHL season, both of them are firing on all cylinders.

Teravainen and Aho are riding eight and six-game point streaks, respectively, and their production has fueled Carolina’s offense dating back to the beginning of December.

Since December, the two Finns have combined for 64 points in 28 team games.

Their individual production, while impressive, is boosted by their on-ice chemistry, which we are reminded of year-in and year-out.

As of late, those two have been reunited on the team’s top forward line at 5-on-5, and they’ve been a non-stop offensive force.

To make matters worse for opposing defenses, the third man on that line is now Andrei Svechnikov, who is in the midst of his best stretch of hockey, maybe in his entire career. He has 13 goals and 28 points over his last 22 games, and he has 11 multi-point games over that same stretch.

When Aho, Teravainen, and Svechnikov are all going, this team is next to impossible to stop, and we’ve seen that lately. Even when the team isn’t playing at its best, they scratch out wins thanks to their goaltending and top-end talent, making the handful of big plays throughout the course of a game that makes the difference.

The Importance of The Bear

The Hurricanes will be without one of their most significant sources of offense, Anthony DeAngelo, for the better part of the next month due to injury.

We’ve seen that this team can still produce offense at 5-on-5 and the power play without him in the short term, but some focus needs to turn to Ethan Bear over the coming weeks.

It’s a secret to no one that Bear’s excellent start to the season got derailed by his bout with COVID. When he came back, he simply wasn’t the same player, which led to him getting scratched regularly.

After several weeks of him working on getting his game back, he’s finally showing signs of his game bouncing back, especially over these last three games.

He was an active offensive contributor against the Flyers and, especially, the Blue Jackets. And while he wasn’t a source of much offense against the Oilers, he played nine 5-on-5 minutes against Connor McDavid and played a considerable role in the Hurricanes finding a way to keep him off the scoresheet.

When Bear faced McDavid, the Canes only allowed five shot attempts. That’s big-time stuff from a guy who has been searching for his game and should be another big confidence boost for him as he continues to reestablish his role on the team entering the final third of the regular season.

With DeAngelo out, the Hurricanes need Bear to step up and return to the level he played at in the early days of the season. Thankfully, it looks like he is up to that challenge.