A historic run ended with a thud for the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The New York Rangers handed the Hurricanes a 5-3 loss, marking the end of Carolina’s franchise-best 11-game win streak. The run was unprecedented for this group, putting plenty of teams on notice in the process.
Once lagging far behind the division-leading New Jersey Devils, the Hurricanes now have five points separating them from a Devils club that has since come back down to Earth. League-wide, only the Boston Bruins have outpaced the Hurricanes to this point in the season. Two games remain between the two teams this regular season, and fortunately for Carolina, both games will be at PNC Arena and away from TD Garden, where the Bruins haven’t lost a regulation game all season (19-0-3).
This week’s Quick Whistles discusses Carolina’s loss in New York and what this week’s massive injury news means for the Hurricanes as they approach the halfway point of the 2022-23 season.
New York, Old Problems For Hurricanes
It had to end at some point. An 11-game winning streak and 18-game point streak came to a close at the end of what was a rare rough night up and down the Hurricanes’ lineup against the Rangers.
Three New York power-play tallies on five attempts are what sunk the team, including a controversial late penalty on Jordan Martinook in a one-goal game that resulted in an empty-net goal to put the Hurricanes out of reach. They allowed three PPGs for the first time in a game this season, and it was just the third time they’ve had it happen since the beginning of last season.
Beyond their special teams' woes, which included an 0-for-3 outing from their 26th-ranked power play, it was also just one of their worst all-around games of the season. In all situations, the Hurricanes generated just 1.95 expected goals-for on an uncharacteristically low 23 shots on last year’s Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin.
At 5-on-5, they struggled to put together consistent offensive pushes, though their top-end players did capitalize on a key chance in the first period through the Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas connection. That goal put them up 2-1 in the game, and a fortuitous bounce off of a Jalen Chatfield point shot put them ahead 3-2 at the end of the second period.
It was the team’s first regulation loss this season in a game they led on the scoreboard through two periods.
Pyotr Kochetkov’s return to the net after a two-week injury-related absence didn’t go spectacularly well, either. The rusty rookie gave up four goals on 30 shots, though he did make a phenomenal post-to-post save on Artemi Panarin in the third period that kept his team squarely in the game.
It was a matter of time before Carolina’s incredible run came to a close, and it took a perfect storm of things going the wrong way to finally make it happen. Even still, the Hurricanes were a shot away from knotting up the score with just over a minute to go in the third period.
The Rangers seem to be the only team in the league that has the Hurricanes’ number since the start of 2021-22. They ousted Carolina from last year’s playoffs in the second round, playing an abrasive and opportunistic style of hockey that, when hot, can lead to great success through ultra-skilled players in Panarin and Adam Fox and a world-class goalie still in the early stages of his NHL career.
As of late, that’s been the case for the Rangers, who have followed up a disappointing 11-10-5 start with ten wins in their last 13 games. They now have a grip on the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division, and suddenly, the three remaining matchups between these two teams seem much more intriguing.
Expectations For Pacioretty
The Hurricanes announced Wednesday that offseason trade acquisition Max Pacioretty has been activated from injured reserve and placed on the club’s active roster.
Of course, with Pacioretty’s sizeable cap hit, some maneuvering had to be done, and that was achieved by placing forward Ondrej Kase on long-term IR, which is another disappointing sign for his future with the team and the league, as a whole. Still just 27, Kase’s bright career has been derailed by concussions.
Shifting focus back to the Hurricanes, Pacioretty’s looming return is already being compared to a big trade deadline acquisition. In practice, that is true, especially since Don Waddell gave up nothing (literally) in return for him in that off-season trade with the Vegas Golden Knights.
It’s difficult to project what version of Pacioretty the Hurricanes will get once he does make his debut with the team, be it on Thursday against the Nashville Predators and Nino Niederreiter, the player he was essentially brought in to be an upgrade over, or in the games that follow.
The only way to get a strong read is to know what he has been and then hamper expectations. Hampering expectations for Pacioretty, though, proves to be a difficult task.
Last season, his age-34 campaign, was one of the most impactful offensive seasons of his 14-season NHL career, though he played in just 39 games due to multiple injuries that had him jumping in and out of the lineup at points. He ended the season with 19 goals and 37 points in those 39 games.
Once thought to be on the downslope of his career, Pacioretty reinvented himself in his final three seasons in Vegas. He’s honed in on what makes him such an effective player, and now he has the opportunity to do that with a Stanley Cup contender, provided he can remain healthy.
The veteran sniper has scored 75 goals over his last 158 regular season games, dating back to the beginning of the 2019-20 season. To put his goal-scoring acumen into perspective, his .48 goals-per-game over the last four NHL seasons leads all Carolina skaters, narrowly beating Aho’s .47. Svechnikov’s .37 rate is a distant third place on that list.
Pacioretty is a drastically different player than Aho, though. He isn’t a puck-carrying play driver that can create offense for an entire line. He is, through and through, a pure goal-scorer. He rifles shots from high-danger scoring areas at a constant pace, which isn’t necessarily dissimilar to the Hurricanes, but his efficiency is what has made him one of the league's best scorers.
His presence on the power play could finally give the Hurricanes two units that could pose a threat. His presence at 5-on-5 could do wonders for play drivers like Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.
That’s the best-case scenario. The more likely one is that he starts with limited minutes, perhaps on a line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the bottom six, and then the team and player go from there. Whatever happens, adding a player like Pacioretty is nothing but an upgrade for any team in the league.
Max Pacioretty’s debut will be an important milestone for him and his journey back from what could have been a career-ending injury. He’s exceeded all expectations in his recovery to this point, so perhaps he’ll do the same thing when he hits the ice in the coming days (or hours).